We have been to Bruges in Belgium twice, once early in the year and once at the beginning of December a couple of years ago. Our first visit was wonderful, we had a great time, wandering around the town, doing everything that there was to do. We took a canal boat trip, a horsedrawn carriage ride, made our way around the museums, all the lovely things that there are to do in Bruges.
The whole town is lovely, with such beautiful buildings and architecture to look at all around you. It didn’t matter what we did, we had a wonderful time and looked forward to returning one day.
We decided that our return would be for a Christmas market, we would make our way, as we had before, to London on the train, then get the Eurostar to Brussels and change trains for Bruges. It had all worked really well the first time that we did it, it would be our third journey on Eurostar and we felt that we knew exactly what we were doing and were excited about it. I don’t remember exactly when we booked the trip, but it would probably have been in September or so.
The allotted time for our journey eventually arrived. It was snowing, big time snowing. Those of you who live in Canada would have probably thought it no more than a light dusting. There was probably about 6 inches or so of snow at our house. However, even half an inch of snow brings the UK to a standstill because we are simply not prepared for snow as it comes fairly infrequently and certainly not in the amounts that some areas of Canada received last winter.
The journey into London was fairly uneventful, even though the weather forecasts were not good and there had been travel issues reported on the news. We thought that the train would still run, after all, this was the UK’s premier train line, and in Europe they would be well prepared for the snow as they get a lot more than we do.
We arrived at St Pancreas station in London where the train departs from. We sat and waited and waited and waited and waited. No news, no trains departing, we were told nothing. Hubby was very ill with a horrible cold and looking back, he probably actually had real proper flu – not just man flu! Eventually we decided after having been told many times that we would be leaving “soon” that if we had not departed in the next hour (I think that was how long!) we would call it quits, go home and try and get a refund.
Of course as soon as we made that decision things started to move and eventually we got on the train and off we set. The journey took forever due to the snow on the train lines, and so on. When we arrived in Brussels we discovered that there was a local train strike!!!!!! Not good news at all and for a little bit we worried that we would be stuck in Brussels, however, we managed to find a train that stopped everywhere but took us to Bruges. I had never been so glad to arrive anywhere as I was when we got to our hotel. As we had visited before and were staying at the same hotel we felt as though we were in familiar surroundings which was nice.
Sadly though we spent the whole time we were away – 3 days I think – worrying about how to get home. Phone calls home to my parents confirmed that after we had left even more snow had fallen and that travel was getting worse, the news on the BBC didn’t give any hope either.
We did enjoy our visit, the Christmas market which was the reason we were visiting was not as good as I had hoped, but I have to admit that there is a good chance that my views were clouded by my fears of how were were going to get home again!
We made the best of it though, lots of hot chocolate and Glühwein were consumed and we did a lot of walking and people watching, which is always fun!
The day of our return arrived. Having spoken to my Dad who had I think spoken to Eurostar for us, the advice was to get to the station as early as possible and just wait. Our train was originally meant to be sometime in the late afternoon I think, but we set off on the first train from Bruges after breakfast to get to Brussels as soon as possible. We were one of the first to arrive and talked to the lady in charge who agreed to put us first on the list, and in fact we did quite well as we got chatting to another couple and managed to get them on the list as well, for which they were very appreciative. I wish that I had got their contact details to stay in touch as they were so lovely, but neither of us thought of it at the time.
More and more people arrived and were added to the list. It was going to be a first come first serve basis and we were so thankful that we knew we were high up on the list. Eventually we were called up along with the other couple which we were delighted about and made our way through to the departure area. There was another very long wait. All the passengers had been selected, but there was no train. We lost track of the other couple, but sat and chatted ourselves and passed the time. I think that we ate most of the presents (edible!) that we had bought for other people as we were rather hungry.
When the train arrived we made our way on, at least there was no mad rush as the Eurostar is all allocated seating. When we sat down we were delighted to find that we were sat opposite the couple that we had befriended earlier which was so nice.
The train set off, we made it through Belgium, into France and headed towards the tunnel. I seem to remember that it was a much slower journey than it had been scheduled to be, but I was so glad to be on the move again. We went into the tunnel and came out the other side home again in England. Then we stopped, then we went very slowly and eventually we stopped again. We assumed that it was because of the snow which was piled up high around us. Everything was covered in white and more than just the couple of inches that had been there when we left, it must have been several feet thick in places. There was no news as to why we had stopped, we just sat there looking out at the snow, but glad that we were at least in England again. We knew that somehow it would work out.
An announcement came over the tannoy, there was a problem with the brakes!! Yikes, we were not happy at all. The man in the couple that we had made friends with was a very anxious person and desperate to get home to their children, but we kept him occupied with talking and I think that he and his wife were grateful, I know that I was grateful for them as I was getting pretty anxious by then as well.
I don’t remember how the problem was resolved, but I think that we had to wait for an engineer to arrive and test or check something and then we set off again at a snails pace towards London. We arrived in the early in evening in London with no idea of whether or not we could get a train home. Hubby said that if we couldn’t we would either find a hotel and never mind the cost (he was trying to cheer me up!) or get a taxi to take us home. The hotel would probably have been cheaper! In any case we got through the busyness on the underground and made it to Paddington station and managed to get a train home. It must have been well into the evening by now, but I don’t remember the time. Just one last bit to be achieved, how to get home to our village!
A taxi seemed to be the best answer, and we set off for home. Boy was that an interesting taxi ride! We told the driver to stop some way from our house, as we could see the state of the roads and knew that if he drove to our house he would not get out of the road again, so we skated our way home along the icy pavements towing our suitcase behind us and hoping that it would be OK when we got there. I was never so glad to be home, and resolved never ever ever to go abroad again in the winter if the weather was bad!
I have incredibly fond memories of both of our visits to Bruges, but not of the journey to or from for our second trip!! The moral of the story is, for me at least, if the train doesn’t come and the weather is bad, go home and cut your losses!!
It might sound as though looking back on this would not be pleasant, but actually it has been quite good and I feel, having written it down that I have it all in perspective now that I am looking on from afar, and that it was probably not as bad as I thought at the time, and I would definitely return to Bruges – but don’t tell hubby as there are other places that I would love to go to first that I haven't already visited!
I only have a very few pictures to share after all of those words, and they are not very good, but do go and visit if you ever have the opportunity - but perhaps in the spring or summer!