Day Two

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Travelin-Tigers

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Tigres de Voyage

May 12, 2002
Sunday

Brugge on Foot and Bicycle

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Wake up / Breakfast In Brugge

Brugge on Foot

Bicycling Around  Brugge

Interesting Signs in Dutch

TGV Train to Paris

Day 01 Return to Main Page Day 03

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Wake up / Breakfast In Brugge

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Jesse: Today was our day to explore Brugge until 3pm, then catch the Thalys train to Paris. I was still feeling the jet-lag from our previous day when we woke up in our tiny hotel room in Brugge. For the first time we were able to really see just how tiny our room was. I sat in a chair by the door, and Dad remarked that due to the size of the room you could only do one, either open the door or sit in the chair. We had a good chuckle at that and decided to take some pictures and hope that it would be a once in a lifetime experience.

Mom had told us we were "squeezed in" to the hotel due to our late reservation during the city festival week-end. We were given the room usually reserved for last minute "walk-ups" who, like us, couldn't afford to be choosy.

We both took our showers and got dressed. We packed our bags, then couldn't find our passports or train tickets. Unpacked and found them, then repacked and couldn't find our maps or guides. Unpacked and found them, repacked and headed downstairs to go find some breakfast. It was 10am.

I was somewhat surprised when an older gentleman in the lobby asked us our room number. Katherine, the nice woman from checking in was gone as it was Sunday. Her replacement, a stoic Belgian, directed us to stash our bags near the employee break area, and pointed us into the restaurant portion of the hotel, where a waiter directed us to a table near the window. The table had various breads and meats on it, as well as orange juice and coffee. I was somewhat confused, but it seemed we got breakfast with our stay (oh, a Bed and Breakfast)! We enjoyed out Euro-style bread and meat breakfast, and watched the rain-soaked town of Brugge from our comfortable window.

There was only one other group in the restaurant, sitting in the corner opposite ours. Judging by how only two tables had been set up with food, I wondered where the rest of the guests of the hotel must be. Perhaps we were merely late starters. A man in a coat had walked by outside and, after seeing us sipping our coffee and juice, made a motion through the window of sipping a cup to the waiter standing next to us. The waiter solemnly shook his head, and the man continued on down the street with a sigh. It seems breakfast was only available for guests on Sunday.

Although the breakfast itself was mediocre, it was a nice surprise to know we wouldn't have to scrounge for a bakery to get fed. We finished up and put our coats on as we debated whether or not to tip the waiter. The ground was wet outside from the rain that we had been hearing while resting in bed. I was still somewhat unsure of what day it was, as I still wasn't in-sync with our new time zone.

The rain had put a bit of a damper on our bike riding plans, but we could still take a walk around town. We guessed that the fair was over from our window view point, so I figured that the crowds of people we had seen the day before would be gone.  This was our opportunity to really see Brugge, and a little drizzle was not about to stop us. We flipped up our hoods and walked into the brisk, wet air.

Our time hotel room in Brugge

Sit in the chair or open the door, but not both!

Our time hotel room in Brugge

Tiny Bathroom, window into the internal courtyard.

Breakfast in Brugge

Our first B&B, lots of Euro-food for us to try

Breakfast in Brugge

The restaurant breakfast was open for guests only

 Our tiny room in Brugge  The rainy streets of Brugge

Our tiny room and our rainy day

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Brugge on Foot

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Dave: With our suitcases secure, we stepped out from the Hotel Boudewijn1 and into the cool and drizzly morning. This didn't bode well for renting bicycles. We figured to walk around the same areas we had seen yesterday and take more pictures. Today we were equipped with a better map and plenty of GPS points! Brugge: Official WebsiteBut first we circled the "farmer's market" area directly in front of the hotel, the site of the carnival, and took pictures of the various rides. At the end of our trip we ran into the same carnival in Antwerp.

We walked back through the shopping district, this time taking a different path to enjoy different parts of the delightful city. The sky was still overcast, but the rain had definitely stopped making the day cool and humid. We walked back through Market Square with its Belfry tower, and back to Burg Square with its Basilica of the Holy Blood. Here we saw signs for the "Tourist Center", and inquired again about bicycle rentals. We were given a good directions this time ("show me on this map"). Sure enough we had been with 10 meters of the place a couple times, so it was easy to wander back once again, taking more pictures, and then saddl up to explore a bigger circle of the historic little town.

The carnival was in town in Brugge

Carnival in town, St Stanislas church tower

The carnival was in town in Brugge

Carnival, Hotel Boudewijn, St Stanislas

A small parade in Brugge (Mounties!)

Burg Square in Brugge

A marching band dressed as Canadian mounties!
Jesse making a "phoon" in the "Burg" square

Burg Square in Brugge

Brugge "Burg" Square (L to R): Court of Justice/Tourist Center (neo-classicist style), Old Civil Registry (renaissance style), Town Hall and Chapel of the Holy Blood in corner (gothic style) and the Deanery from long-gone St Donatius Church (Baroque)

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Bicycling Around Brugge

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Our bike ride in Brugge

Jesse and our new bikes for hire

Dave: The rain stopped, and although some streets were wet, the cool air suddenly made it "perfect bicycling weather". We found the rental place, and traded 12 euros for half a days wheels. The shop man gave both of us a long stare, then had us come down (into the basement) and haul out the most heavy-duty models he had. Jesse needed a lower seat. "Do you have any others?", we asked. "Not for you two", as he raised one eyebrow. Oh, OK, we'll just be going now.

We rode back to the hotel, to reorganize stuff and get more batteries for the camera and GPS, then we drove about the historic central district of Brugge. The downtown area is preserved historically and designed for foot travel more than car. Once you cross the beltway / canal loop, construction and roads look more like the current European standard.

We had a horrible time on the cobblestones, and tried the sidewalk sometimes (great except for pedestrians).Scenic Windmill in Brugge Cars would zip by almost clipping us. But then every five or so minutes some 60 year old local guy wearing a suit coat and wire rim glasses and moustache would sail by us like we were statues. And in some ways we were.

We stopped at a bakery for a snack, and to take pictures of the shops, and churches and an honest to God street privy we encountered on a back street. (Now we've seen Brugge!). We crossed a main road and rode on a hiking / cycling path along the river that passed four historic and picturesque windmills ("Moulan"). Boats and barges were parked at various docking points.

People were all busy, many walking in pairs or walking their dogs. We stopped to rest every about 10 minutes, on and off, lots of laughing. The stoic Belgians, walking and talking in groups would stop talking and pass by if we made eye contact. So of course we made a point to look and smile, usually nodding our heads to the scampering locals.  We returned our cycles, walked back to the hotel, fetched our luggage, had a small lunch, then headed for the train station and our Thalys bullet train to Paris.

Our bike ride in Brugge

Stopping for a snack

The route of our bike ride in Brugge

Click Here to enlarge our map.
General path of our bike ride: Red Dot = Bike Shop, Purple = Hotel, Yellow Dots = Windmills

Our bike ride in Brugge

Bike riding on historic bumpy cobblestones

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Interesting Signs in Dutch

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Dave: Belgium is definitely not the USA. Here are things that seemed unusual to an American eye.

Beer in the Coke machine: Brugge

Apothecary / Pharmacy: Burgge

A Coke machine sold Jupiler beer!
Apotheek is a Pharmacy with the familiar Green cross

Stock Broker and Insurance office: Brugge   Stock Broker and Insurance office: Brugge

Snack Shack: Brugge

A stock and insurance office
Smaken Us snacks

De Kat clothing store: Brugge

A Dutch rhymer: Brugge

De Kat clothing store: Family Name or Pet?
A Dutch Rhymer

Restaurant menu board: Brugge

Advertisement: Brugge

Restaurant board in Dutch and French
My Favorite Jeans? Where?

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TGV Train to Paris

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Dave: We walked from the lunch place back three doors to the hotel, picked up our suitcases, and headed off on the park path to the airport. As we had found, the flagstone still gave our rolley-bags bumps, but there were less per linear foot than the cobblestones on the way in. We crossed through the fair, stepping over power cables and garden hoses, then crossed a small park freshly planted with flower beds. Then we came to the front of the train station.

We had forgotten the cobblestones. Jesse described them as an "endless sea" of cobblestones. Why? Why in front of a train station? What were they thinking? The trip up the cobblestone sidestreet had erased our memory but now we remembered. As so we set off, "whup-whup-whup-whup-whup", pause, then "whup-whup-whup". We set our pace to take 10 minutes to cross this sea, to make the bone jarring noise bearable, and then we were in the station.

Brugge train station amid a sea of cobblestones

Brugge train station with its vast expanse of cobblestones to drag your suitcase across

Dave: We walked about, bought some sodas for the train to Paris, then walked to our track. The large schedule was flagged with a red light for one of the trains running late. The flagged train was 4 minutes behind schedule!

Jesse waiting for the train: BruggeUp the stairs and the platform was a little crowded, with a few more people arriving with each minute. This evening Thalys bullet train only runs from Brugge to Paris on Sunday nights, so it was good scheduling that we could catch it. And the platform continued to fill in. The Track 9 area was becoming quite crowded while the adjacent area for Track 10 was completely empty. Jesse and I simply stepped around the corner and sat down, all by ourselves. Yet more and more people continued to stand by number 9. Its not like we wouldn't see and hear when the train arrived, yet we found such crazy impatience again and again in Europeans. They all wanted to be the first on and the first off and needed to be standing facing the train, not seated five steps away on a bench, even though we ALL HAD RESERVED seats. Oh well, how quaint. How very strange they must have found us to be.

The Thalys car is empty: Brugge to BrusselsDave: We found our car and couldn't believe our luck, we were the only two people for the hundred plus seats. We quickly relocated ourselves from our assigned seats to the central 4-place table and I took out the laptop and downloaded the digital camera. While Jesse napped, I cleaned up pages, and wrote some notes. A conductor checked our tickets, and when I pointed to the empty car he replied, "more people may board at Brussels". Yeah, right. Like he didn't know what was going to happen.

The ride to Brussels was smooth and fast and quiet. When the laptop battery ran out I repacked it and Jesse roused as we entered Brussels station. An announcement (Dutch, then French, then unintelligible English) said that cars would be jostling and that nobody should enter or exit the train for the next few minutes. After that, the doors opened and people started to stream in.

We figured it best to return to our assigned seats and put the luggage overhead, and people and people and more people arrived. Eventually, every seat in the car was filled. Sure, maybe "more people will board at Brussels". This was our only "full" train during the whole two-week trip, and also the site of an interesting little squabble. A older man and woman claimed the seats behind us occupied by another couple. We were still fascinated with the language and I eavesdropped as they went through the same transaction I have seen on USA planes all the time. Are you in the right seats (each look at tickets), "the correct car?" (look again), "the correct day?" (look again). The older man went off to find a conductor, then returned again to converse and exchange, then both went off and were gone. Presumably they found "chaise différente" for themselves. So with the laptop battery dead and exhausted from the bike ride and walk and with every seat filled, we both just eased back our chairs and dozed off.

We woke up during some announcement, probably that we were nearing Paris, and I had us retrieve our tourist books to read up a little. I had been frustrated that we had done so little preparation for our Paris visit, even though we had planned to go a year previously, had planned this trip for over three months, and had tour books in our possession the whole time. I read Rick Steve's guide to France while Jesse browsed our Rough Guide.

Both of us read for awhile, then stopped to remark how both books warned about crimes against tourists, pickpockets or scam artists, and the large amount of unemployed, especially prevalent in train stations. Rick Steves book even joking taught how to say "Give me back my wallet" in his French language mini-lesson (har-har). We both agreed to play it very conservative and work together during our first few minutes of confusion at the station. By the time we got to our hotel, we would have a good feel and could act more natural. But until then, we would be on "red alert".

Arriving in Paris: Gare du NordDave: We stepped out of the train, last, after the flurry of Frenchmen in their traditional foot race. We snapped pictures of us, the trains, and the famous Gare d'Nord. It was just like the pictures on the web site and seemed familiar from the recent viewing of "Amilee". Then we headed up the escalators toward the station where we were immediately pounced upon.

A young blond woman, resembling a Baptist missionary to me, stepped in front of us and asked "Are you Americans?"  We both stepped back and I stammered. "Yes ...  what do you need?" not having ANY idea what to expect. "I don't need anything", she said, "I have this extra museum pass that I wanted to give to somebody so they can use it, HOW LONG WILL YOU BE IN PARIS?"

What a strange question. We did not answer her, but then we were asked the same question five more times by three more people within the next 15 minutes. Very very strange indeed. Were we paranoid? Sure. But we had not even set foot off the platform yet.

Arriving in Paris: Gare du Nord"Ah, we are just passing though Paris today, let somebody else use it", and we walked on following the signs pointing to the Metro. The metro part of the station was down a level, and an absolute beehive of activity with people coming and going. I spotted the automated ticket booths, and wandered us toward them, stepping up to the one placed in a corner. Jesse was riding shotgun on my backpack, and I had my wallet in my front pocket firmly beneath my casually placed hand.

A stranger approached us, a middle aged man, middle eastern features, wearing scruffy but well kept clothes looking much like a handyman would back home. Here, you need to buy tickets, he started to quickly press buttons, "HOW LONG WILL YOU BE IN PARIS?" "Non, Merci", I said. "Please, we do not need help, we are just walking about and looking. Non, si vous plait", I added and he stepped away, only to come back and try again. "It is ok, I work here", he reassured us. "I will help you, and he started to press the keys". "PLEASE!", I intoned, "we do not need help". I then spoke to Jesse and pointed to a distant wall map that we wandered off to, waiting for our uninvited host to leave.

We then wandered back to the machine, and touched the screen a few times. Another man, same questions, only this guy exclaims NO! and actually presses the red cancel button on OUR machine. "You want the all-day pass, HOW MANY DAYS WILL YOU BE IN PARIS?" Jesse and I both stared daggers and him and wordlessly walked away from the machine. When he left,  I stepped back to the machine and Jesse physically placed himself between me and the second machine that each person has pretended to use while actually accosting us at our machine. This time our helpers take the hint and keep away.

With about twenty seconds to orient to the machine, I read the French buttons and spotted the Great Britain Union Jack flag icon in the corner, the universal symbol for English. I pressed it and, wah-la, all the screen menus immediately were legible and we could easily buy our tickets. Rick Steves suggested buying a book of ten tickets (9 euros total ,90 cents each) as a better buy then the 5-euro all-day pass. He was right, but the machines wanted EXACT change, and we only had a couple of Euro coins on us. So we just bought two one-way tickets (1,1 euros) , just in case, and then followed the signs to the RER station (the magenta line).

We kept following arrows, eventually walking over half a mile, each of us with a full backpack and pulling along a rolly-bag. Additionally, we did constant circles and cutbacks (just like in spy movies) to flush out any tails. We took a zig zag tour, cutting back randomly to read kiosk signs that we had already passed. Sure we were acting paranoid, but we were in a very deserted "no man's land" between the train station and RER station and two different men had paced our steps and delays. Each finally wandered off coincidentally with our random backtracking. Sure, it could just be coincidence, but each of them wandered away crossing back over their own path. Verrrry creepy.

Then we found a manned ticket booth. Yes, he spoke English (a little). Yes, he sold 10-packs. Yes he could break a 20 euro note. Wah-lah, we were flush with one-trip tickets and just 10 steps away from the RER station.

Dave: Gare d'Nord and Gare St Lazare are connected by RER, the long-distant metro trains that run into the distant suburbs. We only needed a one-mile hop, but the train was designed for long haul commuters and featured a double-deck design. Paris RER train: Gare St LaurentThe car was packed with people standing on the train foyer area. Again, we moved about randomly and I kept my hand on my wallet in my pocket, and Jesse also circled behind me randomly. All very casually, of course.

The train pulled into Gare St Lazare in about three minutes, and it was the first time we saw the manually opening train doors. Unlike other subways, many of the Paris trains have a big red button by each door (one inside, one outside) requiring that somebody push it or the door remains closed during that stop. All trains I had ever been on before always opened every door at every stop automatically. A typical Frenchmen stood at our door as the train slowed in the station. He had held his ground when we first entered the car, making us pass by him to be second in line. As the train slowed, he pushed the button, methodically every two seconds; Push, pause, push, pause, push, pause, push. Until the door finally opened (before the train actually stopped still). He stepped out on to the still moving platform and was thus in front of the hundreds of other scurrying Frenchmen right on his heels. We stepped out (to avoid being run over), then simply stepped aside. Within thirty seconds, the platform, and the station for that matter, were deserted. How quaint.

We walked down a long hallway (with our packs and rolleys) then finally found a street map kiosk only to realize we were at the wrong exit door. We had to walk back the entire long hallway to the opposite side. When we heard a train arrive, within one minute the corridor was completely packed with hurrying people, and a minute later empty again. Just like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. We found the other exit door, another map, and headed out to the street. Our hotel was two blocks away and in five minutes we were checking in.

Paris street scene near our hotelDave: The desk guy seemed weird, not dangerous, just "dorky". He seemed careless and distracted. An older guy that you might find minding the pool at a seniors community. Like he should have saved his money when he was younger or something. He was friendly but casually disinterested in us, like he wanted to get back to the TV show he was watching. Wouldn't help or even have fun as I tried to speak French. Wouldn't recommend a place for dinner. He needed a form filled out (Passport#, etc) but said to not bother now and to do it later instead (we never bothered to fill it out). Ah, "cest la vie" I say with a shrug.

The room was up one flight (on the "first" floor) and we turned to use the tiny lift behind us. Oh no, he suddenly sparks to life, please use the stairs. But we have luggage, I pointed out, and the staircase has a spiral with dangerous wedge shape stairs. Oh, that is easy, he said, simply have your son here carry up the suitcases, he is strong and healthy. I looked at Jesse and he wanted out of the lobby. So he took one bag in each hand and headed up the tiny staircase and its tiny wedge shaped spiral stairs, while I followed. We quickly found our room, it was tiny but at least 30% bigger than our previous room in Brugge. However, the bathroom was tiny and definitely not designed for "Grand Homme" Americans. Both the bathroom door and the shower door would not close if either of us were inside. How quaint. I leaned out the window and took our first pictures of Paris, including the abandoned and boarded up building across from our hotel. We tried to call home but couldn't, the telephone was pulse only. It was still light out, so we quickly reorganized our stuff to head out for dinner. We split up the money, locked up the passports and tickets, put away the laptop and camera and maps and guides. All we took was the GPS and our appetites. We will take Paris pictures tomorrow.

Dave: We stepped out on the street and set the GPS, it was getting dusk and our only goal was to get a small dinner and return to the room. We were dangerously close to repeating our trick from Brugge and having frites for dinner (grrr). Gare St Lazare had a huge construction project in its outparcel. A five story building was going up, wrapped in construction signs and with cones and barricades. We looked all directions to guess where restaurants would be, and headed up the street.

It was a lonely Sunday evening, and all the buildings were closed tight and abandoned. It was a little eerie during our peak of paranoia. Had this been America, homeless guys would surely have been sleeping in the doorways, and I kept imagining that I saw some when I didn't. We were behind the train station, crossing the tracks on a bridge with no sign of life and the sun setting. Also, a new vision was a city block full of office building being gutted and rebuilt. This is a fantastic program, which we saw several more times in the coming days. All exterior windows are jammed open with wood cross members, and the facade is held in place with a webbing of steel I-Beams out across the sidewalk into the street. The complete 5 story interior is gutted and rebuilt, providing a modern office with modern wiring and internet access, with an historic building facade keeping with the French Provincial look of the neighborhood. Of course it was the next day that it all made sense. Tonight, starving, wandering about an abandoned city, it was something out of a black-and-white horror movie. A giant empty shell of a building when we wanted lights and noise, people and food. Very, very weird.

Paris Gare St Lazar

The ornate Gare St Lazare train station in Paris

Paris building being gutted and rebuilt

Paris building having its interior completely rebuilt

Dave: We crossed the Place de Europe and passed one, then two Metro's but still had no place to eat. We finally saw some neon bulbs, but as we walked toward them (like moths) we finally made out that they were for "sex shop" businesses and instead continued down our abandoned side street as darkness fell.

We finally appeared on Rue St Lazare, and encountered several restaurants about a square that included the Trinity church. Sun set and lights came on as we walked between the restaurants trying to decide what to eat. I get disoriented in such a situation, but Jesse took over, and started making decisions. One place had a small counter to get take away sandwiches, which I recommended to have in the room. We didn't need to be hanging out in this abandoned dangerous place. On a lark, as we were choosing, I asked if we might instead have a small snack in the cafe. We did not want a large dinner or the "plat du jour", just something small. The host was delighted and sent his friend to seat us, bring us menus, and point out small snack items. I had a delicious small quiche / tart and Jesse had a croquette <?> sandwich. Jus d'Orange, Eau du Tap, and it was bedtime. I told about our day of Brugge, trains, bicycles, and bed. Fatigue, oui. With our bill, our host taught us the difference between "Bon Sior" (good evening) and "Bon Nuit" (good night) by putting his hands together as a child's pillow. "Bon Nuit" he wished us and I replied "Merci". I wished we had brought the camera.

We walked back to the hotel and can you guess what happened? As we walked back along Rue St Lazare we encountered restaurant after restaurant after restaurant. All of them lit and full and bustling. All of them serving at the very un-American hour of 10pm. We had simply guessed the wrong street on our little Sunday night walk and had toured a shut tight business district. I was so shocked that I actually walked back to where we stood when we first left the hotel. By now, it was dark and the lights and neon clearly showed activity, but it was easy to see how at dusk with the construction the area had looked abandoned. This was our last feeling of worry or confusion in Paris. When the sun came up in the morning, we were completely adapted to our host country and its way of doing things. We didn't always appreciate the differences, but we understood them. But as we went to bed on Sunday night we were exhausted and apprehensive and overwhelmed by it all, and it was all very unnecessary.

To finish the story, since we could not phone home from our hotel (pulse phone) we wanted to call Lyn from a pay phone. We waited at a phone booth for five minutes as two people carried on their endless conversations, then finally crossed to a phone at the train station (with a homeless guy sitting nearby). I told Jesse my experience in Milan, with scraggy men following me from phone to phone around the train station as why I wanted to use the well lit (but occupied) booth outside. We finally charged in, called home quickly; "Can't talk, will be in our room in 10 min, call us there". We returned to our room, the desk guy told us Lyn had already called, and we told him she would be calling again. When our room phone rang, we told her our stories, and then crashed into our beds. Welcome to Paris!

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Original Web Upload May 2002
Last Update: March 18, 2008