There’s nothing that quite compares to skating around an ice rink, with a cold nose as Christmas carols fill the air. Whilst the weather is bitter, the atmosphere is warm and joyous. As you pause mid-lap on the ice skating rink, you take in your surroundings… You’re bound by old buildings and market stalls, the area is scattered with people chatting, laughing and drinking gluhwein. This is Christmas in Bruges, Belgium.
Christmas. It seems to creep up quicker and quicker every year. With the holiday season right around the corner, I’m sure there are plenty of you that are getting ready to pack your bags and travel to wherever it is the rest of your family are. For some of you, that trip might only be a short one, for others it may require a day’s travel. Or, if you’re really lucky, your family might be headed out to a destination Christmas!
Last year, my family did just that. We packed our bags and boarded a plane to Belgium. This was particularly exciting as it was to be our first family Christmas together for a very long time – my Dad works night shifts, so for as long as I can remember, Christmas mornings were spent waiting for Dad to get home from work before opening presents. As you can imagine, as a little girl waiting to open presents from Santa Clause was one of the hardest things in the world!
Leaving Sydney a few days before the arrival of Mr. Clause was a mixed experience. There was excitement for the coming trip and sadness as I left Henry for the holiday season. Previously, I have spent time in the weeks coming up to Christmas in different countries. I love seeing how different parts of the world prepare for and how they celebrate Christmas, however I’ve never spent Christmas Day abroad.
Arriving in Europe was as it always is after a 24 hour-plus flight – manic. We’d arranged to fly into Charles Des Gaulle Airport and pick up a car in the 7th arrondisement – flying into Paris and picking up a car in the CBD were both much cheaper options. However as we drove into Paris’ crazy centre-ville it dawned on us what a terrible idea this was. Anyone who has experienced the traffic in Paris would understand how insane picking up a car right near the Arc de Triumphe is, let alone driving it after minimal sleep! But, by some miracle we managed and drove off in the direction of Bruges, Belgium.
Driving through the quaint towns of country France, in the crisp, early winter days made the ungodly 26th hour (guesstimate, it was probably more like the 50th hour – just kidding. But it was a really, REALLY long time!) of travel pleasantly bearable. The small towns were cutely decorated in reds and greens, ready for the arrival of Le Père Noël. After three hours of driving through France and into Belgium, we’d finally made it to Bruges. Driving into the city, we were all in awe at the sight of the abundance of flashing Christmas lights that encircled the area and were then surprised again at the adorable architecture that Europe is well known for. As it turned out, we would be staying in one of the cute two-storey town houses for the week that we were there.
Why/how did we end up in Bruges for Christmas? The idea came to Dad whilst we were Skype chatting when I was living in Montana. It was snowing heavily outside and I commented on how cool it would be to have a white Christmas. At this point in time, the family were deciding whether to come and visit me in Bozeman or wait for a family holiday later on in the year. A couple of days after chatting with Dad, I received a text off him asking if I could talk. I quickly called him and he asked if I’d be upset if they didn’t come to Montana and instead we all went to Europe for Christmas. Initially, I thought he was joking. Turns out he wasn’t. My fleeting comment only a few days prior about a white Christmas had stuck in his head and he decided a white, European Christmas would be an enjoyable experience for all of us. We just had to choose a destination.
Unsurprisingly, the list of possible white Christmas destinations was vast. However, we had managed to limit it to Bruges Belgium, Füssen Germany or Copenhagen Denmark. We ended up choosing Bruges as Copenhagen was out of our price range, and it was more time efficient to get to Bruges than Füssen (however, we were still able to visit Füssen later on in the trip).
Unfortunately it didn’t snow while we were in Bruges, but this didn’t lower any Christmas spirit. Our time in Bruges prior to Christmas Day was spent wandering around the city; ice skating, going to the ice sculpture show and meandering around the Christmas markets. Lots of hot chocolates, gluhwein, frites and chocolate in general were consumed.
Christmas in Bruges is definitely what can only be described as a fairy tale experience that is definitely worth encountering.
Wishing you all the best for a very Merry Christmas!