Meeting Your Trip in BRUGGE 2015
On this page, you will find information about reaching your trip. Topics include...
We suggest that you print these pages out, and bring a copy with you to your trip.
When and Where:
In Brugge, on Saturday; at our “usual hotel” (the one on the trip's hotel list), even if you are staying somewhere else. Your Coordinator will go there at least twice, at 3p and again at 7p.
Brugge is a mid-sized city an hour west of Brussels, Belgium's capital.
Included in Your Access Package, if you subscribed to it:
A train ticket to Brugge, as well as a detailed timetable of the train for which you are reserved, if any. If you are arriving via Brussels’ airport, called Zaventem, trains to Brugge 3-per-hour, via a connection in downtown Brussels.
Travel Documents will have been sent to you in advance, unless you are arriving via Paris, in which case they will be supplied by our Paris office. You will receive either a train ticket, or a railpass with accompanying explanation regarding its use, and a schedule for the train that you have reserved.
Getting to the Trip
The following routings are described. You may follow the link to jump directly to yours, or just scroll down. Information on getting to your hotel from the Brugge station is offered at the start of the next section, “Practical Information.”
Tickets from Brussels to Brugge are not train-specific.
There is a rail station directly beneath the airport terminal. Once per hour, there is a direct fast train to Brugge (at 59" past the hour in the 2015 timetable). If you just miss it, take the next train departing for downtown Brussels (they run roughly every 15 minutes, and most go beyond Brussels to other places).
Brussels has three major stations, North (Nord in the vernacular), Central (Centrale or Centraal, depending on the language of the sign you see), and South, confusingly called Bruxelles-Midi or Brussel-Zuid, in French and Dutch respectively. You could make your connection at any of these, but the easiest is probably Central, since it has the fewest platforms.
To help you identify it: trip time from the airport is 25 to 30 minutes, depending on whether your train is a local or an express. Your train will arrive first at North Station, then go underground and stop at the Central station. Get off here. Should you forget, or be confused, or prefer to make your connection in daylight, it will then continue slowly through a tunnel, resurface, and come to a stop at South / Midi / Zuid. Absolutely get off here: it is your last connection point.
Now catch the next train to Brugge. To find it on the departure board: trains with a final destination of any of Oostende, Knokke or Blankenberge all go to Brugge. Collectively, these trains run every 20 minutes. Trip time to Brugge is a shade over 50 minutes, and the trains make one intermediate stop, in Gent (the station name is St. Pieters, so Gent St. Pieters is what you will see on the station signs). Hints on reaching your hotel are offered below.
From Paris or Germany.
If you are arriving via Paris, you have received separate instructions regarding the trip from the airport or rail station to the city center (either to our office, or to a hotel if you are spending a night in one of our hotels before setting out). On the trip’s start date, you will travel to Brugge by train. These trains require reservations, and you will have a precise schedule and routing associated with your reserved seat.
Your tickets will be waiting for you in our Paris office, open Monday - Saturday from 10a to 1:30p, and from 3p to 6:30p.
If you cannot arrange to stop by during these periods, consult us for alternate arrangements.
If you are arriving via a German airport, you will generally travel as far as Brussels Midi / Zuid station on an international train or trains from Germany, and connect there for the train to Brugge (see above, instructions from Brussels, for further information. You will have a precise schedule and reservations for this trip.
Trains from Amsterdam start from Amsterdam Central Station, and stop at Schipol Airport on their way to Belgium. They run every two hours, and their final destination is “Brussel.”
You, however, do not ride all the way to Brussels. You detrain after about two hours, at a station called Antwerpen-Centraal. From Antwerpen-Centraal, catch the hourly express train to Brugge (final destination is Oostende). Trip time from Antwerpen to Brugge is 75 minutes, and the prior stop is Aalter, 12 minutes prior.
Practical Information in Brugge
To get to the Hotel from the Brugge Station
The hotel is not an easy walk from the station, if you have luggage. To get there by bus: the bus bays are to the left of the train station as you exit. Walk out the front of the station building and to the left, and buy your bus ticket from the kiosk that you find there, before boarding your bus. You then “validate” it on board, by sticking it in the little machine by the driver’s seat.
If you are at the Ter Reien, take bus #6 or #16. There is a stop on Langestraat, just before the hotel: ask the driver to let you know when you get there.
If you are at the Hotel Central or the Hotel Lucca, any bus going to “Centrum” will take you to the centre of town. Get off at the “Markt” stop, on the town’s huge central square, just in front of the main post office. The Central is on this square.
The Lucca is in Naaldenstraat, 2 blocks away from the town "Centrum". To get to it, put your back to City Hall, the post office on your right, and leave the square by Eiermarkt, at the far left corner of the square. In a short block tis becomes Sint Jakobsstraat. Naaldenstraat is another block along this, the first right turn.
Combatting Jet Lag
Trips starting in Brugge assemble on Saturday in time for dinner, but if you arrive in time for the earlier meet, you may take possession of your bike, and use it to explore town. If you have just landed from the United States, we strongly suggest that you not sleep, at least until 10p or so, since even a short nap when you arrive will ensure that you are wide awake and raring to go between 2 and 6a for the next couple of days.
Arriving in Belgium, Brugge
NOTES ON BELGIUM
Belgium is the epicenter of modern Europe. But let’s start with the stereotypes. Chocolate, lace, beer, canals... the place is peopled by Flemmings and Walloons. It is flat as a pancake (no, it is not, as you shall have ample opportunity to appreciate). It is home to a great school of modern painting (Magritte, Delvaux, Sommeville, Hankar...), and also to many of the Flemish masters that you always thought of as Dutch (Memling, Ruebens, Brueghel...). Jacques Brel was Belgian, a native Dutch speaker who made his name and his reputation as one of the French language’s great modern poets. The quality of his singing is a subject of more debate: think Bob Dylan.
It is a country that many feel should not exist: a recent creation made up of peoples who get along with each other more or less well, and many of whom would rather not share a government. But they share more than a few unifying traits, and more than they themselves recognize: Belgians never call themselves Belgian within their borders. They declare themselves French or Dutch (“Wallon” or “Vlams”). But they become Belgian when they travel abroad, which is endearing. It is hard to imagine what they would do without each other; though we will probably find out within our lifetimes.
Here are a couple of particularities, regarding beer, language, and riding trains with bicycles, to which we draw your attention. They should help to federate your time in this fascinating land.
This is not a simple topic in Belgium. There are three, all spoken as “native,” and they are often used to argue.
French Belgians (Walloons) were the traditional “money-and-power” elite. Through early Belgian history, the Dutch, who made up close to half of the population, were treated somewhat shabbily. But birth rates and the decline of heavy industry (concentrated in the French-speaking section of the country) turned the tables. In recent years, the Dutch, now a majority, have delighted in taking revenge. As a parliamentary majority working in a French-created system where protection of minority rights was not a primary preoccupation, they have found many ways to do so.
The country is currently run as a 3-region federal state: Flanders, whose official language is Dutch; Wallonia, which speaks French (the small German-speaking section of the country is officially part of Wallonia); and “Bruxelles / Brussel - Capital,” officially bilingual, though in fact 85% French-speaking, and growing gradually moreso.
French-speaking Bruxelles is something of a curiosity, as it is actually an island in Flanders, separated from Wallonia by a thin band of Dutch-speaking suburbs. Its drift towards the French language is partly accounted for by the large number of European functionaries, who prefer French to Dutch as a language for their children’s schooling.
In our route sheets, we adopt the local language in mentioning town names. This is not only politically correct; it is also what you will see on the town signs as you look for them. But it produces occasional surprises in Flanders, whose French-language town names are better-known internationally. And railway stations in one part of the country will talk about train destinations in another that do not correspond to what you see on the map, or on the station sign when you arrive! For example, in the Dutch-speaking part of the country, trains travelling to the French city of Mons will be labeled as travelling to “Bergen.”
That beer should get its own chapter in Belgium will seem perfectly logical to you by the end of your trip. We have long dreamed of running a “Belgian Beer Trip,” with a real focus on Belgium’s extraordinary variety of cereal-based wines (for it is thus that they appear to us). This is not that trip, but we will nonetheless show you what we can of these gastronomic treats. If you are not a beer drinker, you may find reasons to re-evaluate. If you are, you may be surprised, not to say disappointed: many of Belgium’s beers will taste so different from what you have come to think of as beer that you will not recognize them as such.
We ourselves will contribute with our “Beer of the Day” program. Belgian route sheets will select a local brew (roots never more than a few kilometers away) to which we draw your attention: light, dark, trappist, fruity... all will be represented. The first of our choices is below.
However, we would be doing you a disservice were we to ignore an entire family of Belgian beers, by far the most unusual, from the Zenne Valley south of Brussels, through which our trip does not pass. These are lambic beers.
Lambic beers are wheat-and-barley mixes, with at least 30% unmalted wheat. The “malting” of grain, a normal part of the brewing process for most beers, involves allowing the grain to germinate, upon which it releases the sugars necessary to fermentation. Unmalted wheat instead produces a milky-white wort, or mash (normal wort is clear), and a relatively low alcohol content, at least by Belgian standards. Conversely, it gives the beer a delecate and complex flavor, a bit “sour.”
The remainder of the grain used is mostly malted barley, though small amounts of corn or rye are used by some brewers.
The next particularity of lambic beers comes at the boiling stage: as many as 6 times the usual number of hops are added to the boil than for conventional beer. However, the hops are aged and dried for up to three years before entering the boil. This is to reduce their flavor, not considered a plus to the lambic brew. The hops in a lambic beer are being used for their secondary purpose, which is to protect the beer from unwanted infection and excessive oxidation. The boil lasts much longer than in a normal brew: up to six hours (90 minutes would be more conventional).
The final stage of the process is the most critical: the fermentation is spontaneous, provoked by naturally occuring yeasts that float around on the air currents of Bruxelles’ southern suburbs, and only there! The boiled wort is cooled in the loft of the brewery, in broad, shallow pans. Windows or vents are opened to the outside, to capture yeasts, which are carried by the winds. These provoke the fermentation. Two of the 20 or so species of microflora found in Lambic beers are indigenous to the Zenne Valley: bruxellensis and lambicus. Both of these must be present in a lambic brew for the label to apply.
The beer then ages, for at least several months, sometimes for years. Most beers have a primary and a secondary fermentation. Belgian specialty beers other than lambics often have a third, in-the-bottle fermentation, provoked by the re-introduction of live yeasts. But lambics go through at least five phases in fermentation, each forming part of a long chain reaction. This helps explain the extraordinary complexity of the beer, both on the palate and to the nose.
Straight lambic is bone dry, and virtually without carbonation. In the suburbs of Bruxelles (and in Brueghel paintings) it is still served in this manner, often poured from porcelain jugs.
More accessible to non-initiated palates is the blended Geuze: a mix of different lambics with live yeasts added for a final bottle fermentation (and attendant carbonation). In Belgium, pasturized, sweetened versions of Geuze are often found outside the region of their birth. And this is virtually the only type of lambic ever found abroad. The natural products, whether pure lambics or “real” geuze, are rare. But they are well worth hunting down, though you will find them far outside your frame of reference.
The last members of the lambic family are the “Krieks” and “Framboises.” These lambics, seasoned with flemmish cherries and wallon raspberries respectively, are the original fruit beers. Though they have spawned a host of imitations in recent years, most of the immitations are “just” beer seasoned with fruit syrup. These originals actually macerate fruit, and use lambic yeasts to spontaneously ferment the resulting fruit sugars, producing a dry (non-sweet) but very fruity beer. Yum!
So, in addition to your “beer of the day,” you should always try a “lambic of the day,” whichever you come across. It’s going to be a tough trip.
Your first “beer of the day” assignment is below.
Beer of the Day:
Rodenbach. Brewed in the canal port of Roeselare, about 20 minutes by train from Brugge. Rodenbach is the king of the West Flanders Red Ales, all of which are brewed in the plain between Kortrijk and Brugge. They are typically low in alcohol by Belgian standards (5 - 6% by volume), and remarkably satisfying.
Rodenbach’s tart beers (some think of them as sour, but they are not bitter) are brewed from a grist comprising about 80% malt, and a balance of corn grits. Unusually for this part of Belgium, no wheat is used. They are finished with the addition of a small amount of caramelized sugar, virtually undetectable to the palate.
Some of the beer is then aged in giant oak barrels for nearly two years before bottling. The barrels are scraped to release fresh wood flavor between every use. This “old” beer is then mixed with “young” beer to make regular Rodenbach, or bottled on its own as “Rodenbach Grand Cru.” If you come across the less common “Rodenbach Alexander,” it is a slightly sweeter version of the Grand Cru, flavored with a cherry essence. Local drinkers of the other two Rodenbach varieties often add a dash of grenadine syrup to achieve similar effect.
The Rodenbach brewery is one of the largest in the world that does not make a pilsner (“blond”) beer of any sort. Its unusual products are drunk as basic “table beer” in the area around Roeselare, and as specialty beers elsewhere in Belgium, and around the world.
Technical Points, Not Involving Beer
- Riding trains with bikes.
All Belgian trains take bikes on a space-available basis. The procedure for riding them is always the same. Buy a bike ticket as well as your own human ticket. Bike tickets cost a few euros, regardless of the distance of your trip, if they are bought at a station. If they are bought on board a train (even if the station is closed or not staffed), they cost approximately double, though even that price is still not outrageous.
Bike tickets come with two coupons: a big coupon, which you hold on to, and a small coupon (usually provided with a string or a rubber band), which you attach to your bike in some obvious place. Both halves need to be filled out with the day, the date, and the trip you are making.
When you get to your train, or it gets to you, look for the baggage compartment. The baggage compartment can be identified by the wide, sliding door, wide enough to let in the load off of a fork lift, rather than just a human. To help you locate it at a distance: it is usually (not always) part of the first class coach (the one with the yellow stripe over it).
Your big panier must be taken off before (or as) you load the bike onto the train, as the bike gets hung up on a hook. If your panier is still on, its weight will turn the front wheel into an elipse. Furthermore, on some trains the cycle compartment is so small as to hold only two bikes. In order that other cyclists (maybe part of your group) not be left on the platform, courtesy / cyclist solidarity demands that you make your cycle as small as possible, in order that three or four fit into the space designed for two.
- An Unusual Urban Road Rule
Riding against traffic on one-way streets is not systematically against the rules in Belgium. If you see a “do not enter” sign, but attached to it is a sign that has a cycle pictogram, that means “do not enter except bikes.” You are then allowed to drive down the street against traffic.
Bon voyage / Zich verakem!