October 16, 2016 — Bruges, Belgium to Arnhem, The Netherlands

Arnhem Post Office

Arnhem Post Office

Arnhem Architecture

Arnhem Architecture

Arnhem Eusebius Church

Arnhem Eusebius Church

This morning we departed Bruges about 8:30am, bound for the town of Arnhem in The Netherlands. The weather was beautiful, sunny and warmer than it had been over the last couple of days. The drive took about two hours to reach the border with The Netherlands where we were greeted by a local guide from Arnhem. We stopped at a roadside convenience stop near the border for the bus driver’s mandatory rest period before proceeding on to Arnhem. The drive from the border was another 1.5 hours to our ship in Arnhem.

Arnhem, a city of about 150,000, is located in the Eastern part of the Netherlands and is where we board our riverboat called the Ms. River Splendor. The River Splendor, built in 2013, is a 442-foot-long by 38-foot-wide riverboat with a maximum capacity of 176 passengers and 46 crew members. This will be our home for the next two weeks.

Arnhem was a genteel nineteenth-century resort town admired for its wealthy homes and lush parks. Its renown grew during World War II, when an attempt to liberate the city failed after British, and Polish paratroopers were dropped too far from the city’s strategically important bridge to take it. Their heroism was depicted in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far.

After lunch onboard we took an afternoon walking tour into town. Being a Sunday afternoon, many of the local shops were closed but most of the restaurants were open and the streets were filled with locals out for a bite to eat or an afternoon beer. We stopped at an old beautiful church called Eusebous Church, only used for church services once a month and now mostly used as a public exhibition space and performance hall. No altar, pews or ornamentation remain in the church. They were having an organ concert played on an ornate organ installed in the 15th-century church after World War II. The church features a 300-foot-tall bell tower with the largest carillon bell in The Netherlands.

The streets were filled with gorgeous architecturally stunning buildings built over the last several hundred years. The old post office now being converted to a brewery is stunning. Many of the shops were unique to us and featured beautiful clothing, instruments, cafes and shops. Many of the streets are pedestrian only, which allows you to wander freely without the fear of being hit by a car, but you still need to watch for bicycles that are everywhere in the city.

October 15, 2016 — Bruges, Belgium (Hotel Oud Huis de Peellaert)

Michelangelo's Madonna and Child

Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child

Bruges Chocolate Shop

Bruges Chocolate Shop

St Anna's Church

St Anna’s Church

Our 50 room hotel was the 19th century aristocratic house of Baron de Peellaert and is located just 500 feet from the cities Big Market Square. It is very grand with beautiful traditional public rooms with crown moldings, heavy draperies, wing back chairs, ornate chandeliers and fine wood furniture.

Our buffet breakfast was served in the Orangerie room with a view of the hotels inner garden. Scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, cold-cuts, bacon, sausage, pastries and breads, cereal, juice and coffee were served. Very nice! We met a couple named Marie and Charlie at breakfast who were on the river cruise we took last year from Paris to Normandy and back. Otherwise we do not recognize any of the folks on the trip with us.

Our local guide, who grew up in Bruges, took us on a three-hour walking tour around the center of town to see some of the highlights. We visited the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk church which dominates the Brugian skyline with its 373-foot-tall tower. This makes it the second highest brick building in the world. Building work on the current church began in 1225. It has a main central nave in Tourney stone finished in a typical Gothic style. It was the 15th century before a spire crowned the church tower, and even later when the choir and the central nave were finally roofed over.

The highlight of the church is Michelangelo’s marble Madonna and Child from 1505. The choir contains the tombs of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold. Above the alter hangs a triptych showing the passion of Christ by the official court painter of Margaret of Austria, Bernard van Orley.

We also visited a chocolate shop where they make their own chocolates and we even got to sample the chocolate.

In the afternoon we went out walking with several ladies who are traveling alone. They were interested in visiting the Adornes Estate which has been in the same family since the early 1400’s. At the estate you are able to visit the Jerusalem Chapel that was consecrated in 1429 and was inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. We also visited a very ornate church called St. Anna’s Church, the Basilica of the Holy Blood and Magdalene’s Church.

Along our walk we took in the Begijnhof Nunnery where we visited a small museum on the site. Just outside of the nunnery was a large section of canal where a large number of white swans were hanging out.

We stopped at a small waffle shop where we ordered Belgium waffles for everyone. The waffles came with chocolate, bananas, honey or plain. The waffles were made from a thick dough and they have a fair amount of sugar in them. The density of them is much heavier than we have at home.

After our four hour walk, we joined the other guests at a local brewery where we each tried a local variety of beer. The type of beer that I tried was one that was a bit sweeter and had a cherry flavor. Still not my thing, but it was interesting to try.

For dinner Kent and I had a bite to eat at an Asian noodle shop called Marco Polo Noodles. The food was very nice.

October 14, 2016 — Brussels and motor coach to Bruges, Belgium


Bruges City Hall

Bruges Canal

Bruges Canal

This morning we arrived in Brussels at 9:15am local time before we were taken by bus to the town of Bruges located about 65 miles away. The drive took us through beautiful countryside where the fall leaves are beginning to turn. We saw many corn fields, horses, cattle and sheep.

Belgium is located on the North Sea surrounded by the Netherlands and Germany on the east, France on the west and Luxembourg on the south. Belgium has a population of about 11,000,000 inhabitants. Because of its proximity to these other nations, 60% of the population speak Dutch while the other 40% speak French.

The name Bruges is derived from the Old Dutch word meaning bridge. Bruges is the capital and the largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium, in the northwest of the country. Bruges has a population of about 125,000 people and is a canal-based city similar to Amsterdam and Stockholm. Some refer to it as the Venice of the north. Due to its port it has significant economic importance and was once the chief commercial city of the world.

The historic center of Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site created to protect the city with the best preserved historic medieval architecture. The most famous landmark is its 13th Century belfry housing 48 bells. The city still employs a full-time carillonneur, who gives free concerts on a regular basis. The Belfry tower stands some 272 feet high and is accessible for the public to walk up the tower’s 366 steps to the top.

Our hotel for two nights is the Oud Huis de Peellaert located just a couple of blocks from the main market square in the center of town. This 50 room historic hotel was created from two 19th century buildings built in the empire and classical style.

We were taken on a short walking tour around the heart of this historic city by our city host before exploring on our own for the remainder of the afternoon. Meandering cobblestone streets lined with beautiful stone and brick buildings line the streets. There are many chocolate shops, restaurants and stylish fashion shops. We stopped at a local hotel’s tea room for some croquettes for lunch.

In the early evening we had a welcome drink with the city host and the 38 of us who are on the pre-river cruise extension to Bruges. By 8:30pm we were exhausted and turned in for the night without having dinner.

October 13, 2016 — San Diego to New York to Brussels

We departed San Diego this morning at 7:00am bound for New York’s Kennedy Airport where we boarded a flight at 7:35pm local time bound for Brussels, Belgium. On the flight from New York to Brussels there were about a dozen Haredi (Orthodox) Jewish families onboard with anywhere from four to seven children each. I don’t believe that I have been around so many traditionally dressed Jewish folks in my life. They were all very polite, friendly and looked after the children well. They were headed to Antwerp, Belgium for something.