Our next stop, via Thalys Train, was the charming city of Bruges in Belgium. We purchased these train tickets ahead of time, as well. Thalys mailed the tickets to me via UPS. It cost only a few dollars more to upgrade to first class--and it was definitely worth it. If you travel first class, you get free Wi-Fi, a snack/lunch, and a drink (including wine). It was so easy to find our train track once we arrived at the train station. At the track, there is a large board showing the coach numbers so you'll know where to stand and wait for your coach on the train. I recommend that once you get on your coach, quickly store your luggage in the bins at the end of the coach before they get full.
Upon arriving at Bruges station, ask for the exit where the taxis are so you don't get lost, and be sure to carry change in case you need to use the restroom at the train station (it cost 50 cents to use it). For our stay in Bruges, we chose a boutique hotel well located right in the center of town: Hotel Academie. It was only a 10-minute walk from the train station, but with our luggage, we decided to take a taxi for 8 euro. The staff at the desk was friendly and helped us with directions. Our room was spacious and the hotel has a lovely courtyard to hang out in. Their breakfast buffet was 12.50 euro and quite elaborate. Bruges is a beautiful, quaint, and lovely city to walk around. There are chocolate shops everywhere, with chocolate molded into unique shapes. All of the shops seem to compete for the most unique and interesting window displays. The buildings are hundreds of years old, and there are canals throughout the city. We loved our boat ride through the canals here, too. I almost felt like we were on a movie set, it was so quaint.
For dinner we ate at another winner: Park Restaurant. This restaurant is rated the Number One restaurant in Bruges on Trip Advisor, and I can see why. They have a pre-set 4-course dinner menu paired with wine, and they continually brought out additional dishes in between the 4 courses. This restaurant is family-owned, and housed in a building that was converted from 3 houses. The owner was charming; he came out and welcomed everyone personally. The service was first class all the way. They started with a complimentary “amuse bouche” of salmon with a mini pancake, along with a glass of champagne or kir royal. This was followed by a gratin scallop appetizer, then carrot soup served in a really unique cup. Next was beef filet in a red wine sauce that was unbelievable, followed by wonderful desserts. Although the menu said that wine was limited to one glass per course, the wait staff filled my glass whenever it was empty. This was truly a spectacular meal.
We had so much fun the next day exploring this charming city. Since we'd arrived on a Saturday which was very busy, the small city (which has skinny sidewalks and cobble-stone streets made for horse-drawn carriages) seemed very crowded with tour groups and people, so it was nice to explore the little cobblestone side streets on Sunday morning when it was much quieter. It was so pleasant and the shops were really cute. We also visited the Choco Museum which is dedicated to the history of and modern day creation of chocolate candy. The museum tour ends in a demonstration room where they made hazelnut-filled chocolate candies. Best of all, at the very end we got to sample this delectable chocolate. Belgium is also known for its fabulous waffles and French fries (which, they say, were first made there). We ate both waffles and fries in this city and loved them. We found a small shop that made only "twice-fried" French fries and serve them with a choice of different dipping sauces for them. Yum! We bought waffles both at the local restaurant and also on the square. Both were equally delicious, and worth the calories.