When a group of twelve castle students set off for Bruges, Belgium on their first week of travel break, many of them were nervous about how the weekend would progress. Would they make their train transfers? Would the hostel be nice (or at least clean)? Would they learn to find their way around the city? I was a part of this group, along with many other students that chose this quaint, medieval city as their first destination. While I felt I had prepared as best as I could for my first independent excursion, there was one question nagging me on the early morning train ride: what am I going to do this weekend?I had spent so much time finishing assignments before the trip and making travel arrangements that I never looked to see what Bruges offered to visitors until a few days before. Even then, I couldn’t find much about the city. At that point I was resigned to the fact that I would just play it by ear once I had arrived.
However, by eight o’clock that night we had a list of what we wanted to see and do before our train back to Well, thanks to the free “In Bruges” tour offered by our hostel. Kai Angelet, an American transplant living in Bruges and our tour guide for the evening, told us everything (really, everything) we did while in Bruges.
Kai’s self-described movie inspired (he pointed out several landmarks where scenes from the 2008 film In Bruges) and “politically incorrect” tour was exactly as he had advertised it in the five minutes before we began our walk around the city: rude and unconventional, but full of useful information about the sights and anything free. When he wasn’t insulting the group or making us say Dutch curses we didn’t understand as he took a group photo, he was telling us about the church ruins underneath the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which anyone can visit if they ask the front desk to point them in the right direction. He also told us about Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child, his only sculpture to leave Italy during his lifetime that would only cost us one euro to see in person. In addition to this, he overwhelmed us with advice on cheap but excellent food and snacks in the city. Instead of purchasing the must-have Belgian chocolate from one of the many boutiques lining the narrow streets, Kai told us to go to the supermarket, which offers typical but tasty chocolate for a fraction of the price. He also gave us several discount cards for dinner off Market Square, the main gathering space for the city. Several of us dined on a giant pot of mussels and fries for only 15 euro on our last night, which may not have been possible without the card, since it typically costs 18 euro just for the order of mussels.
In this case, it probably was good that I didn’t have every minute of my weekend scheduled out. When traveling, you’ll never know from whom or where you’ll get the best advice. Sometimes it’s best to simply absorb your new surrounding and take what is presented to you; it may lead somewhere unexpected. So, the moral of this story: never pass up a free tour.