Guest post by Catherine Trueman
So this time last year I was studying for my dissertation on the theme of ‘Motivations to attend Christmas Markets’, interviewing a host of approachable Geordies about their experiences at such an event. A year on, and now working in the fabulous E-Commerce team here at Superbreak, I had a chance to actually enjoy the festive spirit rather than analyse it, experience the real deal in a traditional location and more importantly devour world renowned chocolate in the beautiful medieval town of Bruges.
Excited and geared up for my first ever Eurostar experience, I was ready at St. Pancras, as advised, 30 minutes before Eurostar check-in commenced – plenty of time for a much needed Americano caffeine hit and a wander around the station. Considering I’m hopeless with directions (some say I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag), finding the Eurostar check-in from Kings Cross station was a doddle. Check-in was easy enough, with the standard security measures expected from travelling to the continent. Departing from St. Pancras at 9am, we stopped at Calais and Ghent before arriving in Brussels at midday. A small train delay meant we had a minor panic through Brussels station, running through the crowds like the scene from Home Alone 2! Hot and bothered but safely on board we caught the connection to Bruges in the nick of time and were back on schedule. Be warned that some trains in Belgium split in half at some stations so make sure you’re on the right carriage! The Eurostar to Bruges arrived around 1.30pm so there was plenty of time for souvenir shopping, food indulgence and soaking up that wonderful festive atmosphere.
The main market square is around a minutes’ walk from Bruges train station and is easily found when following the crowds and well sign-posted – perfect for anyone with lack of spatial awareness! First on the agenda was sniffing out the crème de la crème of chocolate shops. After much deliberation and many taste tests later, and always a fan of a bargain, I plumped for a €15, ‘7 for 6’ box offer of scrumptious Belgian pralines. In the Christmas spirit, various stalls in the market square sold typical festive delights such as mulled wine, gingerbread, pate’s, and cheese and Christmas decorations. Bruges is a one-stop-shop for unique Christmas Gifts.
Top tip- when you start to feel peckish, my advice would be to travel away from the main market square and head to a quaint traditional pub down one of the many side streets. I searched around for a better deal and saved 5 Euro’s on a standard main course. All the more money to invest in some chocolate delights!
Before I indulged in any more Belgian delicacies, I headed back to the train station area where Bruges Ice Sculpture festival is running until 5th January 2014. The popular attraction, based on the new Disney movie ‘Frozen’, took place inside huge outdoor tent cooled to -6 degrees and. Not knowing what to expect, I was amazed by the sheer works of art in the form of life-sized Disney characters. The tent was turned into a fabulous ballroom full of Disney princes and princesses, Mickey mouse and friends, and even the 7 dwarves in ice form! Whilst the kids were queuing up for the world’s coolest ice slide, the adults sampled cockle-warming Jagermiester shots at the ice bar. For 15 Euro’s the talented and unique display was definitely worth the money and added something distinctive to my day out in Bruges.
I had a wonderful day exploring the charming boutiques and strolling about the markets then headed for the departing train around 5pm. The astounding architecture and romantic buildings gave uniqueness to the market square like no British city could remake, and there are just so many things to do in Bruges! Visiting the Christmas markets is certainly doable in a day but if you want to experience the other must-do’s in Bruges, then an overnight stay is the way to go! I would have had time to try out a boat trip on the mysterious canals, have a ride in a horse-drawn carriage and become an expert on the iconic landmarks with a city bus tour! Although travelling as part of a group, I did notice many couple’s looking loved up, practicing their selfies and relaxing with some warm mulled wine. If you’re looking for a romantic destination with a slower pace of life than some other European destination then Bruges could be just up your street.
For my return Eurostar trip I enjoyed a little extra luxury in ‘Standard Premier’ class, lucky me! For the extra cash you got a comfier, wider seating area and a plug socket for those always imminent technological breakdowns. A light meal was also included and a small bottle of wine. This was a nice little treat and since I travelled back to the early evening it was the perfect accompaniment to the stress free and relaxing journey back to St. Pancras International. If you have a free day around the festive period then heading to the Bruges Christmas market and back in 12 hours seems like a damn good festive experience to me, give it a go!