My Love Affair with Bruges

My Love Affair with Bruges

by Margaret Olsen


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Have you ever travelled somewhere and been drawn to go back again and again and again? Well, that is what Bruges, Belgium has done to me! What is it? The people, the canals, the cobblestones, the magnificent churches, the medieval history? Could I have lived here long, long ago?

As the train leaves, I look out the window until I can see Bruges no more, and then my tears begin to gently fall and I whisper, "I'll be back."

Come with me as I begin my first trip to Bruges in 1982...

'Walk the ancient cobblestones between historic buildings and breathe in the magic of Bruges as Margaret has done over many years, finding new in the old and old in the new, in this gripping and totally novel approach to her favourite city.

Gwen Molnar, author of Casey Templeton teen mysteries'.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504343930
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication date: 02/22/2016
Pages: 190
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.44(d)

Read an Excerpt

My Love Affair with Bruges

By Margaret Olsen

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2016 Margaret J. Olsen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5043-4393-0


Two Stops Before Norway

Ed and I made our first trip to Europe in 1969 and enjoyed it immensely. In 1982, we start to discuss going on another trip to Europe. Ed says, "I'd like to go to Norway this time."

"Oh, you want to explore your roots. Check out your Viking heritage!" He laughs. "Well, I need to do it soon while there are still relatives there to contact."

"Ed, all you need to do is to get the information from your Mom about your relatives in Norway. I'll start reading about Norway and also about other places we might like to go." Ed is not the avid reader that I am but he is happy for me to give him information as we travel.

As it turns out, our geologist daughter Debbie, who lives in Calgary, also expresses an interest in seeing Norway so we arrange for her to meet us in Oslo. Ed says, "With her height and her love of the outdoors, Debbie will fit right in with the Norwegians."

While researching, I become fascinated with Bruges, a medieval city in Belgium. The inner city, surrounded by a canal, has been preserved with buildings and bridges dating back to the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries. It intrigues me as I had never heard of it and the more I read about it, the more I feel I would love to include it in our trip, and even spend a few days there.

"When would we do that?" asks Ed when I tell him about it.

"Well, we could take the Wardair flight to Amsterdam and explore that city for a few days, then rent a car and drive to Bruges. Afterwards we could return to Amsterdam for our train journey to Copenhagen and on to Norway."

"Okay, I'll go with that. Will we need to make reservations in Bruges?"

"No, I don't believe that many people know about it. I've never heard of it and from what I've read, it is just a quiet medieval town."

In May, we fly eight hours to Amsterdam. I like the vibrancy of the Amsterdam airport as we get our luggage, catch a bus into the city and then take a taxi to our small hotel. Our room is not large but has two lovely windows opening onto a garden with a huge chestnut tree and I can hear birds singing.

Our first time in Amsterdam! Ed asks, "Would you like to go for a short walk?"

"No, I only got a few hours sleep on the plane, so I'm ready for a nap. But you go ahead and I'll have a walk with you later."

I snuggle into bed. I wish that I had Ed's enthusiasm but I'm just too tired to go walking right now. When I awake, Ed is there beside me and as I open my eyes wider and look around, I see a box of fresh strawberries on my bedside table.

"How nice! Where did you get them?" I eat one. "They're delicious. Mmmm."

"There is a fruit vendor just a short way from here. He has a stall by the canal, with lovely looking fruit. I thought that you would enjoy the strawberries."

We're close to Vondelpark so we walk there and then onwards through some of the streets. We're amazed at all the cyclists, so totally different from Canada. We walk and walk and, as it starts to rain, we head to the restaurant suggested by our hotel where we get a table by a window.

"Oh, this feels relaxing. I'm hungry, are you?"

"Yes, very. Must be all that fresh air we've had," says Ed.

"Listen, they're playing an American song. I thought we would hear Dutch music and the singing in Dutch, not English. The American influence is everywhere!"

After a delicious meal, we stroll back to our hotel. The rain has stopped and the evening is warm, people are everywhere, on the streets, in the restaurants, and with sounds of music it feels good to be walking among it all.

"What a lot of happy people. What fun. I get the feeling that their evenings are just beginning!" I say.

At our hotel we learn that breakfast is served between eight and ten in the morning. But now, we are off to bed, very ready for a good night's sleep!

We're awakened with knocking on the door. Morning already? I open my eyes and check the time – it's eleven- thirty! I quickly put on a robe and answer the door only to find the maids. I tell them that we have overslept and to come back later. Ed is stretching on the bed and I say,

"We've overslept and missed our breakfast! Just like our first trip to London, when we did the same thing!"

We begin our late start with breakfast at an outdoor café before taking in the Van Gogh museum. In the late afternoon we enjoy a lovely canal ride and in the evening, we choose an Indo-Chinese restaurant hoping to try their specialty, Rijsttafel. The waiter says that it translates to Rice Table. When it arrives it looks very impressive. There is rice surrounded by various little dishes and Ed and I attempt to decide what everything is: peanuts, bananas, water chestnuts, chutney, various cooked vegetables, raisins and peanut sauce to go over it all.

"I'm glad we tried this. It's fun to taste something different and so flavorful," I say.

"Yes, this is delicious," says Ed as he adds more food to his plate.

Seems our internal clocks are on European time now and we manage to make it for breakfast the next morning.

"How about doing the Rijksmuseum today?"

Ed agrees. "Okay, but first I'd like to check out the Heineken Brewery. I read at the hotel that you can take a tour through it."

"That doesn't interest me so much but let's check it out. Maybe I could do something else while you do the tour."

"Remember I worked at the Brewery in Prince Albert? That's why I'm interested now."

"Oh, yes that was like a gap year between your first and second university years!" Later, however, we discover that all the tours are full and that the whole day is already booked.

"I didn't realize how popular a brewery tour would be. You must get to sample beer!" I say.

We walk to a canal where we rest and watch some ducks for a while before going to the Rijksmuseum. It is overwhelming, much more than we expected. A quick lunch stop is essential before continuing our tour of the museum. Finally, worn out we head back to our hotel where I sink into the lovely long bathtub. I come out and say, "I'm ready for a short rest before we go out for dinner. This has been a full day."

"Great idea," says Ed.

We snuggle in but what was meant to be naptime turns into lovemaking. I feel revived and have lovely rosy cheeks! Time to find a restaurant. Again the night is beautiful, a lovely warmth for the middle of May.

"Where do you want to go?" says Ed.

"I would like to go back to the restaurant that we went to on our first night. It was so relaxing and the food was good — and this is our last night in Amsterdam!"

"We could try something different but you're right, it was nice and the food was tasty."

As we walk there I say, "I feel like a beacon with these rosy cheeks."

"Yes" laughs Ed, "everyone will know what you've been doing!"

"Oh, go on with you!" I say and give him a shove.

Next morning, all packed up, we pick up our rental car at the airport. It is a blue Fiat. Ed tries out the lights, the turn signals, and finds the wipers as it is pouring rain. We get out on the highway and begin our drive to Bruges. The rain stops shortly outside of Amsterdam. The countryside is lovely. "I've never seen such enormous cows!" says Ed.

"It is great driving here where the passing lanes are strictly for passing. Canadians, who don't usually move out of these lanes back home, would have a hard time here. They'd certainly get lights flashed at them if they didn't move over."


First Time in Bruges - 1982

We continue driving through Rotterdam, Antwerp, Ghent, and finally we cross over a bridge and enter Bruges. As we drive down the narrow cobblestone street, I'm amazed at how busy it is with cars, people, and bicycles. Ed says,

"I thought you said that this was a quiet medieval city that hardly anyone came to!"

"Maybe it is a special day or a celebration or something."

"I don't know where to go here. It's impossible," says Ed as he slowly drives down the crowded street.

"We need to go to the tourist bureau in the market square to see if they can find a hotel room for us."

We arrive but there is simply no parking! Finally we find a spot, leave the car and walk down crowded narrow sidewalks back to the market square. Where have all these people come from? Where is the peacefulness that I read about?

Inside the tourist bureau we join the line-up. We're third. Finally it's our turn and we ask for a hotel room for a couple of nights. The young woman behind the counter looks at us sadly and says,

"This is a Saturday. There are no hotel rooms available in Bruges tonight. Do you have a car?" Ed nods and she says, "Then my suggestion would be to drive to some of the small towns around here and I'm sure you'll find something for tonight."

She gives us a map of the area around Bruges and we walk back to our car. I'm already feeling that nothing will appeal to me. I want to stay in Bruges!

In a small town, we pass a modest brick hotel that doesn't look too bad.

Ed says, "Shall we go and check it out?"

"No, I really don't want to stay there. What a shame we can't get a hotel in Bruges. I would have made advance reservations if I had known it would be this busy!"

"I'll drive on a bit further. You know there is the possibility that we could get a room in a house in Bruges. I know that we said that we didn't want to do that but I'm willing to try it if you are."

"Yes, it is worth a try. Wonder what time the tourist bureau closes. It is getting close to six."

Ed makes a turn and we head back to Bruges. This time we're able to park in the same place and we hurry to the bureau just as they are beginning to close. We go to the counter and get the same woman.

Ed says, "We're back. We've decided that we would like to stay in Bruges. Is there a room available in a private home?"

"No, they are all taken but as you have a car, there is one just outside the Bruges ring road. It's nice. You'll like it." She gives us the name and directions to get there. We thank her and hurry out the door, which is then locked behind us.

"We're fortunate that we decided to go back when we did. A few minutes later and we would have been out of luck!"

As we drive along a tree-lined canal, I watch the other side of the road for the address. When I see it, Ed pulls into a short driveway. The house is rather modern looking with a field behind it. A tall, slim, and enthusiastic looking man answers the door.

"Welcome, I'm Adrian."

We introduce ourselves and he says, "I'll show you to your room." Up the stairs we go to our second floor room, which is immaculate with a double bed, a large wooden wardrobe, a couple of chairs, and a dresser with a mirror.

"The bathroom is just down the hall. I'll let you settle in."

Out the window I can see a field and beyond that a row of tall trees that goes on and on.

"I'm starved! We haven't eaten since our breakfast in Amsterdam!"

"Yes, me too. Let's find out where we can go to eat."

Adrian tells us, "Bruges has wonderful restaurants but this is Saturday and they'll be booked. However, near here is the town of Damme, where there are a number of excellent restaurants. I'll phone and make a reservation for you, if you like."

"That would be great and we can go very soon. We just realized we haven't eaten since breakfast!"

We hear Adrian talking on the phone but of course we don't understand as it is in Flemish. "It is all set. They'll be expecting you in about twenty minutes. It'll only take you about eight minutes to get there."

A woman with dark hair and a round face comes into the room and our host introduces her as his wife. She smiles and shakes hands with us. He explains,

"She doesn't speak as much English as I do so I'll be doing most of the talking!"

Once I have changed into my soft silky sweater and a skirt, we go back down and Adrian tells us the name of the restaurant and how to get there.

"After your meal, you might just want to drive to Bruges and see the lights. At night, it is lit up like a fairyland! Enjoy your meal."

Damme is a small town and we easily find the restaurant.

"We have a reservation," says Ed, but before he can say anything else, the host says, "Oh yes, the Canadians." He leads us to a lovely round table looking out the front window. We sit down and I gaze out the window at a cobblestone square. There is a tall stone building with steps on each side leading up to an immense wooden door. Also on the building is a tower with a large clock, and all of this is silhouetted against a beautiful deep blue sky. I say,

"Isn't that gorgeous! It looks like a painting. I've never seen a sky that shade of deep blue."

We look at the menu and make our decision. I ask the waiter, "What kind of potatoes come with this?"

He replies, "Pommes frits, Madame."

I ask, "Is there any other choice, like baked?"

He looks quite horrified and says, "Pommes frits are a Belgian specialty."

"Oh, in that case, I'll have them."

I look at Ed and say, "Stop smirking, you know that I never eat French fries!"

"I know, but you're in Belgium and they feel that they invented them, so that is the kind of potato you'll be getting here."

We have the leek soup first, which is just delicious, followed by our entrees and our fries, er ... "pommes frits."

"How do they compare with fries in Canada?"

"These are excellent. If you don't want all of them, I'll eat them," says Ed.

"I can't believe we're here in Belgium in this lovely restaurant and looking out at this beautiful "picture." I'm sure that we'll always remember this meal."

A couple of hours comfortably fly by. We leave the restaurant after telling them how much we have enjoyed it all.

"Let's drive in and see the lights of Bruges," I suggest.

"Okay and then I'm going to be ready to hit the bed," says Ed and he drives into Bruges, parks, and we walk toward the centrum. It is exquisitely beautiful with all the lights and the reflections in the canals of buildings, trees, and bridges. When we return to our place it is now close to eleven! Adrian says, "Come in and tell me about your evening. Did you like the restaurant?"

"It was great and they gave us a lovely table looking out the front window."

"Yes, Damme is a small town but it has some excellent restaurants. I debated between two restaurants. I like them both."

"They were expecting us and called us 'The Canadians'!" I say.

"Yes, I just told them that I wanted a reservation for two Canadians!"

"Well, we're ready for bed. It has been a busy day," says Ed.

"I'll see you at breakfast. You'll have a great day in Bruges tomorrow. There is so much to see. What time would you like breakfast?"

Ed and I look at each other and Ed says, "Probably between eight-thirty and nine. We want to have a lot of time in Bruges tomorrow." We say good night and climb the stairs to our room.

Next morning we enjoy our breakfast in front of a window looking out on a large willow tree, a farmhouse, a meadow, and cows. It looks so peaceful. Our breakfast is simple with delicious light brown grainy bread, butter and jam, tea for me and coffee for Ed. As we finish, our host looks in the doorway. "I'm just leaving for town. Enjoy your day. See you this evening."

We drive to Bruges and park just outside the ring road and walk into the tourist bureau to get some suggestions on what to see. It is very crowded. We join the shortest line and I say,

"Let's just buy a map and explore on our own."

The woman shows us how the map is numbered and where the important places are shown. With my confident engineer husband holding onto the map, we begin walking narrow streets, streets that twist and turn, streets crowded with tourists who suddenly stop right in front of us and gaze up at a church spire or look around and wonder where they are. We stop and I say,

"Let me glance at the map and see if I can find the place Adrian mentioned. It is a former palace. I can't pronounce the name. It starts with "Gr" and it is close to the Church of Our Lady. Let's go down this way."

More walking and a turn near the church into Groeninge and we come to a museum but it doesn't look like a palace. Ed says, "Let me look, what we want is Gruuthuse."

"So many "G" names!"

Ed and I believe that we're on our way to the palace museum but we don't see it! Ed looks at the map again and, exasperated, says,

"This is so confusing! Nothing runs north and south or east and west. Totally confusing!"

I look up and point, "That looks like a tall church spire so we just need to walk towards it."


Excerpted from My Love Affair with Bruges by Margaret Olsen. Copyright © 2016 Margaret J. Olsen. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction, ix,
Chapter 1 Two Stops Before Norway, 1,
Chapter 2 First Time in Bruges - 1982, 9,
Chapter 3 Good News from Bruges - 1984, 25,
Chapter 4 My First Stay at the Beguinage - June 1987, 33,
Chapter 5 Arrivals - June 1987, 43,
Chapter 6 My Second Stay at the Beguinage - September 1988, 49,
Chapter 7 Meeting Harriet - 1988, 65,
Chapter 8 The Beguinage - 1989, 71,
Chapter 9 A Special Treat, 79,
Chapter 10 Staying at Therese's Home - September 1990 and 1991, 89,
Chapter 11 A Sad Return from Bruges - 1991, 99,
Chapter 12 Taking My Grief to Bruges - June 1992, 105,
Chapter 13 Returning to Bruges for a Second Time in 1992, 117,
Chapter 14 Where Did It All Start?, 127,
Chapter 15 Unexpected Happenings, 139,
Chapter 16 Exploring with Odette - 2003, 149,
Chapter 17 An Aha Moment, 159,
Chapter 18 And Time Moves On, 165,
Chapter 19 I'll Be Back, 169,
Acknowledgements, 173,
Works Cited, 175,
About the Author, 177,

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