In The Netherlands there's a website called 'vakantie veilingen' which translates to 'holiday auctions'. Basically, you bid on particular deals like hotels, flight packages, etc. There's a timer that goes down and while the price might start as low as 2 euro, in the last 10 seconds it's all out war - you can see the names of the other bidders, basically whoever is fastest will win. I've got a feeling many people end up paying more than the original cost just to win the auction. Anyway, I won an auction for a night in Brugge (Belgium) and booked it straight away.
Paris was always on the cards so since we'd be passing through Brussels to get to Brugge I also found some cheap train tickets to Paris on the 'budget' high speed train - it uses standard track (lower fees) so can offer cheaper tickets. So 2 days in Brugge, 5 in Paris.
Venice of the North, chocolate shops, quaint houses on canals. It's popular for good reason, it's one of Europe's most visited cities, which was noticeable. It was also noticeably cold for the time of year, turned out to be the coldest October day on record.
Brugge was very wealthy long before most of it's rival cities like Amsterdam. It had a Golden Age between the 12th and 15th centuries, mainly due to it's location for sea trade (in cloth). It's population grew to around 200,000 in 1400 but thanks to the inlets silting up and the rise of Antwerp, by 1900 it had shrunk to 50,000. Nonetheless, much of it's glory is intact and the entire town centre is UNESCO listed as one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe. The 13th century Church of Our Lady remains the second highest brick structure in the world. It also houses one of Michelangelo's sculptures (the only one not in Italy).
The highlight here was just wandering the old streets, particularly at night when tourist numbers are low and lights are reflecting in the canals. Climbing the 366 step spiral staircase in the 13th century Belfry/Belfort was also noteworthy for a number of reasons: the view, the cold wind at the top, and the noise when 47 bells happen to chime next to you. The bells range from a baby 1kg to a behemoth 5,000kg, together there's 27.5 tonnes of bells hanging up the top!
Checked out of the 4 star (for 1 star price) hotel and off to Paris.
Ah Paris, also somewhat popular, also for good reason. It's a big city but much prefer it to London (silly place)! The 'budget' high speed train, an impressive 20 carriages in length (I'm a train nerd at heart), got us there in 2hrs. The Metro in Paris is also exceptional, on the busy lines running at 85 second intervals it gets you anywhere, anytime. Even at that frequency, it's hard to get a seat at 11pm on Sunday night.
There's no shortage of charm and character in Paris and areas like Montmartre, while touristy, are really quite nice and authentic feeling. Cobbled streets, cafes, artists, bistros, Parisians doing their thing in style... all great to watch and good for street photography. The fashionable (and very expensive) La Marais district is also worth exploring especially during the evening.
I much prefer exploring backstreets than the main draw-card sites but some had to be seen of course.
Arc de Triomphe is worth the climb at night when it's not crowded to get views across Paris and to watch the carnage on the roundabout below.
The Eiffel Tower ... it's an amazing monument, so huge ... but the crowds and hawkers essentially ruin the experience. It really is nuts there.
Palace of Versaille, the most opulence palace in the world with 2,300 rooms of absurd luxury such as the Hall of Mirrors and a 1.5km long garden with 200,000 trees and a grass area that would take me 6 months to mow. When you see the scale of extravagance, it's little wonder it helped trigger the yellow vest protest (and revolution) in the 18th century.
The Louvre, the world's largest art museum... 380,000 objects to bring even the most enthusiastic tourist to exhausted stumbling. I knew it was a bad idea, I've been before, but surprisingly and despite the warnings ("exceptionally busy, no tickets available") the crowds weren't too bad .... except one area, which houses just a single, tiny little painting... Miss Lisa. It seems people only come to see this one piece, the queue INSIDE the museum started in the foyer, up some stairs, then up 3 flights of escalators and through some corridors to the room. It's progress had to be in controlled bursts using security staff. Estimated length of line: 600m, estimated time to see Miss Lisa: 1.5hrs. Tried, but 30min later, found the exit having been satisfied with the rest of the museum's offerings.
Lastly, the food, it's good, really good. Burgundy beef stew main with creme brulee dessert was a standout and so expensive it meant home cooking in the hotel every other night.
Time for some photos, click the gallery below.