The places that didn’t quite hit the mark

When travelling, there will inevitably be places you visit that you don’t enjoy as much as you had expected. Those places that you’d heard so much about and were really looking forward to but when you get there, they don’t quite do it for you. Maybe you’ve even been before and had a good experience, but 2nd time round just isn’t the same. A couple of places fell into this category on our tour of Belgium and the Netherlands.

The first one was quite a surprise as it is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Indeed, if Disney did a “Flanders town”, they’d probably build it exactly like Bruges. I don’t think they’d need to change a thing. Horse drawn carriages leave from its mediaeval squares and take tourists for rides along its busy cobbled streets. Long Disneyesque queues wait at quays for boat trips on its beautiful canals. There are numerous cafes and bars where you can sit and watch the world go by in the shadow of the massive belfry which presides over the Markt. For some, the centre might be just a little overcrowded with tourists. All they need to do is find a canal, walk along its banks away from the busy main squares and before long they’ll find a beautiful stretch all to themselves and possibly a half empty waterside café to sit with a local beer and admire the views. For Bruges doesn’t just have a pretty historic core, the rest of it is very easy on the eye too.

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So why does our daughter F now refer to this beautiful city as “that boring place”?
If you think about what I described above, Bruges is probably an ideal city for a romantic break for couples. However, if you go as a family, you probably need to put more effort into planning activities the kids might enjoy. Ghent has a similarly attractive historic core, although comes across perhaps as more of a real city than chocolate box style Bruges. Despite the similarities, F’s description of the latter was “glorious Ghent”. In that city, we explored the waterways in a double kayak, toured a castle listening to an audio narrated by a local comedian, saw a smurf shop and relaxed in our hotel’s outdoor pool. These were far more engaging activities compared to Bruges, where we ambled beside canals, relaxed with drinks at cafes and strolled through flower gardens. The attractive architecture and agreeable ambiance appreciated by my wife and me, were not sufficient for our 11 year old daughter. I’m not saying Bruges is a bad destination for a family visit – it just needs a bit of forethought to keep everyone entertained.

The other place that didn’t quite hit the mark for us was Rotterdam. F had expressed a desire to visit a modern city and I had read up about its stunning architecture, much of it erected in the last 30 years. This was apparent as soon as we arrived by waterbus.

We saw interestingly designed office blocks and later dined beneath the city’s famous cube houses. We toured an open-air maritime museum, visited Rotterdam’s shopping centre and spent time in a pleasant park. These were all good activities in themselves, but we were left with the impression that Rotterdam as a city didn’t quite hang together well – it was all a bit disjointed. There was something interesting to look at here and 2kms away something else, but the routes between were not interesting, not always pedestrian friendly and public transport (although there seemed to be plenty of it) didn’t appear useful in connecting up where we wanted to go. One example is that to get to the park (Het Park), we had to walk a considerable distance alongside a busy dual carriageway, as we could not see an obvious alternative for pedestrians.

I can’t deny Rotterdam has worthy attractions. We missed its museums and some world class art collections as well as its model railway exhibition which features the whole city in miniature. However, our overall impressions were not as favourable as other cities visited such as Amsterdam, Haarlem and Ghent.

I would not want to deter anybody from visiting these destinations, but put a little thought into how you can have a better experience than we did, particularly if travelling as a family.

Factfile Bruges:

Location
Bruges is in Flanders, Belgium, 48kms from Ghent and 100kms from Brussels

Transport
Regular trains run from Ghent (30 mins) and Brussels (75 mins). International connections are available at Brussels. The nearest major airport is Brussels

Information
For more information, click here

Factfile Rotterdam:

Location
Rotterdam is in South Holland, Netherlands, 79kms from Amsterdam

Transport
Rotterdam central station has international  train services from London (3h 20 mins), Brussels (1h 20 mins) and other cities. It is a 40 minute ride from Amsterdam. While Rotterdam has its own airport, more comprehensive services are available from Amsterdam Schiphol

Information
Click the link for information on the city

16 thoughts on “The places that didn’t quite hit the mark

  1. “Rotterdam as a city didn’t quite hang together well – it was all a bit disjointed” – I have to say some of my friends think the same way about Rotterdam 😀 – while I love the city, but well, I lived there for quite some time – I do understand your concern.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My assessment was based on a day trip, so I might have got a different impression if I stayed longer. It just didn’t seem as pedestrian friendly as other Dutch cities. Maybe I should return to be sure!

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  2. Candid post! I must confess I had a wonderful time in Bruges. But then our experiences determine how we warm up to a place or not. My most vivid memory is our second time there with a friend. The three of us had unlimited quantities of those fantastic Belgian ales — much to choose from — so much so that we missed the last train back to Mechelen where we were living at the time. And then getting caught in a horrid downpour on a frigid winter’s night. Ghent we skimmed the surface of. I do not why. I wish we had seen it better. Rotterdam, we are yet to explore.

    Our travel memories are our mental treasures right now, no? It makes me smile to read any travel post. Cheers.

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  3. Thanks for prompting me to look for my spam folder and figure out how to retrieve something from it! Bruges is a beautiful place, albeit quite a tourist trap. Memories from the first time I went include being harassed by lying waiters to dine in their restaurants as well as having an excellent time in a café bar drinking Straffe Hendrik served by an excellent waiter. However, being confined currently does make me thankful for the ability to travel to such places. Travel memories certainly are treasures.

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    1. They are both worth visiting. I liked them both, it was only my daughter’s experience that led to any negativity about Bruges. However, the city council are actively taking measures to deter tourists as it can get overwhelmed in the centre, so best visited off peak.

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  4. Aww poor F. I could imagine my kids saying that too. I actually want to go to Bruges when we get the chance to visit Belgium, so thanks for the heads up. I better get ready with some things to do by my boys. That’s the thing with kids, they (rightfully) want interactive itinerary.

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    1. It’s definitely a city worth visiting, if you plan it properly. The Straffe Hendrik brewery tour is good (did it many years ago), but for some reason, I was in a minority of one when I suggested it 😐

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  5. Bruges definitely has a much slower pace than other cities, and I would put it in the day trip category after having visited for a weekend. I spent a lot of time wandering and sitting in cafes lol. And I could never put my finger on it with Rotterdam, but you hit the nail on the head with saying it’s quite disjointed.

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    1. Yes you’re right. Maybe it was just too slow for my daughter! With Rotterdam, it seemed to be an urban planning issue. There is some striking modern architecture, but they don’t always seem to have thought about how things connect – particularly from a pedestrian point of view.

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  6. All visits to a city is not just successful, some bad luck with the weather or just choosing the wrong restaurant for lunch might be downgrading a visit from good to boring. Well, at the same time, some good luck can get the usually most boring city to offer an amazing visit with lasting memories. It all comes down to those few experiences that makes the trip and high expectations is usually the biggest problem. We have been to a few cities that needs a few visits to really get to know and enjoy – Bratislava as an example. 🙂

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  7. You’re probably right: Bruges might not appeal to everyone. But to two people interested in Flemish architecture, romantic canal rides through town, and good chocolates and waffles on every corner, we loved it! Your photos are quite good, and I love your comparison with Disney. Spot on!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments. I would recommend following a canal maybe half a mile from the hectic centre of Bruges. Quiet, waterside cafes with staff who are genuinely pleased to see you and every bit as beautiful! That’s if you don’t have a bored teenager with you!

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