Muenchen Hbf – Stuttgart Hbf – Frankfurt (M) Flughafen Fernbf – Bruxelles-Midi – Bruges

A plan for getting back across the Channel in a new way had now come together, which needed me to reach Belgium tonight. That gave me the opportunity to finally visit Bruges. Famously a canal town, but a place I’ve never visited.

Before that, though, a moderately early start to the day, with an 08:45 departure from Munich. Although I’ve given up a lot of volunteer stuff in recent years, I do still participate in one of the Canal & River Trust advisory groups and today they had an online meeting a between 11am and 1pm local time. My plan was to get to Stuttgart, do the meeting there then carry on after lunch.

For once a plan came together. I arrived in Stuttgart with 15 minutes to spare. The first thing I saw as I stepped off my train was the one opposite, which had possibly the largest piece of graffiti I’ve ever seen on the side of a train. I hate tagging, but this was so huge I reluctantly admired the effort that had been put in. It ran down three entire carriages, with a signature on the fourth.

I found myself a quiet waiting room and set up stall. The station wi-fi was rubbish so I tethered to my phone. Thank goodness for huge data allowances that let me do a 2 hour video call whilst abroad without a second thought!

After the call I had time for a look around the station. Two different platforms had what looked like vintage stock to me, though I’m no expert.

The station is largely being rebuilt at the moment so there wasn’t a lot else to see or do. I got a bit of fresh air before heading back onto the platform for my train to Frankfurt.

This leg of the journey passed through Mannheim, a part of the Rhine valley that I’d not seen before. Just north of the city, the train passed the Neckarvorland Brücke, a rather impressive lifting bridge which allows craft to pass from a wharf into the Neckar River, a tributary of the Rhine.

Soon we arrived at Frankfurt airport, where I changed for the service to Brussels. This train was very busy and even in First Class there were people standing, as far as Cologne. I was one of them (though I actually sat on the floor.) At Cologne enough people left the train for me to get a seat for the rest of the journey.

And oddity of this service can just be made out on the photo below. I was at the rear of the front carriage looking forwards. The driver is in a compartment with lightly frosted glass, which means that you can see forward as well as out of the windows of the train. At speed the effect is quite remarkable, being able to see forward and out of both side windows whilst moving at over 250km/h, though I didn’t manage to get a photo that showed it clearly. (I try not to take shots that would have other travellers faces in them.)

At Bruxelles-Midi I changed to the local service for Bruges. I’ve not done this line before. It’s a relatively short journey through some unremarkable countryside.

The station at Bruges opens onto a large square. Within moments I’d almost been knocked over by two different cyclists, having strayed into what I did not realise was “their” space. It’s a place that you need your wits about you. I decided to walk into town. There is a free bus but it was only about 20 minutes walk so not worth it, and it would give me a change to get used to all the cycle lanes!

The city is immediately charming. I easily found the way to my hotel, set on a lovely street, with views of the cathedral in the centre. I was given a particularly warm welcome, with useful advice on what to see and where to eat.

It was also a canalside location, though to be fair anything much larger than a rowing boat might have struggled. The setting was gorgeous though. Rather than heading straight for the centre I decided to follow the line of “my” canal.

At times the canal deviates away from the walkways so you have to take a parallel street, but wherever you look is fascinating. I was absolutely charmed by the place.

The junction with the much larger Langerei canal was another stunning location, and the fading light made for gorgeous colours. I barely knew which way to turn next, it was lovely in every direction! I already knew that I needed to spend more than an evening in this city, but needed to press on and make the most of the light that I had.

Walking beside the Spiegelrei Canal, I headed for Jan van Eyck Square. This was the first area I’d seen so far with any shops or cafes, indeed up to now I’d had the streets almost to myself.

I continued towards the main square in the centre. This was busier, especially the restaurants (by now it was gone 8pm.) This square reminded me more of Brussels. It’s lovely but not as distinctive as the canalside locations I’d come from a few minutes earlier.

Continuing beyond the main square I found another small square, and a couple more stunning canalside locations.

Walking away from the city centre past the huge Sint-Salvatorskathedraal, I happened across what must be the most stunning McDonalds locations I’ve ever seen.

Beyond that, I found an extremely modern building, not like anything else I’d seen in Bruges. It turned out to be a concert hall and arts centre, Concertgebouw Brugge.

By now it was getting quite late and I needed to find somewhere to eat. I consulted the list that I’d got from my hotel, but everywhere was either full or had already closed for the evening. After a couple of failed attempts in other places I took the easy option and went back into the main square where I ate at one of the street restaurants. To be fair their take on the local beef stew wasn’t bad at all, though I suspect the fries were a modern addition to this very traditional dish!

This is a really super city. It immediately made it into the top five places I’ve visited this year (Avignon Seville, Siracusa, and Stockholm are the others) and may well be my favourite overall. I feel like I’ve scratched the surface of it and really want to come back for longer.