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Holland & Belgium in Springtime 2014

Pre-trip: Bruges, Belgium

Join an optional trip extension in Bruges, Belgium, one of Western Europe’s greatest medieval cities. Originally a ninth-century fortress built to protect the Flemish coast from marauding Vikings, Bruges today retains its reputation as one of the best-preserved Old World cities on the continent. Its museums hold some of the oldest and finest collections you will find anywhere, and its narrow, winding streets meander through the city beside a centuries-old canal system.

It's Included:
Accommodations for 3 nights at the Grand Hotel Casselbergh or similar
3 meals: 3 breakfasts
Included tour: Bruges walking tour and boat ride
Exclusive services of a resident Grand Circle Program Director
All transfers

    Leave the U.S. today on your flight to Brussels. Please refer to your personal air itinerary for exact departure and arrival times.

  • Arrive this morning or afternoon in Brussels. A Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport and assist with the transfer to your hotel in Bruges.

    The balance of the day is at leisure to relax after your overseas flight. You are invited to join an orientation walk that will acquaint you with both the neighborhood around your hotel and your travel companions. Lunch and dinner are on your own today.

  • It is often said that the best way to see Bruges—where almost every street is lined with historic buildings—is on foot. So after breakfast, you'll set off on a walking tour of this city of canals, the former capital of West Flanders, and Europe's best-preserved medieval city. From the 13th to the 15th centuries (until the Zwin River silted over), Bruges was northern Europe's leading trade center, owing its prominence largely to thriving wool and textile industries. You'll see signs of this mercantile history in the beautiful houses built by the wealthy textile merchants.

    Your walking tour takes you to the Church of Our Lady and to Market Square, with its distinctive belfry tower and carillon of 47 bells. You'll also see the Holy Blood Chapel, containing relics from the Crusades.

    You then have a chance to see Bruges from another perspective—from onboard a boat navigating the city's winding canals. Back on terra firma, your tour continues with a visit to a local lace shop, where you'll learn about the artistry and craft involved in this traditional creation of Belgium. Lace-making has a long history but came into its own in the 15th century. Belgium soon gained a peerless reputation for fine lacework, and Bruges became a world center for lace.

    After the morning tour, you have the remainder of the day at leisure. If you like, you can remain in town for shopping and independent exploration. Perhaps you'll spend some of your time taking part in one of the pleasurable pursuits of travel—finding an enticing restaurant for local cuisine. Seek out interesting spots to dine on your own for lunch and dinner today.

  • Your morning is at leisure. You'll enjoy walking at your own pace around Bruges. No other European city has the medieval look and feel of Bruges. Even its 19th-century neo-Gothic restorations add to the ambiance of the Middle Ages.

    Lunch is on your own today. There are many lovely small restaurants to choose from. Your Program Director can offer suggestions. Continue your independent exploration.

    Or, join an optional Flanders Fields tour that includes dinner. A motorcoach will bring you to the town of Ypres, nicknamed by locals kattenstad or "city of cats." Ypres was brutally destroyed by artillery fire in three great battles of World War I, and it is here that you will visit the World War I Memorial Museum, which opened in 1998, and tour the battlefield, where the German military used poison gas for the first time on the Western Front and which saw the beginning of the "trench warfare" that characterized the war. The third battle, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, ended when British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand forces recaptured the Passchendaele ridge east of the city—but at a terrible cost. After more than three months of fighting, nearly 750,000 casualties were suffered on all sides, with only a few miles of ground won by Allied forces. Later, after dinner, you'll visit the Menin Gate, a moving memorial to the British forces who have no known burial places. You'll hear the Last Post, a bugle call that has been sounded here in their memory every evening since 1928. The cost of this optional tour includes dinner.

    If you choose not to join the optional tour, dinner is on your own and your evening is at leisure.

    • Meals included:

    This morning is yours to relax and explore at your own pace.

    Or, join us for an optional Scenic Belgium tour. Travel to the coastal region and the town of Raversijde, where you’ll tour the remnants of the Atlantikwal, the fortifications Germany set up to protect its western front. The Atlantikwal ran effectively from coastal France to Norway’s most northernmost city. You’ll find some of the best-preserved examples of bunkers and buildings here, often restored with period furniture and equipment.

    Continue by bus through Western Flanders’ flat fields and low-lying canals, past villages nestled among clusters of poplars, and we arrive in the former fishing village of Damme. In the 13th century this was the region’s busiest port; but like Bruges, its fate was sealed when the Zwin silted up. Along Kerkstraat, you’ll find the main sights of this medieval town: the Gothic Town Hall and the twelfth-century Our Lady’s Church. After a leisurely stroll, you’ll board the local barge De Lamme Goedzak and enjoy a 40-minute cruise past the poplar-lined Damse Vaart, a canal linking Damme with Bruges. While cruising, you’ll even savor one of Belgium’s magnificent locally brewed beers.

    Then check out of your Bruges hotel and transfer to Antwerp, where you'll board your ship on Day 2 of your Holland & Belgium in Springtime River Cruise.