Subject: Brugge/Bruges, Belgium/Apartment exchange
Hi 'Ziners!

Just back from a three-day weekend in Brugge, Belgium. We had a wonderful time. Brugge is in the Flemish part of Belgium (Brugge is its Flemish name, Bruges its French name) and dates back to medieval times, when it was a major European commercial center. Over the centuries it became a virtual ghost town, however, and then was revived. Most of its medieval century architecture is gone, but much of its 16th and 17th century architecture remains. Laced with canals, many of its houses with stepped Dutch roofs, Brugge is a beautiful and charming city. It's compact, so sightseeing on foot is easy.

We took a half-hour horse-drawn carriage ride, which was rather expensive ($27 euros), but it was a wonderful way to see the city. Our two-year-old loved the horse! One can also cruise the canals in sightseeing boats ads well. I'd also recommend renting a bicycle. There are bike paths throughout the city. Indeed bikes are about the most popular mode of transportation in a town with narrow streets and little parking (in the ancient center; there's plenty on the periphery). We had a couple of bikes at our disposal and they proved to be a great way to get around.

The Markt is the main city square, with the Belfry, the town's tallest tower, on one side. Part of the tower dates back to the 13th or 14th century (sorry, don't recall exactly). Nearby in the Burg is the beautiful city hall, which dates back to the 15th century, but has a 16th century facade. The Groningen Museum is well worth seeing. It now has an exhibition of 14th-15th century art, especially paintings by the town's most famous painter, Jan van Eyck. The exhibition is part of the city's celebration as cultural capital of Europe for the year.

That celebration has led to much sprucing up, as well as many special events during the year.

I can recommend two restaurants: Bistro De Schaar (address: Hooistraat 2) and Bistro Chagall (Sint Amandsstraat 40). The De Schaar is in an old house (16th C I think), but the interior is modern (wood and brick); it has an open grill and you can see the meat or fish you've ordered before they're cooked. My rack of lamb was superb (and a bargain at 16 euros). The Chagall has a wonderful beer on tap, Tongerlo. I wish I had bought a couple of six packs to bring home.

Our trip to Brugge also marked the first time we participated in an apartment exchange We stayed at a very lovely (modern) apartment about a 10-15 minute walk from the Markt. The owners stayed at our apartment in Paris (a 3 1/2-hour drive away). The exchange couldn't have worked out better for all of us. And so we're keen to try another one.

Bons voyages!

Evan in Paris