Belgium - Lost in the middle of the night

The historic district of Bruges, Belgium is a bustling tourist destination with people everywhere -- during the day.  At night, at least when I was there in 2005, there is no one on the streets.

This story actually begins when I decided to take a trip to Europe with five of my friends.  Before we left, we all decided to get an International Driver's License so we could drive.  Upon arrival, I quickly discovered I was the ONLY one who actually got the permit.  That made me the driver for the entire trip.  It was also the first time I had ever driven a car outside the USA or Canada.

We picked up the car up in Amsterdam and drove to Bruges.   We had reservations at a brand-new hotel called the Scandic Bruges.    Knowing that we would have no GPS service, I had printed out maps in advance showing where each hotel was located.

We arrived late, well after dark and began the search for our hotel.   We had a map; it should be easy.  It wasn't.

Bruges is a beautiful medieval city with narrow cobblestone streets, canals and bridges and many historic buildings, like the Stadhuis, which is the city hall, pictured here.  It's a wonderful city to walk around but not so great when trying to navigate at night.

Stadhuis (City Hall) in Bruges, Belgium

After literally going in circles several times we finally saw two people hanging out near the city hall.  We stopped and asked them for directions to the Scandic Bruges Hotel.   The problem was that my five friends, all of Cuban descent, only spoke Spanish and English.   And I only spoke English.  In Belgium they speak Dutch, French and German.   Neither of these two knew any English or Spanish.  We showed the people our map and the name of the hotel.  They got the idea and pointed us in a general direction, but 10 minutes later we were right back at the city hall.   We found another man who spoke English, but said he had never heard of the hotel and that the street didn't exist.  We started to get worried.  

It was late, I was frustrated and my friends were frustrated.   Our cell phones didn't work and we had no GPS.   We backtracked and tried again.  At times, we were on a dead-end street and I had to back up the car down the narrow cobbled streets.

We passed an open coffee shop and saw someone inside.   The customer spoke very basic English and said he knew where the hotel was located and would take us there.   I agreed and he got in his car and we followed behind him.  We soon found ourselves in a warehouse district.  My friend Alicia said "Steve, be careful.  We don't know this guy or where he is taking us."   We were probably all thinking the same thing, but she was the first to say it out loud.

We finally got to the hotel.   It was closed and the door locked.   Our friend from the coffee shop just starting banging on the door for us and finally someone answered the door and let us in.  I tried to give some money to the guy who had rescued us but he declined and said he was happy he could help us.  

When daylight finally came, we realized we were walking distance from the city hall.  

Dates of Travel

  • September, 1996
  • September, 2005

Places Visited

  • Brussels
  • Bruge



This post is part of my series "One Photo - One Country."  I'm am selecting one photo and writing one story from every country I have visited.   Your comments and questions are welcome.  

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