Bruges was the last destination of our first trip together and we have to say, that it was a choice even the occasional rain showers made pleasing to the eye. The city was a major European trading point after the middle ages and its center is a Unesco world heritage sight. Besides the historically important medieval architectures, we discovered a lively city, full of chocolate and beer, along with other delicacies. Below we provide a quick guide on the city’s highlights as we experienced it.
The Canals. A tour of the canals on a boat is definitely a must do while visiting the city. You can encounter a few hidden gems of artwork, swans and ducks and have the chance to view the city from a different angle, one as charming as the one from its streets. The boatmen provide information about the sights you encounter, thus expanding your knowledge of the city’s past. The canal system honestly justifies the city’s nickname, Venice of the North (not as much as Amsterdam though, since the canal network is smaller).
Minnewater Park, is a park located near the train station. It is the supposed site of Minna’s grave. According to the local fable, before the Romans conquered the area, Minna a fisherman’s daughter was in love with Stromberg, a warrior from a neighboring clan but her father had promised to have her married to another man. After her lover left to fight the Romans, her father decided it was the right chance for his daughter’s marriage. Well, that didn’t work out. The girl fled to the woods and disappeared. When Stromberg returned he sought to find his lost love and he did, only moments before she passed away in his arms. So, he built a temporary dam thus diverting the nearby streams flow and buried Minna on the dry stream bed. Then he let the stream return to its original course in order to seal the tomb. A bridge currently stands on the dam’s site and legend has it that the couples that cross it experience eternal love.
The Markt is the city’s ticking heart. It’s the central square where you can find many historical buildings and enjoy the vie of passers by like in most city squares. I believe there’s some kind of market once in a while, with street food and stuff, but we missed it (Occasionally, I Still dream that a Vietnamese is stretching his hand to give me food and then something terrible happens and I wake up at night, thinking if my life would be different if we had made it on time there. Vietnam seems like a good future travel plan though). You could also take a ride in a horse drawn carriage, or have a bite or a drink in one of the Brasseries surrounding the plaza. We did it and it was not that costly a choice. We guess there are cheaper options away from the Markt though.
The Belfry. Well you can’t miss the Belfry. I mean it’s 83 meters high, situated on the Markt and you can also climb the stairs to the top floor for a fee (8 euro) and get a great view of the city. It’s actually a medieval bell tower and we have to know that the climb on the narrow spiral staircase can be exhausting.
Sint Salvator’s Cathedral, was a great place to visit, not as our Lord in the attic’s church we saw on Amsterdam, since it’s a huge church, the interior seems to be 100 meters long, and once there you get to admire the artwork of centuries past. I was more moved by the offerings though, probably because that practice seems to be present in every religious dogma, revealing that people try to tend to the same needs on similar methods no mater their place of origin. Other than that, the place seemed as if it were a harmonious collection of smaller church parts since the visitor seems a bit small inside these huge Catholic temples. We were fascinated by the artwork and, but I was more impressed with a wooden statue that although depicted a Cristian theme, seemed like a Celtic pagan ornament.
Basilica of the holy blood is a smaller church by the Provinciaal Hof, on a corner of the Markt. Not as spectacular as Sint Salvator, but as the name suggests it houses a reputable relic, a vial, containing a cloth with the blood of Jesus. Now what could be more medieval than that? The beautiful Gothic styled church is an easily reachable attraction, worthy of a visit.
Groeninge museum. This museum is situated on an old abbey and offers the guest a lesson in Flemish painting. It’s top attraction is the collection of VanEyck’s (I liked his Maddona and child) and the rest of the Flemish primitives, but the other exhibits are as wonderful. As always, make sure to be in a great mental state to fully appreciate the museum treasures (don’t go there tired from sightseeing – we were on the edge of collapse and definitely don’t pay a visit after having a beer or two – we tend to spent our mornings sightseeing and afternoons relaxing, as we believe that system to bring a perfect balance between sightseeing and relaxation).
Luc VanLaere is a definite MUST. We cannot stress that much enough. You get to please your ears with some great music performed live for such a small audience that you feel that this guy is offering you a private concert. This composer truly loves music, even constructing some instruments himself. We were shown one which was inspired by the Pythagorean monochord, except it was a combination of eight of them, producing different tones. He even bothered to explain the history of some instruments and to sum up, his music keeps your mind traveling. So, attending the concert on your trip to the city you ‘ll find your mind traveling as well. A trip within a trip. Inception-like.
Church of our Lady is another medieval church of the city. It’s main point of interest is Michelangelo’s Maddona of Bruges, the only artist’s sculpture to live Italy during his lifetime. It’s tower is 122 meters high and is the tallest building in the city. We took pleasure in its imposing view from the canals, dominating the cloudy Belgian sky.
Loppem castle. By the time we got to Loppem castle we were already pretty tired of nearly a week’s sightseeing, so we were as enthusiastic as we would like to be. Furthermore, the building was being renovated and a scaffold overshadowed its beauty, while our main goal, walking in the castle’s maze, was abolished by the pouring rain. In order to get to this 19th century you need to catch a local bus for a short ride to the bus stop outside this neo-Gothic building. Our guess is that you would enjoy it better on a sunny day. Also, if you are interested in Belgian history, King Albert resided there for a while after WW1. We were mostly impressed by the fact that one of the previous residents was a fellow traveler and his collection of curiosities from around the globe is displayed on the site.
Choco story, is a museum that presents the route taken by cacao seeds to end up as tasty chocolate. One can see cacao seeds, scenes of playmobils depicting Aztecs and pastry chefs, chocolate processing machines, diagrams of cocoa percentages of various types of chocolates, chocolate boxes etc. You can also taste some chocolate at the end of the tour. But always keep in mind that you shouldn’t eat too much candy. At least that seems to be the point of the playmobils depicting a visit to the dentist.
Comic figures are part of modern Belgian culture, since many european comic characters originated in the country. Tin tin, the Smurfs, Lucky Luck to name a few of them. You will definitely encounter many figurines in shops around the city bringing to mind childhood memories (and adult as well). Catherine’s favorite is Lucky Luck, sadly we didn’t encounter a figure while wandering the city streets, while mine is Captain Haddock. Billions and bilious blue blistering barnacles! Bring us a beer you iconoclast bashi=bazouks!
Chocolate and beer are products the country takes pride in proclaiming they are among the best worldwide and for good reason. A taste will suffice to prove the Belgians’ claim. A walk around town will prove a sight equal to the other city’s attractions as many shop owners display their goods in elegance and artistic inventiveness. Chocolate fountains, sculptures of all shapes and sizes made of chocolate, boxes and other stuff. The list keeps going. Meanwhile one can enjoy a great variety of Beer, since there are many bars around town, offering tastes you’ve never even thought existed. We found a spot behind a huge willow tree overlooking the canal and indulged ourselves in some beer tasting. Another option to beer tasting is a walk near the Markt where one can enjoy mussels, which are a local specialty along with tasty Belgian beer.