Some thoughts before the actual entry: After May, when I head back to Bordeaux, it’ll be time to stay in one place and cease travelling for a bit. Sometimes travelling too much makes me forget to appreciate the mere prospect of being able to travel. I see one place in Europe, and then another, and then another. Then I begin to compare, and I see that many aspects of European cities are similar. Then I lose the desire to explore, that wanderlust that so strongly captured me when I started travelling. I don’t want that to happen. I want to retain that curiosity and that “kick” that makes me want to see more of the world. That’s precisely why I need to slow down for a bit, to rest, to get some weekend sleep-in time back and enjoy the relaxation of just being in one city where I feel I belong, the place where I can call home, albeit temporarily. I cannot be back in Toronto every weekend, so Bordeaux is the next most logical place to call home for the time being. Bordeaux, how I miss you.
After the weekend getaway to the Netherlands, my weekly city explorations continued with Bruges, a good ol’ city in Belgium located in the Flemish region of the country. If there was one city in Belgium I wanted to visit besides Brussels, it was Bruges.
I had been struggling with the name of the city throughout my research of what to do once I got there. Should I just go by the English name of Bruges, where the “g” is pronounced as in “gentle” and the “s” is silent, or the Dutch version of Brugge, where the “g” is pronounced as in “girl”? I decided that Bruges sounded more pleasing to the ears – personal preference, no offence to the Dutch language – and so, unlike Den Haag where I chose to keep using the Dutch name, I am sticking with Bruges, even though they say Brugge everywhere in the actual city anyway.
What is Bruges known for? Like Amsterdam, it is called “Venice of the North” because of the water canals that traverse the city. (I really gotta visit the real Venice sometime.) Bruges is also a chocolate city, selling some of the finest chocolate in Belgium, which itself is the chocolate capital of the world. So expectations were definitely high.
I only took 199 photos during this short day trip, one short of 200. After sorting them out, I picked the ones that seemed most representative of the city of Bruges. Without further ado, let’s go on to the pictures, and I’ll talk about some afterthoughts a little later on.
First impression of Bruges, within 5 minutes of getting off the train. This is near the Beguinage of Bruges, which is supposedly a peaceful and quiet area away from the city centre where you’d hope to take a nice stroll away from the crowds. Unfortunately, Bruges is so infested with tourists and travellers (like me) that it’s almost impossible to find any corner of the city without a large crowd.
The weather was relatively pleasant on Saturday, but the skies were inconsistent. Even with the perfect temperature for outdoor wandering, the sun was playing hide-and-seek all day and left us with intermittent periods of grey skies, which did significantly affect my desire to explore, surprisingly.
Swans at the Minnewater Park. Ever since seeing two at the lake in Louvain-la-Neuve on Friday, I began to think that swans are one of the classiest animals out there. Just lovely.
Boat rides through the water canals of Bruges. I had thought of going on one, but I decided that walking is still my preferred method of city exploration. It also wasn’t worth the money. Now, if it’d cost only 20 HKD like the boat ride out into the sea in Tai-O…that’d be a completely different story.
I can’t really compare Bruges and Amsterdam, thought it would be interesting to do so, since they’re both held together by numerous water canals. The trip to Amsterdam was way too rushed, and my only impression of it was the nighttime and the R.L.D. In Bruges, however, I was able to fully experience a canal-based city. There’s just something about water that makes a city more beautiful. The Garonne in Bordeaux, the Seine in Paris, the Tagus in Lisbon…I look forward to seeing the Thames in London.
Here we arrive at the Markt, or the Market Place. The name reminds me of my high school…few would know why. Similar to the Grand Place in Brussels in style, the Market Square appears less grandiose yet much more vibrant than the Grand Place. It also felt much more spacious than the Grand Place in Brussels, as the buildings weren’t as tall, giving us some room for sky and a sense of space.
The other side of the Market Square…
…and another side. I almost got my second serving of Belgian fries here. So irresistible…but being in a tourist area also meant that the prices were jacked up ridiculously.
Turn to the fourth side of the Market Square and you’d see the belfry of Bruges, or Belfort. It’d take 366 steps to get to the very top of this bell tower, whereby a spectacular panoramic view of the entire city of Bruges was promised. I’m a sucker for seeing cities from very high up (especially after what I saw from l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris during Christmas) so this was a must for me. 366 steps – sounds like a lot? Actually, after the 999 steps at the Tianmen Gate in Zhangjiajie, I’m convinced that anything less than that is child play. 366, I could handle, but 999 steps…that definitely wasn’t something to be easily messed with.
First level up, we get a clear view of the Market Square. Those cute houses on the opposite side remind me of doll houses! I think this was after less than 100 steps up the tower, so there’s a long way to go.
Level 2, after approximately 200 steps, we reach the gigantic mechanical clockwork of the tower. The ticking and the tocking was mesmerizing as many visitors sat down to catch their breath after a long climb.
A view of the Burg Square, with the city hall of Bruges.
The Bruges skyline, with a myriad of old houses. Something similar could be seen of Paris from Montmartre.
There’s another boat setting out with a boat-full of tourists!
Zoom zoom zoom…in to the Burg Square.
I believe the structure to the left is the Church of Our Lady. Unsure about the other one.
It sticks out like a sore thumb.
I made it to the top! Here are various views of Bruges from the very top of Belfort. Now that I think about it, it would have been fun to try to capture a 360-degree panorama, although not all sides were accessible.
ATTENTION BEER LOVERS! After the visit to Belfort, I stumbled upon an outdoor market – I always stumble upon these whenever I visit a new city; they’re quite common in Europe. Amid the many vendors in the market, this one particularly caught my attention. I’m sure you’d agree with me. But just look, the lady was totally posing for my photo 😀
And here was something I unexpectedly caught – baby ducks. I was walking by the river while a glimpse of something small flashed before my eyes. And I saw them, a duck with its 10 little ducklings! Way too adorable for words.
During the latter part of my stay in Bruges, I was shopping for chocolate when I heard something familiar. Yes, it was a band – a brass band, as it turned out – but what I heard got me excited because I recognized the tune as…PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN! Yes, they were playing music from PoTC right there in public, and that was noteworthy epicness. It was certainly an awesome twist to the trip and somewhat of a delightful treat.
The percussionist just looked so badass!
Oh yes, I did mention chocolate, right? Surprisingly, chocolate in Bruges was…cheap! There were lots of local shops selling homemade chocolate of all kinds, and I just couldn’t resist mixing and matching some of my purchases. I decided on a budget and searched the shops for the best prices, getting some from here and some from there. They would make sweet gifts (literally), authentically from the chocolate capital, for my friends when I meet up with them next week 😉
Et voilà my collection of chocolate! Actually, I gave in to temptation and picked the tube of chocolate eggs for myself, and finished it within two days. Probably not a very healthy choice…but soooooooooooooo yummy!
So, did Bruges live up to my expectations? Hmm, it’s rather hard to say. I am hesitant to say that Bruges is a phenomenal place to visit. In fact, I was slightly disappointed. There was an invisible sense of “something is missing” throughout the trip, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then again, I must admit that I was extremely tired the entire day, and combined with the grey skies that interrupted, I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the day to its maximum. It was like Paris, full of dark clouds and light rain during my first visit. Weather really plays such an important role in travelling mood.
Going back to the very first paragraph of the post, it’s also possible that it really IS the loss in interest in travelling catching up to me. Then again, no one ever said you have to love every city you visit. Every experience is a valuable one, whether positive or not. Well, I’ve still got 6 more weekends in Belgium, already fully planned out. Let’s see what Liege brings next next week! (Next week is a surprise…:P)