3 March 2014

Beautiful Bruges

One of the aims of spending a week in Brussels was to make some day trips to other Belgian towns and Bruges was top of the list.

It was no problem finding a train to get there though it was bit of a challenge to find a seat as the train was packed and some people stood for the hour or so that it took to get there. Bruges Station was far better prepared for visitors than either Brussels Midi or Brussels Central had been earlier in the week and I was able to pick up a map before starting the walk in to town.

The station was, understandably, outside of the Old Town and it was a fair walk to get to the centre, the market square.

I did not take the best route either; I followed everybody else along the shortest route and while it was pretty it was not that pretty and it was devoid of cafes and bars.

As I approached the centre there was an increasing number of grand buildings and also the first sight of the waterways that did so much to define the shape and character of the town.

The market square had the wow-factor that I was hoping for. There were large ornate buildings on two sides and small colourful and ornate buildings on the other two sides. In the middle there were locals and visitors walking, cycling and stopping to take pictures.

The fancy building above/to the right, depending on your screen settings, is the Historium today but their website refuses to tell me what it was when it was built.

This detail, which looks rather like the Historium, is from the nearby Burg. This was The Palace of the Liberty of Bruges for a period and then the law courts for the next two hundred years!

Burg sat in its own square flanked by two smaller buildings that while not as grand were decorated with gold figures so were still delightful.

The highlight of my day in Bruges was the boat trip.

The boats ran from various places in the town centre and I caught mine just by Burg. Even on a Monday afternoon on a dull day in early March the boats were busy but there were so many going that I did not have long to wait.

My luck was in and being almost the last to board I found myself near to the front of the boat with good views to the front and to my side.

The main waterways were shaped something like a backward S. We started somewhere near the middle, went to the north end, turned around, went all the way to the south end, turned around and came back to where we started.

The boat ride took about 30 minutes and in that time I took 67 pictures! That was about a third of the 229 that I took on the day.

I like brick and Bruges had a lot of them. This was particularly true of the buildings facing the water which, I guess, included many functional buildings like warehouses.

I like windows too and that is why I chose the picture above, also taken from the boat.

Another of the main sights was the Gruuthuse Museum. This was situated to the south of the centre in a cluster of fine buildings with the canal running past.

I did not have the time (nor the interest, to be honest) to go in to the museum but I enjoyed the exterior immensely. Bruges obviously fell in love with the Gothic style at some points and this was one of the best examples of many.

From there I took the pretty route back to the station, the one that I missed on the way in. This took me to, amongst other places, Begijnhof (a cluster of arts and crafts style houses for nuns), several churches and tea room that went well over the top in presenting my slice of creamy cake.

My route took me along a waterway and I could not resist the temptation to cross the bridge to get a good look along it back towards the town.

In a few hours Bruges comfortably justified my decision to dedicate half a day to exploring it.

And half a day was about the right time too. I got to see almost all of the main sights, (I missed just a few of the smaller ones that were inconveniently placed away from the centre), had a boat ride, and stopped for a coffee, a beer and a cake.

The only minor disappointment was the extent to which traffic was allowed in to the centre (unlike Brussels) and the uncanny frequency with which pretty buildings had ugly white vans parked in front of them. This was somewhat balanced by the large number of cyclists comfortably mixing with pedestrians in the shared areas.

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