Bruges is a town of rustic romanticism and a great place to escape to after the relative madness of Amsterdam’s wilder and more extensive corridors. The backdrop is similar, the scenery just as beautiful. Busier pockets dot some of the old town’s edges as well as the more central Burg Square. But for the most part Bruges is a quiet, peaceful city with a quaint Old World style that grips the imagination and has travellers like Teresa and I stopping in front of realtor shops to take a look at local housing prices.
After passing by some of these canal-side beauties it isn’t hard to figure out why. I doubt any of these properties will be freeing up anytime soon, likely passed down generation to generation within close-knit family circles.
One thing I truly loved about Europe was our ability to walk through neighbourhoods for hours without becoming bored. While a similar style will stamp a stretch or squared conurbation of homes or businesses, somehow nothing winds up looking the same as each home is touched up or distinguished in a way unlike any of its neighbours. Bruges has it all, from rustic plots of residences to centuries-old behemoths like the belfry of Bruges, or Belfort van Brugge in Dutch, a medieval bell tower that Teresa and I used as a point of reference as the tip of the tower can be seen from virtually everywhere in town.
Right next door to the belfry sits Historium, a massively beautiful building that offers historic tours to those wishing to learn a little more about Bruges’ medieval past, its economic dealings, and artistic roots.
To be honest, it was nothing like I’d expected with a dramatic virtual tour taking us through seven rooms equipped with an audio/visual apparatus that attempts to place the viewer in a world long past. The cinematic sequences must have cost a fortune as a slew of actors were hired to play various roles, including the starring artist’s apprentice and the female model whom he must bring to his master to paint the perfect portrait for a set of wealthy clients. At the end, the apprentice realizes he will never be as talented as his master. After searching the city for both the model and an escaped exotic parrot who is also to be a part of the portrait, the apprentice decides to become a city tour guide in order to share the rich experience of Bruges with as many people as possible.
As the tour came to a close, Teresa and I were able to reach an elevated balcony with an excellent view of the square and much of the town itself.
The parkland surrounding the old town is gorgeous and lovely to walk through on a sunny day. The weather in Europe wasn’t the greatest in terms of temperature but the sun did shine for several of the days we were present. Either way, we packed for cold weather so were rarely uncomfortable. Park walks were a constant for us and despite the kilometres of daily walking, I doubt our heart rates ever exceeded the norm as we were so relaxed for the entirety of our visit. Looking back, you can see it in our eyes in nearly every photo; this type of travel put the both of us in a place of peaceful contentedness.
The Flemish cuisine of northern Belgium is delightful, and horrendously filling at the same time. I think it was in Bruges that I really felt like I was starting to gain weight. With dishes like this Belgian pork sausage over mashed potatoes mixed with shredded carrots, it isn’t difficult to see why.
One odd quirk we noticed about this part of Europe was that restaurants refused to offer tap water to guests, nor would they allow us to drink from water bottles brought in from outside. On average, a 250 mL bottle of flat water costs close to four dollars Canadian, or about 2.50-2.75 Euro. This is something I found to be outrageous. I think if clean water, the lifeblood of our species, is available from the tap, it should be offered for free. Essentially, we just didn’t drink water while in restaurants, opting for the odd beer or nothing at all.
Teresa and I each got a very interestingly served beer in a restaurant we actually returned to despite our short stay in Bruges. It’s called Cambrinus and they serve a wide variety of beer and local Belgian dishes, including the pork sausage I mentioned earlier as well as an amazing meatloaf dish that filled us up at 2:30 in the afternoon when we decided to try it. We slept early that night.
Another of our favourite spots was Delaney’s Irish Pub, set in a beautiful old building and serving up some delicious lunch dishes. Here, we selected shrimp croquets, potato leek soup, an open-faced smoked salmon sandwich (an item I would frequently return to throughout the entirety of our trip), and a classic Irish beef burger. Good stuff all around.
Of course, we couldn’t come to Belgium without trying the classic Belgian waffle, a melt-in-your mouth delight that was a little on the pricey side but highly enjoyable nonetheless.
Bruges was merely the beginning of the Belgian leg of our journey. After reading about the rural extravagance that is the southern Belgian Ardennes, we had our eyes and our hearts set on our next destination. The outdoor activities were just getting started and by now, after only just beginning to consume these rich, tasty Flemish delights, we had a good reason to up the ante and try to burn away some of the more unwanted results of our frequent indulgences.