It is interesting how life goes in circles. We have visited Bruges twice before. The first time on a three week holiday heading to the Black Forest in Germany and Switzerland, This time we are planning to explore Germany for the summer .The second time for a long weekend with Heather’s Mum who was not very well during the weekend and so wandering Bruges we discussed what we wanted to do when we retired. This discussion was the seed in our desire to travel and so as everyone who knows us it’s exactly what we have been doing.
Bruges is one of our favourite European towns. It has a charm of its own if you ignore the crowds which visit it each day. According to the Rough Guide” it is the most popular tourist destination in Belgium”. It is also often called the “Venice of the North” due to its extensive canal system.
Bruges began life as a 9th century fortress as a defence against the Vikings. By the 14th century the city had prospered due to the cloth trade where it turned English wool into clothing which was exported across the known world. The city remained prosperous and was a key location in international trade only dogged by wars between England and France kings. The city declined during the reigns of the Habsburgs who inherited Flanders and the rest of present day Belgium and Holland in 1482. The cloth industry declined and the River Zwin the main trading river to the North Sea became silted up resulting in trade completely collapsing by the 1530s. However it survived as if in a time capsule over the centuries, escaping damage in two world wars to what is seen today.
After taking advice we parked for free at a Park and Ride car park not far from the station and then walked the short distance into the centre or “centrum”. It was a Saturday so there was both the locals and tourists milling around the town. We started our exploration in “The Markt” the central plaza of the town which is common in Belgium. As we admired the various buildings around the square we realised that Daisy was sudden alert, with her ears pricked taking great interest in the many horse-drawn buggies clattering around the square. She couldn’t keep her eyes off them or move her head around quick enough to watch them as they went by. She also didn’t make a sound which compared to her first horse encounter a year ago was also amazing. She was giving many nearby tourists’ amusement and we saw several people take her photograph.
The predominant building which dominates the square is the Belfort which was begun in the 13th century as a lantern to be seen for miles. However misfortunes over the years as a result of lightning and thunderstorms the tower has had many reincarnations to the structure seen today.
We moved onto the next square which had the beautiful and very ornate 14th and 15th century buildings of the Stadhaus, Civiele Griffe and the Paleisvan het Brugse Vrije.
We then continued our walk through the narrow streets and along by the many arteries of canals enjoying the sunshine and the old buildings. However, we had to keep stopping to allow our fellow tourist (Daisy) to regular look into the canals. She was totally fascinated and again caused some amusing looks from passers bys.
For peace and tranquility the Begijnhof a circle of old and pretty whitewashed houses which surrounded a central green, a carpet of daffodils. The houses are now occupied by Benedictine nuns and are like a self contained village with two gates. After leaving the Begijnhof we walked back to the car passed the Minnewater “Lake of Love” which was originally the city harbour.
An enjoyable day in one of our favourite cities.