Saturday, October 30

Bruges


I have a confession. Until we move to Europe I’d never heard of Bruges and its picturesque network of canals. I can now safely declare that my ignorance has been suitably rectified.. Two weeks ago Garry and I caught a Eurostar train from St Pancreas station to Brussels and on to Bruges for a brief weekend excursion. As always Eurostar had us in the heart of Europe in no time at all. I still marvel at the ease with which we’re able to reach France and Belgium.

We arrived in Bruges shortly after 11pm on Friday only to be greeted by steady rain. At first the weather was nothing more than a mild inconvenience as we’d book accommodation within walking distance. However we soon discovered that the street leading to our hotel was under serious repair, making the route an obstacle course of rubble, mud and uneven surfaces. Of course Garry wasn’t least bit fazed by our wet, late-night gauntlet. Thanks to his recent abdominal surgery I’d been assigned to luggage duty.


Fortunately, the poor weather proved fleeting. As dawn broke on Saturday we were greeted by cloudy skies and intermittent sunshine. We were also surprised to discover a street market had sprung up overnight outside our hotel window. After breakfast we took time to wander through the market’s many stalls. Alongside the regular offering of clothing, handicraft and trinkets we come across some fascinating stalls. Two in particular captured my imagination.

Just metres from our hotel room we encountered a couple selling chickens, ducks and geese. The animals were housed in a row of cages with dozens more stacked in the background. The market’s produce section was also an eye-opener. Most stall holders operated from clever custom-designed trailers. The engineering alone was impressive. Many had built-in display shelves, gas ovens and rotisserie racks cooking all manner of delicious meals.


However, the market’s most arresting sight wasn’t the man-handling of chooks and rabbits. It was a giant anatomically-correct 20-metre long naked man floating over the entire scene. Yes – all his bloke bits were in place, dangling over the curious crowd. I later learnt that the helium sculpture was a self-portrait of its Polish artist, Pawel Althamer and was the centre piece of a festival celebrating central European art. His temporary exhibit was scheduled to float over the town for a week. Unfortunately, strong winds on Saturday night ripped its skin, leaving only an eerie giant head still intact the following morning. I’m sure there’s a metaphor there for lovers of art.


Most of our first day in Bruges was spent wandering its medieval heart. The beautifully preserved town center is a truly impressive sight. We soaked up street after street of 18th Century buildings, each capped by classic stepped eaves that just screamed Benelux. Many of the elegant facades included small nooks, often holding religious icons. This has to be one of Europe’s most attractive locations.

We chose a small local restaurant for dinner on Saturday evening. I was keen to try a few local delicacies including Flemish beef stew Cooked in dark beer. We both wanted to also try the local beer, brewed in a micro-brewery sited on the edge of a central canal. Naturally, being in the self-proclaimed chocolate capital of Europe, we had to finish the meal with a delicious chocolate fondue.


Our final day in Bruges was spent wandering its stunning canals. Once again, the surrounding urban landscape has been carefully preserved, giving my camera a suitably thorough workout. We’d also planned on taking one of the many canal tours endlessly plying its waters in sleek speedboats. However, we soon realized the tours lasted all of 15 minutes, covering the same canal route we’d traversed on foot. We soon changed our plans and walked to the edge of the old town where a broad canal circles the town. This was once a moat that wrapped around the city’s defense medieval wall.


Today, all that remains of the 13th Century wall is this waterway, bridged in several place by dramatic gate towers. Perhaps the most impressive of these is Kruispoort which dates from the beginning of the 15th Century. Nearby postcard-perfect, windmills can also be found perched on a row of artificial mounds that once formed part of the defensive wall.

Lunch was spent at a café we’d encountered earlier in the day sitting in sunshine on the banks of a quiet canal. I enjoyed a large bowl of mussels, steamed in white wine, celery and garlic. Delicious! Afterwards we forced ourselves to sample the wares of several chocolatiers before making our way back to the station and on to London. Our departure was perfectly timed. Within hours of our departure Belgian railway workers went on strike, paralyzing the nation's network and forcing Eurostar to cancel trains to and from Brussels.

1 comment:

Rhonda said...

I'd never heard of Bruges either until Garry said you were going there but it looks quite lovely. Didn't like the naked man. He looks a bit like Mr Bean at first glance but OOOH those chocolates look good.