Saturday 01 August 2015 – Brugge, Belgium.
Wahoo – I have almost four weeks off work, and loads of holiday plans to fill the time as well. The last week of work was not too stressful considering the things we had to do, it had its moments but I left yesterday feeling pretty relaxed about taking the time off. A good way to start a holiday, especially as this morning El and I are heading off early to catch a train to Bruges, or Brugge, in Belgium for an extended weekend away
As English speakers we use the French spelling and pronunciation of Bruges, though the local Flemish speaking Belgian’s use the Flemish Brugge. I will try and use that spelling throughout my posts about the city. I do not understand why we do not honour how the local people spell and pronounce the names of their countries and towns, and why we have to anglicise everything, and vice versa as well. I suppose I do understand, though I do not like it.
Brugge is an ancient place, probably named by an old Dutch word for bridge. It was first recorded in 840 though the location has been occupied since at least 1500 years BC, the earliest remains are from the Roman occupation from about 100 BC. It is a UNESCO heritage site and the buildings, mainly from the 14th-17th century, have been incredibly well preserved or renovated. Brugge is a canal town, it was a key trading centre for many decades and was the economic capital of Europe for a long time. Canals and rivers surround the entire old town, cutting it off from the rest of the city and leaving it relatively car free. It is just the sort of place I love to explore and I was really looking forward to returning after a day long visit as part of a tour of Europe way back in 1987.
As we were going somewhere photographically interesting I decided to take my big camera, a Canon 5d Mk1 rather than the smaller G16. Earlier in the week I got the camera out to charge batteries, give it a clean and all the other pre-trip things I do. I discovered my spare battery had totally died, so I contacted a friend who I knew shot Canon to see if he had a spare battery. He didn’t, but he very kindly offered me the use of his 5d MK3 instead. Wow, a dream camera for the weekend ! Thanks Andy.
As is our way we were up early and at St Pancras station well before time to check in. We decided to breakfast at the station so got there quite early. It is a very busy place on a Saturday morning.
As we were there early I went off for a quick explore of the station, I have been here a couple of times before, but have never seen ‘The meeting statue’, so was quite pleased to find it upstairs outside the Eurostar platforms.
It was a bit of a process getting through security and immigration control, as this is an international journey; it is like passing through airport security, with the usual lack of staff to manage the volume of passengers. I was glad to get through, and get a coffee and a muffin on the other side. The
flight train left a bit late, but with enough time for me to get up to the front to take a photo, I love these high speed trains.
We did not have a great window seat unfortunately, but it was still good to be thundering through the Kent countryside, heading for the channel tunnel and out the out the other side into France. Though the landscape did not change much at all !
At some unknown point on the journey we crossed from France in to Belgium and changed trains in Brussels.
Three hours after leaving London we were arriving in Brugge, the station is just outside the old town and with the help of a guide book map and a printout from the internet with directions we headed off into the warm and sunny Belgian afternoon to find our hotel, which was very close to the centre of town.
Even though it was early afternoon on a Saturday in July, the outer layers of the old town were quite empty, something I have noted in other places I have been. It seems some visitors just like to see the key attractions, leaving the exploring to the likes of El and myself. Love it !
We stayed in the Pand Hotel, which was just lovely, very close to the centre of the action, but very quiet and comfortable, and a view of the window towards the Church of our Lady, which we visit on Monday.
After dumping our bags, and sun blocking up we were out the door and on to the streets, we didn’t have a plan this afternoon, just a wander around to see what we saw, and we did see a lot. The hotel is about 50 metres from the Rozenhoedkaai, one of the most popular – and photographed parts of Brugge. Over the next couple of days I took a few photos here myself !
We then headed off towards the Markt, the main square. I love it that, while there are cars around, Brugge is a cycling city, and bikes and pedestrians co-exist seemingly quite easily. The old market hall, and the back of the Belfry.
I also like it that most of the bikes are not low slung road ‘racing’ bikes and most of the cyclists are everyday folk and not the lycra clad road warriors that we see too much of in other countries.
A lot of the houses in the centre of Brugge are constructed in the ‘brick gothic’ style and were built from the 16th and 17th centuries, with major renovations being carried out in the late 19th century when Brugge started to become popular as a tourist destination. Some of the houses had icons of Mary and the baby Jesus on them, I liked this – a lot, and took many photos of them over the three days.
The Markt is surrounded by lovely old buildings, the 12th century, 83 metre high Belfry is particularly nice.
There was some weird mirror sculpture in the square, so El and I used them for some selfies.
We headed off for a bit more of a wander, and wonder at some of the things we were seeing, before finally stopping for a beer for me, and a wine for El as she does not like beer. Brugge is world famous for its beer, so I had to try some while I was here.
Brugge is also famous for it’s lace and there are a number of lace shops around the main tourist areas.
We finally ended up back at our hotel and decided to make our way to the small garden out the back for a glass of bubbles. Drinks in Brugge all come with small snacks: cheese, olives and small biscuits were the most common and was hugely appreciated. The champagne in the hotel came in massive flutes – also much appreciated !
On our afternoon walk we had reserved a table at Wijnbar Est, and after a wee rest we took a slow stroll there for an early dinner.
We had a great time, it is a lovely little restaurant, great vibe and really nice food. The main surprise for us was drinking a bottle of Belgian wine from the Landgoed Dorrebeek vineyard. I had no idea they made wine in Belgium, it was really really nice. A recommended place for a drink or a meal – and to try something different !
One of the many joys of using this great camera is the lowlight capabilities are so much better than my old version. While none of these are fantastic these are all hand held photos taken on a stroll around Brugge to walk off dinner. The Rozenhoedkaai at night.
Belgium is of course famous for its chocolate, so I had to take a photo of the chocolate boobs seen on the way to the Markt. .
The belfry and the 18th century provincial court.
There was a free music festival on in the Burg square as we walked through, none of the music interested me at all, but it was full of families and young people having a good time and had a really nice vibe to it.
We strolled up the side of a canal for a while, crossing over a bridge before heading back towards the hotel.
The magnificent Church of our Lady at 133 metres is the tallest building in Brugge and the second tallest brick building in the world and was built from the 13th to the 15th centuries. It looks stunning at night.
We also had a quick peak at Sint-Salvator Cathedral, which we didn’t visit during the day. This was made the official cathedral of Brugge in 1834, soon after The Netherlands allowed Belgium to become an independent nation and a new bishop was installed in Brugge. The steeple was rebuilt in the 1830’s after the church as almost destroyed in a fire.
Back at our hotel we had an unexpectedly large night cap before finally putting our feet up after a long day of aimlessly strolling about one of the world’s loveliest cities. We were really looking forward to doing it all again tomorrow!