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krisek Brugge - A travel report by Krys
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Brugge,  Belgium - flag Belgium -  West-Vlaanderen
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krisek's travel reports

In Bruges, Belgium's exceptional medieval city.

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Bruges (aka Brugge) is Belgium's gem - a crown jewel of all medieval cities. Many historical buildings date back to the Golden Age as far as 12th century. It is a very pleasant place, criss-crossed with canals, and a great place for eating out.

Brugge travelogue picture
Bruges (Brugge) is firmly positioned as Belgium's main tourist attraction. UNESCO's inscription says: "Brugge is an outstanding example of a medieval historic settlement, which has maintained its historic fabric as this has evolved over the centuries, and where original Gothic constructions form part of the town's identity. As one of the commercial and cultural capitals of Europe, Brugge developed cultural links to different parts of the world. It is closely associated with the school of Flemish Primitive painting. The Historic Town of Brugge is testimony, over a long period, of a considerable exchange of influences on the development of architecture, particularly in brick Gothic, as well as favouring innovative artistic influences in the development of medieval painting. (...) Brugge is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble, illustrating significant stages in the commercial and cultural fields in medieval Europe, of which the public, social, and religious institutions are a living testimony."

The core of the historic centre is small and easily navigated by foot. Although many opt for horse drawn carts (led mainly by women) to see the town or for canal rides on rather crowded boats. All sound like very pleasant ways to see the city, perhaps - if a bit cliche. I only did the walking, but something tells me that I might go for boat ride next time I visit. However, after seeing the dark comedy 'In Bruges', I am giving a very serious thought to trying the cart ride, too.

This was my second time in Bruges. I was very disappointed with weather. The forecasts promised cloudless skies and pleasant temperature. Instead, it was chilly and the heavy grey clouds hanging low travelled fast with the wind. Every now and again the sun managed to peek out, but for very short moments.

The city was packed with day trippers and ... shoppers. I did not expect Bruges might have a reputation of a place for shopping, actually.

Favourite spots:
The Belfry (siege tower)
The Belfry (siege tower)
Oh, Bruges is so lovely that it is actually quite tricky to pick a favourite spot. There is a small square hidden in behind small cobble-stone alleys. Its centre is planted with large trees that gives it its unique character. It is darker than other little squares around. Cafes there with their tables outside seem like a perfect spot for relaxing.

Surely, however, the city's main square, large and open with one of most striking guild houses and the magnificent siege tower (Bruges's 'calling card'), are easily an unforgettable sight. The architecture of the structures surrounding the market is flawless. One side of the square is lined with a string of decent restaurants. They put their tables right on the square, and they definitely do not suffer from the lack of customers. For it is exceptionally pleasant to sit under the sun (if you are lucky) or stars, sip one of the hundreds of Belgian beers, washing down a perfectly cooked steak and enjoying the view, watching people passing by.

What's really great:
Grote Markt
Grote Markt
Although Bruges is hugely popular, there are plenty of spots around the old town that feel quiet and mysterious, despite the crowds on the main routes. It is so great to be able to 'hide' away from the bustle! The city's phenomenal magnetism dazzles and calms a person down in equal measure. Even after two consecutive full circles around the historic centre, one is still insatiated, for a lack of a better word.

The little cobble-stone alleys squeezed between medieval mansions and townhouses, the canals, the bridges and the courtyards - all make a magnificent combination.

Brugge travelogue picture
Bruges's obvious attractions include the siege tower (Belfort), townhall, guildhall, main post office - all around the Markt and the Burg square linked by lovely Breidelstraat; then the Holy Blood Basilica containing a few drops of Jesus Christ's blood, and the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk with the Michelangelo's Madonna and Child statue dating back to 1504. Those interested to find out what UNESCO meant by the Flemish Primitives (curious names to say the least), there are two places to visit: the Sint Janshospitaal museum and the Groeningemuseum. A visit to Bruge, some say, would be incomplete by omitting the Begijnhof, which in the 13th century was a community of single women. In contrast to the museums, entry to Begijnhof is free.

The other, less obvious sights I like in Bruges are the small squares such as: St Janplein; Jan Van Eyckplein; St Maartensplein; Biskajersplein; Oosterlplein; Woensdagmarkt - in the northern part of the centre; and Muntplein and St Jakobspein in the eastern.

Brugge travelogue picture
In a super-popular place like Bruges, accommodation is plentiful, but it is not always easy to find something that fits a particular budget. There are many small hotels dotted around the old town. Most of them have really small rooms and seem excruciatingly overpriced, but their locations can be unrivalled. There are also a number of Bed & Breakfast options and at least a couple of hostels, that charge about €15 per dorm bed, and between €30 and €50 per single room. Some charge €10 per room extra if staying only for one night.

If that is too much, then one can stay in Ghent or even in Brussels, as the trains are rather frequent and distances are not great. However, one should not count on much cheaper prices anywhere, unless staying at universities in the summer or at the camping sites. There is actually a camping place nearby Bruges - the Memling Camping. It is open all year round and it charges up to €14 per tent.

Brugge travelogue picture
Bruges is not particularly famous for its nightlife in the usual understanding of the term. Without a clubbing scene, one might think that there is nothing to write about nightlife in Bruges. Except that its stunning historic centre looks at its best at night, when the most prominent monuments are skillfully lit up and the little cafes and bars located in the centuries old buildings put on slightly subdued lights creating an incredibly powerful ambiance one's imagination would most certainly associate with the Middle Ages. It is wonderful to feel almost teleported back to the years of the city's glory and soak the atmosphere. It is like a fairy-tale, indeed - if to quote one of the characters from the aforementioned motion picture. It is really hard to overstate the magic of Bruges.

Cafes, restaurants...
Cafes, restaurants...
Countless cafes and bars with their tables almost on every little alley and square provide plenty of spots for hanging out, sitting back and reflecting on life, the universe and everything. But I would risk saying that the entire historic centre of Bruge is the very reason and spot for hanging out. There is no better activity in the city than wandering around the narrow alleys admiring the grandeur and genius of the medieval architects. In fact Bruges might actually be the central hanging place for Belgium ;). On the weekends, and when weather is good enough, it seems that the Belgians make time to come to the city from other parts of the country for browsing.

The classic 'hideouts' of Bruges are the small pleins and numerous bridges. One can spend a good hour just lingering on a bridge and observe the life of this magnificent place and how its is being discovered, explored and revered by the visitors.

Brugge travelogue picture
The first time I visited Bruges, I stepped into La Civiere d'Or Petit Cafe Brasserie 1900 at 33-34-35 Markt, and ordered medium steak with pepper sauce. It was perfect, so this time round, I did the same, and I was not disappointed. I am not sure how they did it, but it was so tender like no other steak I had had before. Service was lousy though as the waiter was completely disoriented, forgetful and very slow. Yet, when one has a great view of the siege tower and the magnificent Markt, then waiting is not necessarily a big issue.

Adjacent to La Civiere... there were a few other restaurants, all with tables directly on the square. All were very popular, perhaps more due to their location rather than service or food.

In Bruges, there no shortage of places to eat. Having wandered around, all seemed to be popular. The most curious was a Thai restaurant based in an old house overlooking a small canal and a park, right on the way from the train station. Its garden was most welcoming!

Other recommendations:
Boat landing for canal cruises
Boat landing for canal cruises
The canal tours typically take half an hour. The boats are crowded but the tickets are reasonable - about €5. The horse-drawn cart rides also last about half an hour and typically cost €30, but the carriage can take up to five people. If one does not mind the scent of the horse's back, then this might be an interesting way of seeing the city.

Bruges is on the main train line running from Brussels via Ghent. The trains are quite frequent. There are typically two types of trains, the IC (InterCity) and IR (InterRegio). The former are faster and stop less frequently on their routes - for example, an IC from Ghent to Brugge would not stop at all, taking about 25 minutes. While an IR could take almost 45 minutes. The tickets cost the same, so it is worth checking on the displays and timetables, as the type of trains are always indicated. From Brussels to Bruges, the IC takes just under an hour.

Published on Saturday May 9th, 2009

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Mon, May 11 2009 - 12:06 PM rating by eirekay

Krys, your phrase "phenomenal magnetism dazzles" could be used to describe this report! Brilliant!

Sun, May 10 2009 - 06:23 AM rating by benedict.boy

Nice report on Bruges, my home city. Next time also visit the Church of Jerusalem (the smallest, but nicest church in Bruges) and a couple of museums (St John's Hospital and Groeninge - they are worth visiting).
The Church of Jerusalem was the one that was passed off as the Church of the Holy Blood in "In Bruges". Apart from that, I agree with your and jacko's criticism of the standoffishness of the Brugians! You can't tell them often enough!
And yes, the weather ... Well, today is beautiful, though!

Sun, May 10 2009 - 04:57 AM rating by porto

Krys as we would say here in Glasgow, this report is Pure Dead Brilliant!

Sat, May 09 2009 - 11:52 PM rating by jacko1

Krys, your excellent, well written report transported me back to a place I have visited a couple of times and agree with all your comments about this city, the only downside I found was a vague standoffishness from staff in eating places but then, nowhere is perfect, this report is close though, very well done, most enjoyable!!

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