Walking around Bruges is like strolling through the Middle Ages. It’s distinguished by romantic canals, cobbled streets, and medieval buildings. It was a stroke of brilliance years back when the town planners realized they might have a little tourist gold mine on their hands, so they decreed that all new construction in the old part of town must be built to look like the Middle Ages making it nearly impossible to tell a one hundred year old structure from one that is six hundred years or older. Clever devils those town planners!
Centuries back Bruges was an influential market town and trading center. Our guide explained that a weather event of massive magnitude altered it’s just-OK harbor into a fabulous harbor which slowly morphed into the busiest harbor in the Western Hemisphere. With that came lots of wealth, influence, power, and building projects. This is evident in the 14th-century city hall with its ornately carved exterior and handsome spires, 13th-century belfry with a 47-bell carillon and 272 feet tower, two-and-a-half acre Market Square, breweries, churches and a cathedral, impressive city gates, and even hospitals. We strolled the narrow streets and alleyways and took a boat ride on the scenic, fairytale canal.
As we entered town we saw a Beguinage, something we had never heard of. Our guide explained that only 10% of the town’s men came home from the Crusades leaving a lot of wives and young women with few prospects. A solution was to form a lay community of religious women who lived together, much like nuns do, without taking vows or retiring from the world. Beguinages could be shared single dwellings or a collection of buildings situated around one or more courtyards. The one we passed was clearly an impressive court beguinage.
Another interesting tidbit the guide shared had to do with the advent of pubic baths and their decent into something a bit less respectable. Seems Catholics were not all that big on hygiene back in the day, so there were no facilities for bathing in the city. Travelers, traders, pilgrims, and soldiers returning from the Middle East, where the practice of bathing was part of their faith, shared tales of baths and wanted the same luxury in Bruges, so slowly pubic baths immerged. They were very social spaces where you could linger and even share a snack. In due course ‘other services’ were made available and pretty soon the humble bathhouse was the not so humble brothel. We passed a nice plaque that told the story of this progression and eventual outlawing of these popular and numerous dins of iniquity.
Belgium became an independent nation in 1815 when the boarders were inadvertently established in such a way that Flemish is spoken in 60% of the country and French in 40%. Bruges is in the Flemish area, but with eight million tourist a year, mostly day-trippers, getting by in English is not a problem. There are 60 chocolate shops in town and, of course, we popped into a few. You will know soon enough if we brought you a treat. Lace is a traditional craft here and shops still sell it. French fries are actually Belgian fries, as they were invented in Belgium, so sampling some was basically required. Who doesn’t love Belgium waffles? We bought a delicious, hot, made-to-order one on the street.
Dan and I lived 80 miles south of here for two years way back in the day, so we had been to Bruges several times, but it was still exciting to come again after 30+ years. Other than a sharp increase in visitors, the town looked unchanged which is just what the town planners of yesteryear as well as today had in mind.
Once back on the ship we got busy organizing ourselves to disembark tomorrow. Luggage had to be in the hall by 10:00 PM, so after a long, fun, farewell dinner we finished packing, put our bags out, set our clocks back an hour, and headed to bed.
For What it’s Worth
Chocolate is not a traditional industry in Bruges even though it plays prominently there now.
Bruges boasts a museum dedicated to the humble French fry.
The diamond trade in Bruges predates that of Amsterdam or Antwerp, cities now famous for diamonds. The technique of cutting diamonds and polishing diamonds
using diamond “dust” was first used in Bruges over 500 years ago.
The swans that usually add a charming touch to the canals are all in quarantine because of a bird flu.
Bruges was liberated by the Canadians during WWII.
In tribute to the troops who came to their aid, the city installed two huge bronze bison
at the entrance of a small bridge. Quite unexpected.
The port of Zeebrugge in northwest Belgium is about eight miles
from Bruges and is the largest car terminal in the world!
2 thoughts on “Bruges, Belgium (April 29, 2022)”
Bruges sounds so cool
Matt Mongeon, PMP, Technical Project Manager II
Engineering Management Office
PMP,ITIL Foundation, RCV, OSA, SOA, PPO
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My favorite day! Loved learning about Bruges and seeing the pictures! Thank you!