Bruges: The Original Fairy-Tale City
Quaint, peaceful and vibrant Bruges.
“I got 21 seconds to go” was the soundtrack to my internal monologue that day. Particularly when I sprinted across half of Bruges to catch a train with literally zero seconds to spare. Now, let me rewind and explain to you how I’d spent the day preceeding this panic-stricken headless-chicken dash.
Naturally, after spending 24 hours in Brussels, rather than relax, we figured we should spend the following (less than) 24 hours dashing across Bruges. But it was actually a lot more peaceful than I’ve made it sound. Bruges really is how they describe it in the film: “just like a fairy-tale”. [N.B. If you haven’t seen In Bruges, watch it. Now.] It somehow seems to have escaped both the economic turmoil of the recession unlike many of European cities and the all-too-common overbearing westernisation. Apparently, the town was never truly industrialised as its’ trade was halted during C15th, when the River Zwin silted up. So Bruges remains a careful balance of quaint, peaceful yet vibrant.
And so, we began our expedition at the Gare du Midi train station in Brussels. I mention this because – should you be in a rush – you will thank me for the following advice: don’t bother with the self-service ticket machines! They had no cash slots and pompously rejected innumerate card attempts so head straight for the ticket office, but make sure you check whether you’re buying ‘international’ or ‘domestic’ tickets.
After an hour-ish train ride on a novel European double-decker train, we arrived in beautiful Bruges (or Brugge). I would recommend just wandering and taking in the sights to begin (a guide can tell you the exact historical locations to visit, but I want to give an insider’s insight). So, we trundled past the cathedral, through the chocolate-shop-lined cobbled streets towards the main square. Top tip: on absolutely no account visit Bruges if you want to diet. Especially not if it’s the see-food diet (ha-ha, heard that one before haven’t ya?)
The square (and surrounding streets) boast an impressive array of gothic and medieval buildings, each with their own charming story to tell. Though none are as impressive as the towering medieval Belfort, quite the highlight if you have seen In Bruges. Sorry – did I mention that film already? Anyway, if you do fancy clambering the 366 steps: arrive early. We were there by 11am and the queue was already at a ‘naah I can’t be bothered to wait’ level (on the official queue-scale, that is). The melodic tune played hourly by the Belltower clock fills the silent air with an eerie tranquillity; it almost feels like the world might just come to an end on an hourly basis.
Definitely take the 30-minute canal tour for €4 a pop, but do it for the sights, not the expert guidance. A total snooze-fest; the overtly uninspiring tour guide led to my newfound interest in trying out every single mode of my camera possible to blot out his monotonous drone. To be completely honest, the only thing my ears pricked up for during the tour was “zee smallest window in zee whole of Eur-opp” which was actually, designed for borrowers…probably. Similarly, I was jolted out of my daydream by an immense gaggle of swans, mainly because they scare the absolute bejezus out of me. I can only assume a childhood food-grabbing experience left me eternally scarred.
Finally, as a market-fiend, you can only imagine my disgruntled expression when we passed an amazing (looking) flea market on the canal ride. So close I could almost touch it. But alas, our time limitations meant I was whisked off the boat and far, far away from losing my flea market L-Plates.
And so we’re back at where we started. Headed to the Brugge train station at an initially reasonable pace. That is, until my genius brother got us lost once again. “I’ll just follow my nose” he said. So we followed his nose until we sprinted across the platforms, panting, eventually tumbling into the train home. So for Bruges, although you don’t need days to appreciate the feel of the city, if you plan on packing in some tourist sights via the comforting medium of walking, a long weekend would definitely suffice.