13 Mar Wandering Through Bruges
Bruges is a charming town in the West Flanders province of Belgium–it also happens to be the capital. The city’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and at one time, the city was considered one of the most important commercial cities in the world, due to its important port activity. Because of the numerous canals throughout the city and their direct access to the nearby sea, Bruges was able to capitalize on trade. After many economical ups and downs, the city found its stride in tourism and in 2002, was designated the ‘European Capital of Culture’, now attracting millions of visitors per year, and when walking around, I can see why.
When you think about quaint European towns with cobblestone streets, Bruges couldn’t fit the bill more perfectly. I was enamored with the town’s charm. Everything was so pretty that neither Micah nor I could put down our cameras.
Here are some of the things we enjoyed on our short stay in Bruges:
As any self-respecting individuals would do, our first stop was to seek out some of the classic Belgian food we had heard so much about. Stopping at a stand alongside the road, we ordered a heaping cone of fries along with another traditional Belgian food, oliebollen. Oliebollen is often considered a precursor to the donut–they are balls of deep-fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon, and they are sometimes made with raisins or other fruit as well. The Oliebollen and the fries were tasty, although the fries were not the best we had while in Belgium. We should have ordered the special sauce or mayonnaise with our fries, but instead we panicked and ordered ketchup out of habit.
Once we gathered enough energy from our little binge, the next stop was a climb up the stairs to the belfry tower near the center of town. Standing over 83 meters tall, there are 366 steps to climb, and at times, some of them were so steep and small you practically had to hold yourself up with the rope handle. Thankfully, there are a few stopping points along the way up if you need a rest. At one of the lower levels, you can see the room with all the mechanical workings of the bells. Standing in this room during the bell ringing is loud, but it sure is beautiful sounding. Once you reach the top, you are rewarded with views that stretch across the city and all the way into the countryside. Because of the steepness of the tight spiraling staircase, going down is even harder, so make sure to catch your breath at the top before heading back down.
Strolling the streets
I usually don’t shop much when we travel, but it was hard to drag myself away from the adorable stores in Bruges. I fell in love with Belgian fashion–I could have shopped for an entire new wardrobe, but we had to move on because we had more important things to shop for…like chocolate. The chocolate displays in some of the windows are quite interesting to say the least, but instead of purchasing the x-rated chocolates shaped into naughty bits, we opted for normal chocolate squares, and were they ever delicious. So much so, that we gobbled them up without really taking any photos. To walk off some of the pounds we surely put on in a single afternoon, we enjoyed following the paths alongside the canals to see where they would take us. The paths led us to a family of swans swimming down a canal. Legend has it that the city of Bruges was once punished for executing one of the town administrators that belonged to Austria, from the court of Maximilian. Because the executed man’s coat of arms displayed a swan, Maximilian ordered the punishment that swans be kept on the city’s lakes forever to oblivion. In my opinion, that’s not too bad of a punishment!
Although we only walked through the park on our way back to the train station, we thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a place I could spend a sunny afternoon relaxing by the water. The ‘Lake of Love’, or Minnewater, is a canal lake that was once used to keep control of the water levels of the canal. Minnewater Park is a nice natural retreat from the city and a great place if you want to search for swans–it is also supposedly, home to summer rock concerts.
What’s your favorite thing to do when exploring a new city?