Europe

Bruges, Belgium

It is Friday afternoon, just after 1 p.m., when we set out for Bruges, the old Hanseatic city in the region of Flanders, Belgium. Despite the fact that it is Friday afternoon, we are not bothered by traffic jams and we arrive at our destination at about four p.m.. We drop our luggage at the hostel where we will spend the next two nights and park the car in the parking garage at the station.

It is already getting dark as we walk into town. The medieval city center of Bruges has been beautifully preserved and the entire center of Bruges has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2000. From the Begijnvest we walk past the Poertoren (part of the old city fortress and used as a storage place for gunpowder) to the Minnewater, where ships used to moor that transported merchandise between Bruges and Ghent.

On our first walk through the city we walk along the Rozenhoedkaai and the Vismarkt and the City Hall to the Burg and the Market. Tomorrow we will come back here, but it is also very worthwhile to go and have a look here at dusk. The streetlights are turned on and the old buildings are beautifully lit.

We are ready for a beer and for that we go to l’Estaminet, a café at the Koningin Astridpark. In this typical Flemish café we drink the local beer: Brugse Zot and later in the evening we order something to eat. When we get back to our hostel, we also have a beer there, before going to bed just after midnight.

The next day we explore the city for real. On foot, because the center of Bruges is compact and can therefore easily be visited on foot. We start in the eastern part of the center of Bruges, which consists of working-class neighborhoods with small workers’ houses located on old cobblestone streets. Café Vlissinghe is also located here. This is the oldest café in Bruges: since 1515.

The inner, and oldest, part of the center is surrounded by canals, called ‘reien’. These connected Bruges with other cities and with the North Sea. We walk along the Gouden Handrei and the Augustijnenrei, where you will pass many beautiful old facades. This is the Hanzekwartier, once the commercial heart of Bruges. If you look closely, you will also find two very old wooden houses here.

At the end of the Spiegelrei is the Jan van Eykplein, a square with of course a large statue of the painter Jan van Eyk. Ships which Bruges used for international trade used to moore here. The toll bills were collected in the Oude Tolhuis dating from 1477. Another beautiful building is the old Poortersloge, where prominent businessmen gathered to trade. We have coffee on the nearby Sint Jansplein and then we take a look under the Crown Palace hotel. St. Donaas Cathedral used to be on the site where this hotel now stands. It was destroyed in 1799, but the foundations are still there. The new building has been built over it and the foundations of the old cathedral are now part of the conference rooms below the hotel.

On our walking tour through Bruges we end up (again) at the Burg, one of the two central squares in the city. The Burg is the place where in the ninth century a fortress was built, which later grew into what is now the city of Bruges. The south side of the square is dominated by the facade of Bruges Town Hall dating from 1376. The facade is richly decorated. To the left of the town hall is the Brugse Vrije, an eighteenth-century building with a gold-decorated facade, which functioned as a court of justice until the early 1980s.

Behind the town hall is the Vismarkt and around the corner the Rozenhoedkaai, perhaps the most photographed place in Bruges. Via the Breidelstraat we walk to the Market. This large square, which is surrounded by seventeenth-century guild houses, is home to an ice rink and Christmas market at this time of year. The east side of the square is marked by the beautiful facade of the Provincial Court, on the south side of the Market is the Belfry, with its 83 meter high bell tower. You can climb this for a panoramic view of the city. At the foot of the Belfry are two green stalls where you can buy Belgian fries. These stalls have been there since 1897.

After lunch we walk along the water of the Dijver towards the Arentshof. This is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque spots in Bruges. There are centuries-old houses along the narrow canals, with the large Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk behind it. The Bonifacius bridge, which fits in perfectly with the environment, looks old, but was only built at the beginning of the twentieth century.

On the other side of the church you will find yourself in the middle of the bustle of tourists who move down Mariastraat and Katelijnestraat. That is perhaps the only disadvantage of Bruges: there are a lot of tourists. In stark contrast to this is the silence at the nearby Begijnhof. This place was founded in 1245 and consists of houses with white-painted facades around a large courtyard.

A little further on, on the Walplein, is De Halve Maan, the only active city brewery in Bruges. In this brewery, which started as the Henri Maes Brewery and has been owned by the same family for centuries, Brugse Zot and Straffe Hendrik are brewed, among others. Two beers that after the tour we also want to drink of course.

After we have walked some more, we have dinner at Het Gulden Vlies, a small restaurant where we order Flemish stew. Back at the hostel we have another drink and then, tired of walking and all the impressions, we go to bed.

After breakfast the next morning, we first take our luggage to the car. We walk around the city center, along the Canal from Ghent to Ostend, which forms the eastern border of the city center of Bruges. The fortress, the city wall built in the thirteenth century, forms an elongated park along the water. Here you will also find the Kruispoort and Gentpoort, two of the four remaining medieval city gates.

After walking down the small streets of the western part of the city center and drinking coffee, we visit the Groeninge museum. This museum is entirely devoted to Belgian painting. A cultural hour after which we have lunch, walk along De Halve Maan to do some shopping, and then we head back home. Where we can look back on a very successful city trip in a beautiful old city, which, despite the fact that Bruges is only 2.5 hours from home, feels far away.

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