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A Week in Medieval Bruges


View 2023 on mrb430's travel map.

We flew from Copenhagen to Brussels and took the train into Bruges. Moving back to public transport after having the car was a nice change and a pleasant reminder that we've gotten very good at navigation over the years. We took the train from Brussels Airport to Brussels and changed trains onto an InterCity train to Bruges. From the station, we caught a bus to our hotel. It's so easy now with almost all public transport having apps with trip planners and electronic tickets. We settled into our hotel, thankful to have six nights to unwind, do some laundry, and get to know the city.

Bruges is a big city overall but the small historic and UNESCO World Heritage designated center is only about a mile and a half square. It's easy to get to know and just wandering the cobblestone streets and canals is endlessly interesting and so beautiful.
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A MEDIEVAL MASTERPIECE

Bruges' heydey was between the 12th and 15th centuries and most of the monumental buildings date from this period as well as a hospital and Beguinage, more on that later. Most of the townhouses display dates from the 1600-1700's and there are a few newer areas and buildings but for the most part it remains as it was in the 1500's, having been spared damage in both world wars and having missed the industrial revolution. In addition to the center of Bruges itself being on the UNESCO list, three other spaces are listed individually.

The Belfry of Bruges and Market Square
Made famous in modern times by the movie, the Belfry towers over Market Square with this row of colorful buildings.
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Two other Neo-gothic buildings built in the early 1900's complete the Market Square. The Provincial Court...
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...and a building meant to be the governor's official residence but never used as that and now a museum.
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The Begiunage
From UNESCO:

"The Béguines were women who dedicated their lives to God without retiring from the world. In the 13th century they founded the béguinages , enclosed communities designed to meet their spiritual and material needs. The Flemish béguinages are architectural ensembles composed of houses, churches, ancillary buildings and green spaces, with a layout of either urban or rural origin and built in styles specific to the Flemish cultural region. They are a fascinating reminder of the tradition of the Béguines that developed in north-western Europe in the Middle Ages."

The one in Bruges is a serene place.
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Not on the UNESCO list but of equal interest to us were the many Godshuizen or Almshouses built to house the poor and elderly. Originally built in the 1400's by guilds and other charitable organizations, they still provide affordable small houses for the elderly.
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TOWERS AND SPIRES

Seemingly every other building has a tower, turret, or spire of some kind and they are all fascinating. You can't help but be captivated by the views through buildings and down streets. That they're almost universally made of brick makes them that much more interesting. From the Romanesque to the Gothic, they are everywhere.
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The two cathedrals, Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk and Sint-Salvatorskathedraal, dominate the city skyline and can been seen from many vantage points throughout the city.
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CANALS

And, of course, the city has many small canals throughout. Some have walkways along them and some have houses built right up to the water like in Venice. All of them have beautiful little bridges overflowing with flowers. They are picturesque and after awhile I had to put a moratorium on any more canal photos!
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We stayed on Spiegelrei, a canal that now dead ends into Jan van Eyck square, where we have a couple of cafes. Our room overlooked the canal and it was really special to be able to sit on the window seat and look out.
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CITY GATES AND WINDMILLS

Almost all the way around the edge of the egg-shaped historic center there are larger canals that block it off from the rest of the city. Although the city walls are gone, there are still a number of the old city gates around the edge. It's a beautiful walk along nicely done paths to go and see these and along the way there is the bonus of some 18th and 19th century windmills that were relocated to the park, although one is in it's original place.
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THE BRUGES VIBE

So yes, Bruges gets inundated with day trippers on most days, although some are worse than others. We were so glad we spent six nights here so that we could see it in the evenings and on a Sunday when it wasn't so crowded. But the truth is, as with most highly touristed cities, the crowds are clustered in two or three main areas and all you need to do to escape them is duck down a side street. And amazingly, the people in shops and restaurants are friendly and welcoming for the most part even with the crush of tourists. Maybe it's all the excellent beer they have to partake of! We definitely sampled our share and found some fun breweries and beer halls to explore and do tastings.
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We also sampled some amazing food! Mussels and fries, of course, but also fondue!
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And let me just finish by saying if Denmark and Sweden are pastry princesses, then Belgium is the queen. Not only do they have delicious pastry but they have perfect little desserts to rival the best French Patisseries.
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We loved Bruges! Don't let the tourists scare you away but definitely try to stay at least a few days so you can really experience it. Pack a rain coat and layers and don't trust the weather reports just go out ready for anything and you won't be unhappy. The reports said it would rain much more than it actually did and we had quite a bit of sunny, warmer weather, although fall is definitely in the air here.

Tomorrow we leave for the Netherlands, our fifth and final country of the trip!

Posted by mrb430 19:07 Archived in Belgium

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