September 13, 2019 – Brussels – Bruges – Brussels
We start our morning in the brisk cold air running in circles in the beautiful Parc Duden, Brussels. Parc Duden is spread over a vast expanse of land in a metropolitan area with ubdulatting slopes, thick trees blocking off any noise from the streets and winding paths you could get lost in. The park runs in concentric zig zag circles with the red and green leaves spattering the ground marking the slow end of the summer – it was remarkable.
After a quick breakfast, we make our way to Brussels Midi to book our train to Bruges (the fairytale city). It is remarkably easy to buy train tickets throughout Belgium, and the unmanned automated ticket kiosks do not require you to stand in serpentine queues. The train to Bruges was packed to the gills with tourists making their way to the city. As you get off the train station, you realize that visiting Bruges is in fact (as it is a touted to be) like you have walked into a fairy tale. A 15 minute walk through cobbled streets and small brick row houses with spectacularly empty streets makes you feel like you have stepped into a whole new world – the only noises being the slap of boots against the pavement. Flowers dot windowsills and interspersed you will see the occasional cafe selling hot baked goods. This with the pleasantly cold air nipping against your face is all positively glorious.
The city centre is peppered with the typical Belgian style houses, and since it’s the end of the tourist season and not yet autumn, tables with awnings are set up all throughout the square of the main eating establishments dotting the square. The Belfry of Bruges (about 366 steps) is an absolute must see for crazy people like us for whom climbing up winding stairs is thrilling; though it is quite steep at 12 euro a person. A UNESCO world heritage site (unlike the other winding towers we have climbed across various churches and belfries in Europe), the Bruges belfry has a landing area every 2 flights of stairs where you can catch your breath and learn a bit of the belfry whilst examining the working mechanism of the Carillon, home to 47 melodious bells that ring every quarter of the hour. The views from the top are magnificent and give you a bird’s eye view of the fairy tale city.
Of remarkable mention is the spirit of people we saw throughout our trip to Europe this year which is undeniably fascinating – this impeccably well dressed lady clad in complete make up was collecting money for use of the public toilets in the belfry area welcomed us with warm hellos, and oodles of enthusiasm with music playing in the background. One would usually think that bathroom manning is not the most delightful thing in the world, but it felt like she was the receptionist of a five star hotel.
Walking around this marvelous city, we gobbled fries with pomegranate, and andalouse (yet again), pickled toppings, bitter ballen (seasoned meat in a batter fried ball), and huge chunks of sausage, which was our meal of choice in this small establishment, just running alongside the river. The banks of the river were spattered with people who were eating their picnic lunches on the banks.
We stumbled upon this beautiful local farmers’ market in the square just behind the infamous bridge of Bruges (where you get photogenic views) which is at Rozenhoedkaai with just a few small stores open – the remaining tables were bare, the sellers having gone home for the day. Absolutely beautiful local products – hand woven linen scarves with the weaver actually sitting on his handloom and weaving away to glory, little lavender pouches, handmade jewellery, and a local artist’s paintings of Bruges were on display. We collect local artist’s paintings of most places we visit, and were thrilled – the paintings were being sold by his wife, and she was this delightful lady all dolled up for the occasion and animatedly told us about the artist’s exploits as she sold her wares (reminded me of the character of Moira from “Schitt’s Creek” (a nicer down to earth version)). We bought a beautiful watercolor of the infamous Bruges bridge and canal. The artist’s name was Johann Lutens; his wife, a delightful exuberant soul beaming from end to end.
The Church of the Holy Blood of Christ (where Christ’s blood is said to be kept and available for veneration) was our next port of call, and the experience was entirely spiritual with never ending queues lining up to venerate the blood of Christ. The church is unassuming from the outside, but positively majestic from the inside lit with 1000s of candles and holy music wafting through the speakers. Michaelangelo’s Pieta (the original one), yes, the one in Rome is not the original, which is in Church of Our Lady of Bruges was beautiful – unfortunately, the entire sculpture and the altar were being touched up, and work was being done. The paintings in the Church in glorious shades of red and intense detail reflected various pictures from the Bible, and the artwork was positively delightful and resounding.
The day we were in Bruges, a flea market was being set up and in full swing on the banks of the river with locals selling their wares – from beautiful necklaces to small ceramic animals to the infamous smurfs, and antiques from several centuries ago. The leafy greens hugging the medieval structures with the crystal clear water reflecting the almost perfect blue cotton candy in the sky was picture perfect.
Belgian waffles with hot coffee was our evening snack of choice as we sat in the square and watched the city winding down for the night with of course, the pigeons for company (unfortunately as is the case in most of Europe).
The walk back to Bruges station was delightful once again through the streets dotted with fairy tale cottages, and the day trippers making their way back home (including a group of 4 older women (about 60 years odd is what I put them at)), completely clad in stylish slacks, shirts, and walking shoes, joking and laughing – and whilst my feet were killing, they walked like they were walking on sand gliding across the streets. I hope when I am at 60, I have at least a 10th of their energy and enthusiasm.