A November 2001 trip
to Bruges by michaelhudson
Quote: I first fell in love with Bruges when I was nine years old. Walking through the centre of the city, I was held spellbound by the sight of the 90-metre high Belfort-Hallen towering above the Markt. In the course of a single afternoon the city stole my heart.
Just to the left of the lake, Begijnhof is undoubtedly one of the prime attractions of the city. A circle of white, 17th-century houses standing around a courtyard of grass and tall trees, this Benedictine convent epitomizes the serene beauty of Bruges. Remember to be silent as you look around the courtyard and spare some time to wander through the surrounding streets.
It’s a hard climb to the top of the 90-metre high belfry, albeit one thankfully punctuated by several rest areas, and it can get extremely cramped once you’re up there, but the views over the red-roofs and magnificent monuments of the city more than make up for it. Dating from the 13th-century, the belfry dominates the south side of the square and houses a 15th-century clock in its final storey featuring a 47-bell carillon and weighing 27 tonnes.
In summer canal boats leave from five points around the city centre. In winter the only ones running were from the jetty next to the Vismarkt (Fishmarket) and Tanners’ Square. To get there, walk through the arch to the left of the Stadhuis, over the bridge and turn right (from the Markt, walk along Wollestraat (which runs to the right of the Belfort-Hallen as you face it), cross the bridge, turn left and walk past the Rozenhoedkaai departure point into Tanners’ Square. The boats are packed and the guides expect tips for some pretty inane commentary, but seeing Bruges from this new perspective transfixed me entirely.
City Tour buses depart from in front of the Post Office on every hour for a 50-minute journey around the city. I saw several people paying for the tours, which feature commentary provided through headphones in English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. The buses go to all the main tourist destinations, but I personally feel that the best way to see Bruges is on foot.
Attraction | "Scenic Squares in Bruges"
As I saw Bruges’ beautiful heart again, my initial disappointment at the sight of further building work in the square itself dissipated the moment I saw the leaning Bell Tower. I had quite forgotten about the 1-metre lean at the top, but the looming magnificence of the tower was otherwise just as I had always remembered it. This being the middle of November the tower, which is usually open from 9:30am until 5pm, was due to open at the later time of 2pm.
With unwanted time on my hands before I could climb the 366 narrow, winding steps, I decided to explore the rest of the Markt before ascending the tower. Standing in front of the Bell Tower, the main Post Office and the Provincial Government building are on your right, with gabled buildings housing bars and restaurants in front and to your left. In the center, surrounded by scaffolding and tarpaulin, is a grand monument to the heroes of the Bruges Matins- a revolt in 1302 against repressive laws passed by the puppet governor of the French King, the ironically named Philip the Fair-Pieter de Coninck and Jan Breydel. Beautiful.
Breidelstraat runs just to the right of the Post Office along to the Burg. Passing the shortest road in Bruges, De Garre, on the right hand side of the street, the first thing you see upon entering one of the finest medieval squares in Europe is yet more scaffolding. Thankfully, however, the building work is confined to the Paleis Van het Brugse Vrije (the Freemen of Bruges’ Mansion), a Neo-Classical building now housing the city’s main tourist office. To be honest, I wasn’t overly impressed with the Tourist Information offices in the city, finding them to be bare and somewhat lacking in terms of literature.
The rest of the Burg is awesome: the Stadhuis (Town Hall) and the Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed (Basilica of the Holy Blood) have spectacular facades, richly decorated and managing to at once contrast and complement one another. I could have stood here for hours, but hearing "Time’s winged chariot hurrying near" (apologies to Andrew Marvell) I decided to head for the canal boats-Bruges is known as the ‘Venice of the North’ after all.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 12, 2002
The Markt (Market Square)
Bruges, Belgium 8000
Attraction | "Our Lady's Church and famed Madonna"
It’s the interior of the church that really attracts the crowds, though. In a small chapel on the right hand side of the church Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Madonna and Child--originally sculped for Siena Cathedral and the only one of his works to leave Italy during his lifetime--is a wonder in white marble, the innocent child poised at the feet of his seemingly troubled mother, shoulders twisting one way and eyes another, peering down through a screen of bullet proof glass set between six circular columns that arc towards two statues that flank an oversized altar. Nearby are the intricately carved 16th century tombs of Charles the Bold and his daughter Mary of Burgundy, whose bronze hand reaches imploringly towards the heavens while her feet push out towards her copper gilt pet dogs. Also look out for van Dyck's evocative 'Christ on the Cross' painting and a funerary chapel adorned with frescoed tombs in maroon and black.
Entrance to the church, which is open daily with the exception of Mondays, is two Euros fifty.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 11, 2004
Church of our Lady
For the perfect end to a day's shopping continue along Steenstraat until you reach a side street called Kemelstraat, which begins roughly twenty metres from Stevinplein. On the left hand side of the street ‘t Brugs Beertje--undoubtedly the finest pub in the city--claims to have more than 300 beers from all over Belgium on sale (not all of which are listed on the fifteen page menu), and adverts for most of them plastering the walls above the cigarette smoke and wooden tables. The atmosphere is definitely geared towards the serious drinker--comfort and food are available, but only in very small measures. The pub opens from 4pm till around 1am except for Wednesdays so you don't need to rush with the shopping.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 11, 2004
Shopping in Bruges
Before the River Reie silted up in the late fifteenth century Minnewater received over 150 ships a day. A lock house and the turreted Poertoren are all that remain from this time. The bridge across the canal next to the Poertoren – a former ammunition dump that was once part of the city’s fortifications – offers a superb panorama of the historical centre. Aside from carriage horses on a break from their tours around the town and the occasional sound of footsteps on the surrounding cobbled streets, the main source of activity is the flock of swans gliding serenely across the water, white flecks through the drooping willow trees thronging the banks.
A graceful, triple arched footbridge marks one of the two entrances to Begijnhof. Founded in the thirteenth century, the Beguines sought a purer, less materialistic form of religion. The unmarried and abandoned women who lived at the Beguinage in Bruges took vows of obedience and chastity and made their living in the local lace industry. Most of the whitewashed, red roofed houses you see today survive from the seventeenth century, though the Beguines themselves have long since gone, replaced by Benedictine nuns in 1937.
As you enter the enclosed central courtyard the views are of high poplar trees and daffodils in front of the terraced circle of small houses and the dark, 13th century church. Just to the left of the entrance, one of the houses has been turned into a museum, while the church and chapel are also open to visitors. Despite the constant parade of cameras, sound seems strangely muffled here – the perfect antidote to the noise of all those chocolate and lace shops.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 5, 2004
Minnewater and the Begijnhof
Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, United Kingdom