Bruges in the Rain
Bruges in the Rain, Belgium.
Board the Eurostar at St Pancras, London and in less than four hours you can be wandering the picture-perfect streets of Bruges.
It’s a simple platform change at Brussels: a smooth, roomy Belgian train will transport you for the last hour across the flat Flemish countryside to Bruges. It’s super easy, perfect for a little European getaway!
You may, or may not, need an umbrella.
Bruges is often quoted as being like a fairy tale town: a movie set of cobbled streets and chocolate box buildings, and it really is.
The city appears virtually untouched since the 15th Century, like time has stood still and preserved the Bruges for the billions of tourists who visit it every year. (I may be exaggerating, I’ve never been in high season!). It goes without saying that it is a Unesco World Heritage site.
Bruges was a wealthy flourishing city in the middle ages, it built up a reputation for fine textiles (made from imported British wool!) and trade. The city thrived for around four hundred years until the canal that permitted all the trade silted up, Antwerp took the prosperity and Bruges faded despite many attempts to rediscover the fame it lost.
This fall from glory is why the city is so well-preserved, the population fell and the city was little changed over the next five hundred years. Well, hoorah for that silt!
Bruges is a city of canals, you are never far from a quirky bridge or a water-side vista. Tourist boats ply the canals, even in the rain: the tourists snapping away with their iPads from under tightly packed umbrellas.
In mid November the streets are much quieter, even at the weekend, but for some extra peace and solitude head to the Beguinage, situated idyllically next to Minnewater and its many swans.
The Beguinage is a place where women could/can live a pious life without committing completely to a convent.
Out on the eastern edge of the city, four 18th Century windmills line up neatly along the canal. One can be visited but it was closed at this time of year.
There are many quirky statues dotted around Bruges which add a bit of humour to all the historic surroundings.
At the weekend a little flea market sprung up along Rozenhoedkaai, the tables packed with trinkets, antiques and jewellery.
We window-shopped to our hearts content, there are more chocolate shops that you can possibly imagine and there are plenty of souvenir shops selling other local products like lace and tapestries.
If you have a sweet tooth you truly will be in heaven. Alas, I appear to have completely lost mine (my teeth and waist are happy!) and these sugar-filled windows did little to tempt me for more than a photo!
Under the recommendation of our hosts (we had treated ourselves to a B&B) we did visit one chocolate shop though: the Chocolate Line. This store had an incredible and eclectic range of chocolates, they had once supplied the Rolling Stones!
On the shelves of a wooden dresser behind the counter there are huge blocks of raw chocolate, waiting to be transformed into dainty morsels.
We bought a small selection which we ate later. They looked amazing but I personally felt they lacked somewhat in flavour, they promised much more than they gave. And no, the cannabis chocolate had no effect!
My sugar cravings stopped at waffle. Now the smell of these Belgian treats wafting down the streets was just too much, oh my!
Liege Waffles are the ones you want, thick, soft with a crisp sugar-coating, ah heaven! The light, airy sugar dusted rectangular ones are nothing compared, nothing!
Chris had some frites, they were definitely not vegetarian, those fries were lard fries!
We did find some veggie fried ones but they were definitely different, less Belgian and more regular fries. You can’t walk more than five minutes in Belgium and not see a frituur, they are everywhere!
It was my birthday, that was why we splurged on a lovely B&B (The Am/Pm) and our room had a large decal of the Madonna (the Madonna not that Madonna!) on the wall, she gazed down on us.
The significance,we discovered, was the famous Michelangelo’s Madonna with Child: the Madonna of Bruges.
This beautiful marble statue dates from the beginning of the 1500’s and has a dramatic history, being stolen twice (to France and Germany), it is one of only a few of Michelangelo’s statues to be found outside of Italy. It is one very special object to see.
If you’ve seen the film ‘Monument Men’ then you’ll know about the Madonna of Bruges.
The church is currently having major renovations so the cost of seeing the Madonna of Bruges has been slashed to €2, a bargain for such an exquisite experience.
It rained pretty much the entire time we were in Bruges, there was little else to do but escape the rain and shelter in bars, well we are in Belgium and there is many a beer to try!
We did a tour of De Halve Maan brewery, the only working brewery in Bruges. The guided tour was fascinating, we were taken up super steep stairs and down some that were so steep we had to go down backwards!
Out on the roof we could see over the terracotta rooftops of Bruges. And we learnt a lot about brewing beer!
Bruges is definitely worth a couple of days exploring, and out of season it’s pretty quiet, especially the further away from the centre you get: those lovely old buildings? They carry on to the edges of the old city, just stretch your legs and explore, follow the canals, loose the tourists.
We left Bruges on a frequent afternoon train to Gent, just 24 minutes away.
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Have you been to Bruges?