Beautiful Brugge

Our friend/visitor Jennifer left our place headed for Bruges and then Amsterdam. She told us a bit about how charming the Bruges is, so we decided to see for ourselves. We spent Mother’s Day weekend there. It is indeed a beautiful city.

The kids are becoming masters of train travel and the ease of catching a train made the decision easy. We’re used to living in Leuven, where cars aren’t even allowed into the central parts of town. But Bruges allows cars everywhere. I wouldn’t want to drive through all the tourists, though!

Todd found the perfect hotel room for the 4 of us. We checked in there before walking downtown. Our first order of business was to stop in at The Chocolate Line to watch them making the chocolate… and to taste a bit of it. It was really neat! We were able to see where they ground, melted, and then poured the chocolate into molds. Plus it was absolutely delicious!!!

From there we continued on to the central plaza. Tourists and cabs everywhere! Horses with carriages. The scents of waffles and fries. Lots of hustle and bustle.

The central plaza (the Markt – there’s one of these in every city I’ve visited in Belgium)

To stave off hanger, we stopped for lunch near the main square. The place was called Poules Moules – they are known for their chicken and their mussels. Todd and I ordered mussels to share and they were even better than the ones in Brussels! Isaac and Laine had homemade lemonades that were both tasty and pretty. But I think Isaac was the happiest of all with his order of lobster bisque.

It was too good to leave the last drop in the bowl!

After walking through the tourist section, we found a boat tour for a new perspective. Thankfully the captain told us about the city in both Dutch and English. It was gorgeous to see the view from down in the canal. We went under a few bridges – one was so low Laine was able to stand up and touch it. We also went under at least one house!

Old mixed with new along the Bruges canal

Part of the history our guide explained was the unusual red on a few buildings (see below for an example). The middle class would mix ox blood with the paint to achieve this color.

An example of a middle class house

If you look closely at the picture above, you will also see the vertical black iron pieces on the front of the building. They connect to iron rods running through the width of the building. They basically hold the building together and keep it from collapsing. The brick walls of the houses are structural. We saw a lot of houses with these iron rod connections.

We spotted a brewery from down in the canal and decided to stop there afterwards. We opted for a flight to sample a few options.

Todd’s favorite was the IPA (of course) and mine was the strawberry lambic

As it is throughout much of Belgium, the architecture in Bruges is delightful. It’s also fun to look at the roof lines and see how wavy many of them are! Many of the buildings have iron works holding the brickwork together, so it is obvious that they’ve stood for at least 150 years. A lot of them buildings have dates on the front of them; many from the 1600s and 1700s.

We walked along the canal to dinner. There are lots of lovely little gardens along the way. The weather was perfect, which made it easy to enjoy the stroll.

The houses opposite us on the canal had small backyards with a lovely view.

We had a savory dinner at Herberg Vlissinghe. It first opened in 1515! The dog who lives there is a charmer. He watches to see when your food arrives. Then he parks himself beside your chair to see whether you’ll share. If you don’t notice right away, he’ll put his front paws on your leg. There’s a sign on the door warning you not to do that. Unfortunately for him, my dinner was too tasty to share.

“That looks yummy! Wanna share?”

During dinner, we were seated at a large table with 2 other groups. The married couple beside us spoke English. He’s from England and she’s an American. They live together in Germany. She is a retired elementary school teacher. Laine sat beside her and the two became fast friends.

Sunday was Mother’s Day, so I got to choose our activity for the day. As such, we climbed the Belfort. 366 steps up. Then back down. On our way up, we studied the interior ironworks connected to the outer pieces I mentioned earlier. Suffice it to say things are on a MUCH larger scale in the belfry!

Todd and Isaac doing engineery things.

The steps taper approaching the top of the tower. I was on tip toes by the time we finished our climb. The view is unparalleled. It is the tallest building in the area, so nothing blocks the view from the top. You can also look down on the bustling market square below.

The view from the top!

We were at the top when the bells rang. I nearly fell down the stairs from the surprise! The belfry was originally used to communicate the time to the townspeople. The clock wasn’t always accurate, however, so it only showed the hour. There was no minute hand. There are 47 bells and they weigh a combined total of 27.5 tons.

Each of the bells is numbered to make it easier to maintain them.

The history of the building is fascinating. It was built in 1240, but caught fire in 1280, destroying the city archives stored inside. It burned two more times, but the current building has been standing since 1822.

Working machinery inside the clock tower

As we spiraled back down from the top, we passed an open doorway to some of the controls.

That’s right! It is controlled by a clock-o-matic. I find this hilarious!

Leaving the Belfort, we grabbed lunch before strolling through the town. We walked through one of the old entrances to Bruges from the days of its life as a walled city.

Like many European cities, Bruges was once enclosed by a wall. This was one of the entrances.

Exiting the “gates,” we found a park along the canal. We cheered on some marathon runners as a race passed by. Our kids also ended up rolling down the hillside (away from the runners). One of the women at the bottom of the hill yelled “Oh, my sweet Wesley!” as Isaac rolled down. Kudos to you if you catch the reference!

From there, we began a meandering stroll back to the hotel to collect our bags. We found a small park with plenty of opportunities for climbing. The kids’ favorite was the “hammock” in the middle. They climbed across a few times before this started.

Whee!

I relish the architecture in Belgium. Bruges has some of the best. There are so many pockets of beauty and a bit of whimsy. This was our walk to the hotel before leaving town:

As we left the city, we passed a street fair. The kids enjoyed a ride before we caught the train back to Leuven. It was a terrific weekend!

Coming down the mountain!

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