In Bruges

Bruges Our Lady Cathedral Belgium European Union FlagSwimming in tourists during the summer months, Bruges is a picturesque, fantastically preserved (often restored) late medieval town brimming with magical charm. Cathedrals and great halls spill their gothic spires across the skyline, competing for attention with colorful Flemish homes lining Bruges’ ancient yet well-kept canals. The preferred mode of transportation in this compact town is by foot or bicycle; getting around in any sort of motorized vehicle is a fool’s errand with winding streets, narrow alleyways, and a layer of cobblestone covering virtually every thoroughfare and sidewalk. The desire for fine dining leads you to numerous venues serving excellent food… excellent pricy food. A glut of museums of great variety vie for your patronage, exhibiting everything from 15th century masterpieces by Van Eyck to the history of fries (yes… potatoes dropped in boiling oil have a museum all their own). While it is positively obligatory to visit some tourist attractions, others are better bypassed. Overall, this tranquil, charming city will easily satiate your epicurean desires while its art and architecture transport you to the most golden of medieval times.
Stadhuis (town hall), Bruges

Gastronomically Speaking

The food in Bruges is fantastic… if you’re willing to pay the price. It’s not too much; sixty euros will buy two people a fantastic meal at any number of fine establishments (excluding alcoholic drinks). The problem is that if you want good quality sit-down restaurant food, that’s what you’re going to spend. You’re not getting away with less than that. You do, however, have the option of high-quality take away food for significantly less. Several establishments offer excellent sandwiches for less than ten euros. And there’s a great take-away Italian shop right off of Market square, but shops like these generally close at six in the evening, much like most of the city. Bruges PizzaYou can even go a bit cheaper and hit the ubiquitous Carrefour grocers (also generally close at six) or one of several kebob shops (at least one of which, in the nightclub district, stays open well into the wee hours of the morning to accommodate drunken revelers erroneously planning their hangover cures) where you can grab a deliciously unhealthy gyro for five euros or less. But we must reiterate that the food quality at the sit-down restaurants is incredible. You would be hard-pressed to receive the same quality meal in New York City without spending twice as much, if not more.
Bruges Markt Square Restaurants
Bruges is renowned for a few specific treats. Of course, everyone expects the chocolate to be fantastic, and the chocolate shops do not disappoint. Around the historic city center, you will be spoiled for choice, with at least one shop on every block, often with extravagant displays in the windows such as chocolate houses and chocolate rhinos leading you inside where you can buy the savory treats in all variations by the kilogram (for God’s sake, don’t buy prepackaged chocolate!) There is even a chocolate museum for those so inclined. Friet MuseumYet another claim to fame for this city is its ‘friteries’… what you may know better as French fry shops. Skip these disappointments altogether. McDonald’s makes better fries. For the sake of novelty, it may be fun to order fries with curry ketchup or “sweet mayo” (mayonnaise with sugar mixed in… I kid you not), but the thin, oily nightmares you’ll be served just aren’t worth the coronary they’ll induce. Of course, there is also a museum for fries—and no, we are not kidding. One specialty which doesn’t disappoint is the Belgian waffle, covered in your choice of topping including nutella, whipped cream, bananas and melted chocolate—make sure to have one. Seafood is yet another specialty of this city. Our scallop appetizer, covered in prosciutto, with a cream sauce (that must be good for the arteries) was ridiculously delicious (as is should have been at fifteen euros for three scallops!) Mussels of all types are hawked in town square restaurants at twenty-five euros per order. And Belgium seems to have a thing for spicy tuna salad, an absolutely delicious concoction served anywhere from a hummus-like dip in fancy restaurants to a spread on sandwiches sold in plastic boxes at supermarkets. Last but not least, Belgium is, of course, famous for its beers. Bruges restaurants literally serve local beers cheaper than you could buy bottled soda of the same size!

Mariastraat DogThis fine fellow will wait for you outside the waffle shop on Mariastraat so you may have the pleasure of sharing your meal.

The bottom line is that if you’re a foodie, and budget is not much of a concern, you’ll have a wonderful time in Bruges. If you’re on a budget, it’s (decent) kebobs and (horrid) French-fries for you! (Better yet, just go to a market and buy some food you can cook. It’ll rot your insides less!)

To reinforce how good their quality dining is, we’ll leave you with this true story: while at a fine-dining restaurant, we watched a fair-sized mosquito lazily wind its way around our table. Waiting to see which of us would suffer the indignity of either becoming dinner or flailing about like an epileptic without enough Tegratol, we were surprised when the little beast decided to settle into the plate of seared cod with shrimp and celery puree rather than on one of the juicy human bloodcakes mere inches away. Like we said, the food was THAT good.

Architectural Observations

Bruges spires, buttresses, and gothic peaks.
Bruges is an immaculately presented brick gothic town intersected by a small network of medieval canals spanned by tiny bridges connecting its winding, cobbled lanes. The atmosphere summons you to saunter through the maze of streets and alleyways, each the same, yet different, distinguished only by yet another postcard-perfect spire, steeple or statue. In medieval times these canals were used forBruges Canals and Homes commercial trade, but nowadays the flocks of swans only have to share their watery homes with exactly twenty tourist boats split between five families (sounds a bit medievally-guildilicious to us.)  Along the canals, one can see the distinctive step gabled design of the rooflines, the result of a combination of the steep pitch of the roofs and the lack of medieval construction equipment–you know, like cranes and tall ladders–which necessitated a design allowing chimneysweeps and roofers to get the job done with less frequent double-gainers-with-a-twist into the canals and pedestrians below.
Bruges is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North,’ but in our opinion, that’s quite the stretch! Venice’s canals are used for transportation of goods and people, and not simply used as a limited circuit for tour boats. Also, the entire network is dwarfed by that of cities such as Amsterdam, which, last I checked, was also in the north end of Europe. Still, the canals and their stone bridges do provide some amazing photographic opportunities, particularly if you catch them when the light is just right.
Bruges Markt Square

Belfry as seen from the canalThe city’s epicenter is the medieval mercantile Grote Markt, or Market Square, where the imposing Belfry Tower enchants your eye with its ostentatious architecture and from where the exquisite music of its forty-seven bell carillon carries across the city. Its three-hundred-sixty-six progressively narrower worn stairs spiral you to a breathtaking panoramic view of the medieval city. But beware, for if you are caught at the changing of the quarter-hour, you will be in for a deafening auditory surprise as its bells (or perhaps only its six ton Grand Bell) decide to announce their presence mere feet from your unexpecting ears.

Bells of the Bruges belfry
Above: looking up at a few of the forty-seven bells, and the rigging used to drive the hammers; Below: the rigging and gears of the carillon.
Rigging and gears of the carillon of the Bruges belfry

One can characterize Bruges, from the Middle Ages until today, as following the design style known as brick Gothic, and specifically a construction style principally known as travée brugeoise. The 19th century restorations of Bruges were based on this type of design, which was established in the 16th century and maintained in the 17th.
Brick gothic high pitched gables
High pitched gables, a common form of Gothic structure found throughout Bruges

Also interspersed throughout the town are various structures of Romanesque design, characterized by semi-circular arches and towers, held up by massive, thick walls, which was the predecessor to Gothic, characterized by pointed arches, large windows, flying buttresses, and ribbed vaults. One of the most stunning design features giving the town its fairytale look are the numerous high-relief carvings, standing ever-vigilant with their unblinking eyes.Bruges Church of Our Lady Flying Buttress Brick TowerAbove: Flying buttresses and the tower of the Church of Our Lady, the tallest brick structure in Belgium, and second tallest in the world;  Below: High relief figures have been guarding the Burghers’ Lodge in Jan Van Eyckplein for over 500 years.High relief sculpture adorning Bruges Burghers' Lodge

Gargoyles and grotesques ensconced on the sides of buildings aren’t the only guardians and witnesses of Bruges.  Sculptures and monuments are everywhere, and offer a convenient way of finding your way around, if you pay attention!  While some proudly celebrate their identity and make their way into the public eye, appearing in town squares, on brochures, and in thousands of photos every month, others humbly serve forgotten corners, unannounced, unflinching in their devotion to their city.

Statue by Church of Our Lady in BrugesThis small statue of a cloaked young woman averts her gaze from the majestic tower of the Church of Our Lady, suffering through rain and snow while Michaelangelo’s gleaming white marble ‘Madonna and Child’ basks in the adoration of those inside.

Statue Guarding Markt Square in BrugesOn the other end of the spectrum, Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck are immortalized in the center of Markt Square for their bravery during the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302, where they bravely defeated a French army containing a massive amount of cavalry, leading to what is considered Flemish independence day.  The battle took its name from the over one-thousand golden spurs the Flemish army captured from the French noble cavalrymen.  (There was some butchery involved, of course, but we’re not gonna talk about that when it comes to national heroes in the town square!)

The fearsome lion below also lives in the town square, and is one of two guarding the entrance to the neo-gothic Provincial Court.  We won’t venture a guess as to whether an army of lions would have been able to succeed over massed French cavalry, but let’s just say we’re putting our money on the cats.

Lion Guarding Markt Square in Bruges

Artful Cogitations

Before we even get started on the subject of art, HOW COOL IS THIS PAINTING?!?!?!?  Our understanding is that the case went to court in Florida and the jury did not find enough evidence to convict.  This is a 1400’s sidepanel from the St. Nicholas Altarpiece.  I mean, what else would you expect to see on an altarpiece?  The interesting thing is that the name of the artist is unknown, but 23 paintings have been attributed to him, including this one.  He is only known as ‘Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy.’  And he had a penchant for chopping the heads off of sleeping children.  (OK, I made that last one up.)

St. Nicholas Altarpiece sidepanel. Groeningmuseum, Bruges,  Master of the St. Lucy LegendBesides the above exercise in awesomeness, the fifteenth century also saw influential Flemish artists such as Jan Van Eyck, Petrus Christus, Hans Memling, and Gerald David practicing their craft in Bruges. These Flemish Primitives’ paintings are characterized by detailed realism and naturalism. The work of these masters of oil painting are celebrated throughout the city, but in no place as much as in the Groeningemuseum.

Van Eyck’s masterpiece “Madonna with Canon Joris Van der Paele” has found its home at the Groeningemuseum.  Please don’t take this photograph as an accurate representation of the awesomeness of this painting. Is awesomeness a word?  The detail is insane.  The carpet looks REAL.  I can’t use any other word to describe it.  Why is the photo so bad when all the rest of the photos on this site are so OMG!L33t!!!!?  It’s because the painting is behind about six inches (a severe exaggeration) of bullet-proof (not sure about this one either) glass.

Madonna with Canon Joris Van der Paele, Jan Van Eyck, painting. Groeningmuseum, Bruges

There is a *cough* exhibit *cough* in Markt Square named “Historium” which depicts some of the travails of the creation of Van Eyck’s most celebrated Madonna painting. In our opinion, this exhibit is nothing more than a child’s animatronic nightmare. The designers seem to have gone out of their way to make it as creepy as possible, while doing all they could to make sure the tale had no historical merit, and as little to do with the creation of the painting as possible. If you were drunk, it would be great to go with a group of rowdy friends and enjoy it the way you would enjoy a Rob Schneider movie. But for God’s sake, do not drop any acid before entering, or they’ll be fishing your body out of a canal. The worst letdown for us was surviving the exhibit only to find out that the painting was NOT in the building! Our opinion: skip this exhibit, and head instead (in the same building, up the stairs before you get to the ticket counter) to the fantastic upstairs bar serving all manner of Belgian beer, and enjoy the outdoor terrace with the panoramic view of the square. There is no history to be had at “Historium.”

Across the room from the Van Eyck is the absolutely fantastical Hieronymus Bosch triptych “Last Judgment.”  Now, visiting European churches and museums, you’ll run into quite a few Last Judgments.  But this particular one (as is pretty much all of Bosch’s work) is characterized by a certain I-do-a-lot-of-acidness.  It’s positively fantastic!  It’s as if you let a hyperactive child loose with magic markers and told him to draw Hell, Heaven, and everything between.   There’s no way a photograph could capture the greatness of this piece, but here are a couple of close-ups for your perusal.

Hieronymous Bosch painting. Groeningmuseum, BrugesTzeentch would be so proud of what they’ve become….

Hieronymous Bosch painting. Groeningmuseum, BrugesTHIS is what happens to bad boys and girls who don’t make their bed.

The Last Supper, Modern, Gustave vad de Woestjne, Groeningmuseum, Bruges

Quite a bit of art in the Groeningmuseum (and Europe in General) is of the religious persuasion.  The following painting by Gustave van de Woestjne, painted in 1927, shows an expressionistic take on a classic theme.  The iconography is minimalist, with only a loaf of bread and a glass on wine present on a clean, white tablecloth.  Chairs aren’t even present, as the apostles kneel around Jesus, their hair neatly slicked back in a style contemporary to the creation of the painting.  Jesus’ feet are position as if hanging down, foreshadowing what will soon befall him on the cross.

Madonna, Jean-Robert Calloigne, Marble Statue, Groeningmuseum, Bruges

And if paintings of Jesus aren’t your speed, how about sculptures of the messiah?  Madonna, by Jean-Robert Calloigne, was sculpted in the early 1800’s and paints a very serene scene, particularly when compared to the Boschs and Van de Woestjnes of the world.

But, just when you think you’ve seen it all, you saunter around the corner (as we often like to do), and find yourself in a darkened room where your eyes adjust to the dimmest of lights presenting you with Rene Magritte’s surrealist masterpiece “L’attentat.”Rene Magritte painting. Groeningmuseum, Bruges

I mean seriously… you JUST saw a Bosch, and now you’re in a room with a Magritte?!?!?!  What makes YOU so worthy?  (I’ll note that this painting was also behind 64 alternating layers of glass, carbon fiber, and those tiles they use on the outside of the space shuttle.)

Next to the Magritte was an image of the party I want to attend!  Paul Delveaux is famous for painting nudes in landscapes, and was influenced by Flemish impressionists.  He liked to paint woman so naked that in many of his paintings, all you saw were their bones. Sérénité, pictured below, is absolutely mesmerizing with the mysterious curving gestures and hypnotized expressions of its subjects juxtaposed against the solid, linear lines of architecture trying to lead your eye away, only to have it settle back on the face of the floating/sitting/curtseying woman in blue.  You’ll stare at this painting for so long, trying to take it all its nuances, that the old ladies walking through the exhibit will think you’re some sort of perv.  And rightly so!  Move along!

painting. Groeningmuseum, Bruges

While these are our personal top picks to hustle into the back of a blacked-out van sporting no windows in the middle of the night, this eight euro museum is positively brimming with amazing art. And for an extra three euro charge at the time of ticket Sad Jesus with a Broken Chin, Hospital Museum, Brugespurchase, you also gain entrance to the St. John’s Hospital Museum, which was expanded from an eleventh century hospital to include a monastery and convent, and now houses a collection of hospital archives, frightening medieval medical instruments, art works and painting from the likes of Hans Memling, and a number of relics. (In case you’re wondering exactly what a relic is, it’s basically the body part of a saint, often preserved in a crystal or glass tube. Sometimes, you can even make out vertebrae or jaws with a couple of teeth!)  You’ll also find the haunting life-sized Jesus, removed from his cross, having suffered the indignity of losing his chin, eternally staring with half-closed eyes at a spot just to your left, wondering if he’s done enough to save those who pass through this tiny room in what was once his house.

Anyway, back to our earlier point: GO TO THE GROENINGEMUSEUM!!!! If you do NOTHING else in Bruges GO THERE. Then, you can go back to your hotel room and sleep. For 6 days. You’ll be satisfied.  The art is fantastic, the price is a bargain, and it won’t even be that crowded!  Tell ’em TopDownTime sent you.  They’ll look at you funny, but they’ll (probably) still sell you a ticket.

And if you’re into religious art (and you certainly should be), then you must visit St. Salvador’s Cathedral, initially a parish church built in the tenth century, which attained the status of cathedral in the 19th century.

Church of St Salvador Organ, BrugesZeus and his Great Organ (not really).  St. Salvador’s Cathedral

The interior is an excellent example of neo-Gothic style with colorful stained glass windows and ribbed vaults. The church tower was rebuilt in Romanesque style by Robert Chantrell, even though he was commissioned to build it in gothic style. He didn’t exactly tell anyone what he was planning… you know… artists. The cathedral houses 15th-17th century work of arts including paintings such as “Martyrdom of the St. Hippolytus” by Dieric Bouts. This cathedral is definitely worth a visit to anyone interested in the intersection of art, architecture, history, and religion.

You can click the pictures below and view the full sized photos to get a true idea of the intricacy of these works.  Each window you see is absolutely massive.  We can’t give you an actual size, since they wouldn’t lend us a really long ladder and a measuring tape.Church of St. Salvador Stained Glass, BrugesChurch of St. Salvador Stained Glass, BrugesChurch of St. Salvador Stained Glass, Bruges

The centerpiece of the cathedral is literally the where one is surrounded by stained glass, pointed arches, columns, statues, carving, paintings and icons.  It’s enough to make your head spin!  I can’t see how they could have crammed any more into this space without overdoing it.  This place is well worth a visit!  Go see for yourself.

Church of St. Salvador, Bruges

Church of St. Salvador, BrugesThe wooden carving of Jesus to the left kneels in one of the radiating chapels of the cathedral, forever averting his gaze were it can never be met by his flock.

The cathedral is not very crowded, and is free to enter, save for the small “museum” section where you can see the Bouts work among other painting, relics, and artifacts for a modest fee.

However, to see something truly unique, you need to head to the Basilica of the Holy Blood—more on how it got its name in a bit. The lower chapel was built in the twelfth century in Romanesque design—a simple, dark, austere structure—and was dedicated to St. Basil the Great. It truly looks and feels ancient and somber, and is a much simpler and darker structure than most of the churches and cathedrals in Bruges. And if you’re the Indiana Jones type, the lower level is said to hold clues to the location of the Holy Grail. For real! Check it out! Let us know if you find anything (we want a cut for pointing you in the right direction.)  The life-sized Jesus statue you see below can be found in the lower chapel.  It’s actually the most festive item you’ll find in this incredibly austere section of the church.
Jesus Painted Statue in Church of the Holy Blood, BrugesThe upper level feels and looks entirely different, as it was rebuilt in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries in a neo-Gothic style, and it’s brightly lit space is extravagantly decorated with colorful murals and sculptures. It looks nothing like the lower level, and evokes a completely different emotion. It also houses the namesake of the structure: the Relic of the Holy Blood. Now, you already know that a relic is the remnant of a saint’s body part. Well, this one’s a bit more special. It was collected by Joseph of Arimathea himself (you know the guy from that Monty Python movie.) And it doesn’t hold a fragment of just some saint; it’s a gold and crystal vial containing a cloth with—brace yourself—Jesus H. Christ’s blood!!! Let me repeat that: It’s a gold and crystal vial containing a cloth with Jesus Christ’s blood. ‘Zounds, I say! Fire up the cloning machines. We’re about to bring about Judgment day! You can actually see the relic every Friday during service. We were there on Friday, and stumbled right into service, but thought it would have been rather gauche to be snapping pics, so you’ll just have to go see it for yourself. 

Other than the various museums which house cultural and religious treasures, Bruges has a number of ‘lesser’ museums which serve well to separate travelers from their euros but some may consider of questionable value. They are, in no particular order: the Lace museum, the Chocolate museum, the Frietmuseum (fries museum), the Lamp museum, the Diamond museum, the Folklore museum and the Sound Factory (not to be confused with the defunct nightclub of the same appellation.) Seriously? A museum on FRIES?!?!??! PT Barnum would be proud!

Salvador Dali exhibit, Bruges

But, if you’re looking for more cultural goodness, Bruges has a plethora of wonderful art galleries and a rich tradition of hosting various exhibits. The Salvador Dali exhibit in Markt Square was fantastic. We nearly bought a print, but were advised against it by our Art Purchasing Advisor who pointed to Dali’s questionable behavior when it came to making money by selling his name rather than his work. Nonetheless, the exhibit was world-class, with sculptures, painting, prints, and even a limited-edition Dali designed perfume bottle. Several streets away, a Picasso exhibit added a competing modern master for your artistic enjoyment. Take your pick! There is plenty of art to enjoy in this town.

Be A Tourist

Come on! It’s fun! People tell you to avoid tourist traps. Why? If they’re not fun, they’d be out of business! Or rich off of injudicious tourists like yourself! Here are our thoughts regarding some popular Bruges tourist activities sure to make a tourism board bureaucrat nervous.

Horse Drawn Carriage Rides–for a mere forty euros, you and up to four of your bestest friends will be treated to a thirty minute ride through the streets of Bruges, over cobblestones, around cars, and through the occasional bicyclist. The drivers speak English (which you care about, or you wouldn’t be reading this page right now), give you a description and history of the sites worth mentioning, and all wear the same hat! Pick up the carriages at Markt Square.Bruge Markt Square with Horse Drawn Carriage

Scenic Bus Tour–there was no way you were going to get us into one of these things. A dozen people crammed into a hermetically sealed minibus going over cobblestone streets for any length of time? No bueno. The busses do have big windows, through which you can see the bored people inside. Do the carriage instead!

View from Bruges Belfry TowerBelfry Tower–Get your derriere in shape and climb the 366 steps already, will you?  It’s the best view in town, and you can hear the bells we talked about earlier (as an added bonus, you can hear them for days afterwards, too, if you’re not careful!)  In this photo, you see the previously discussed Church of St. Salvador through the chain-link fence meant to stop little brats from teaching their younger siblings the finer points of gravity.

Bruges Historium

Historium–Now, we’ve already told you not to waste your time with this unless you’re wasted, in which case, it may be worth your time (but probably not your Euros.)  We recommend you go into the building, check out the cool/creepy giant red cloak (look at the staircase directly behind it for some perspective), and head straight up those stairs (entirely bypassing the ticket counter) to get to the bar with an awesome view of Markt Square.  If you’re not going to listen to us, then why are you reading this article?  Go tell all your friends on Facebook that you just ate a bratwurst or something.

Bruge boat ride on canal passing under Our Lady ChurchBoat Ride on the canal–the canals are no longer used for trade, other than the tourist trade, that is. Here’s the thing… while these rides look good, timing was everything. Tour operators will jam as many seven-and-change euro-paying passengers onto these boats as they can. What can happen is that you get on the boat at noon, when it’s 84 degrees out, without a stitch of cloud to protect you from the brutal sun, and the guy besides you decides to hold up his video camera the entire way… using the arm closest to you… and he ‘forgot’ to use deodorant that morning (apparently, it’s optional in several European countries). If you do take a boat ride, try to find a cool, cloudy day. Try to go later in the afternoon. They seemed less crowded then. While this doesn’t sound like the ideal advice, trust us; we saw many-a-boat on the canal with everyone onboard looking absolutely miserable as they collectively baked in the sweltering sun.

Bruges Craft MarketBruges Craft Market–Behind Burg Square, you’ll find a lively arts and crafts market selling goods made by local artists.  These may not be Van Eyck’s (yet) but you can find some wonderful local work, some of which is in the tradition of the Flemish Primitives, and some of which seems more inspired by goods which may be purchased in Amsterdam.  Just make sure you can get it home.  (the post office is located in Markt Square, two minutes’ walk away.)

Bicycle Transport–a great way to get around town is by bicycle, which one can rent for less than ten euros per day, or receive better deals for week-long rentals. Just beware that you aren’t so much sharing the road with cars and carriages and pedestrians as you are fighting them for that space. Remember that most around you are tourists, who are as likely to have their eyes on the nearest building or statue as they are to have their eyes on the road. I should know! I nearly killed a woman on a bicycle while trying to park a car. Her fault, of course; I’m always right.

Getting By

The best way to enjoy the city is to walk. Everything worth seeing is within a fifteen minute distance of wherever you are. And you can take multiple routes to head to the same areas so you can see new sights every time. Do bring a streetmap with you, or you can become hopelessly lost in the labyrinthine alleyways which are not gridded and have long, Dutch names you’ll never remember. Better yet, bring a GPS or a smartphone app. Or, you could ask people, but it may take a while to get where you need due to the high ratio of tourist-to-local.

Bruges Jan Van Eyckpleine

Remembering local landmarks, like Jan van Eyckplein with its statue and tower near the canal is a good way of getting your bearings.

English is widely spoken. You could also go with Dutch, French, German, Cave Paintings, but you won’t need to.  Money is easy—use euros (lots of them). Many places won’t take credit cards below ten euros. ATM’s are plentiful in the main squares, less so off the beaten path.

Bruggemuseum CeilingOf course things tend to be expensive in Bruges.  They have to pay for ceilings like this one in the Stadhuis.  You can visit what’s effectively this one room by paying four euros.  If you’re a big fan of architecture, it’s worth it.  If not, get yourself a shawarma.

Most markets close at six PM. The ones in the main squares tend to open on Sunday, but that’s not a given. Check the schedule on the door of the one nearest you and remember that just because it’s the same chain doesn’t mean it keeps the same hours as the market several blocks away.

Views of Bruges architecture and Belfry

The weather in August was unusually hot when we went, reaching well into the lower eighties two days of the week we spent there (the rest of the days were in the high seventies). Oh, the horror! It made for some slightly sweaty midday walking while lugging around a backpack full of cameras, lenses, and tripod, but this was alleviated somewhat by paying attention and walking on the shady side of the street; even at midday, Bruges is so far north and the streets are narrow enough that you can almost always find a shady side on which to stroll.  When taking long walks around the canal, look for the shady side, as bridges can be blocks away and you can fry getting form one to another.

Bruges Canals

If you are going to Bruges to shop, you’d better bring a fat wallet. A folding umbrella cost forty euros at their main department store. FORTY EUROS!!!! We did find one for seven euros at the supermarket, so make sure you shop around. Similarly, we chose the ten euro hairbrush over the thirty-eight euro hairbrush (which you would buy in New York City for five dollars, at most.) Still, if you’re in a bind, you can find what you need. We had a computer die, and replaced it at the electronics chain store in Markt square for 380 Euros. Not terrible at all, though it would have probably cost 380 dollars in the US. Part of that is that you’re charged some 20% tax on purchases (already included in the prices you see marked on the shelf). You can get a significant portion of that back on large purchases (over 170 euros at the time of this writing) when exiting the country. Inquire at the store where you make your purchase. Of course, you then have to declare the purchase when you come back into the US (or whichever country of origin happens to be stuck with you.) Don’t you DARE cheat the US government on taxes, you hear!!!!

One last hint: DO NOT try to pull your roller-luggage across any distance. You will be buying new luggage. And it won’t be cheap. Oh, and ladies, stiletto heels… not the greatest idea on a drunken night out unless you’re a stiletto ninja like the locals. Just sayin’.

Nightlife

You wouldn’t think that a city like Bruges—with its refined family-cruise-ship feel—to have much in the way of nightlife. But you’d be wrong. There are plenty of pubs where one could partake of a beverage. After all, the country if famous for its beer production. Thus, beer is cheap, plentiful, and delicious. And don’t be surprised if, at midnight, you’re seated at an outdoor bar and a family is placed next to you, and the fifteen year old is given a beer to enjoy with his parents. This apparently is not a problem in Bruges!Cheers to BrugesBut if you’re looking for more raucous nightlife, we did stumble into what may be Bruges’ nightclub district. Clustered around the intersection of Kuipersstraat and Jacob van Ooststraat, a number of bars and dance clubs draw in a young crowd or revelers, with a mixture of locals and tourists enjoying the music and drinks. The drinks were a pretty good value. Twenty to thirty euros will certainly make a significant dent in your inhibitions, if not take care of you all night. And the choice of music spun by the DJ’s, though ten years older than you may be used to, was nonetheless quite enjoyable. None of the establishments charged cover, so you’re free to bounce in and out of spots until you’re too dizzy to walk, at which point you’ll be escorted outdoors where you’ll be placed at a table so you can order yet more drinks (we saw this happen)! Smoking is verboten indoors, and this rule is pretty well enforced, but as mentioned, most establishments had outdoor seating, and you are free to enter and exit at will, drink in hand.

Bruges Club Opening Hours,de Coulissen

The women tended to dress a bit better than the men, on average, some even sporting heels! Between the alcohol and the cobblestones, it seemed like suicide, and we saw more than one young lass take a tumble, so if you’d like to martyr yourself for fashion, this seems to be a good spot. There were also several bachelorette parties, and we’d imagine bachelor parties as well, though men don’t wear crowns and sashes so it was a bit hard to tell. And when you’re done with your evening (we left at 3:30 AM while the party was still going strong), head to the kebob shop, pick up food which you’ll find positively delicious as it passes your drunken lips (at least once, probably twice.) Then, have a walk home back to your lodging during which you won’t feel the least bit unsafe. Did you remember your GPS phone? Drunk + Bruges streets = a long walk to nowhere.

One last thing… the mystery phone booth: So, at “night club intersection,” at about 2 in the morning, we saw what looked like an art-deco phone booth. OK… nothing wrong with that. And there was a LONG line of gentlemen, most not looking too sober, queuing up anxiously. Were they all calling their girlfriends back home to check in? Were they calling their 24 hour stock broker because they had just gotten some great tip on a brewery in Flanders? Turns out… you’ll need to watch the video we shot the next day to find out.

That’s one way to keep the streets of Bruges smelling nice and fresh!

You said what?

Nidal: I can’t tell… is that his daughter or his girlfriend? (repeated 5-10 times)

Waiter: You want tea with your food? (perplexed expression on his face)
Ella: Is that unusual?
Waiter: Not for you! (walks away with an incensed look)

Ella: Is she drinking behind the wheel with that kid sitting next to her?
Nidal: That’s OK. The car is parked. And we’re in Belgium. So it’s probably alright.

Nidal: When people offer you free whiskey, you say “yes!”

Ella: Good thing you speak French, since my teacher was an alcoholic and always came to class drunk. (overheard after Nidal explained to Ella that the package she just put into her coffee was mustard and not cream)

Nidal: Collin Farrell and I are alike in every way except for one: I’m In Bruges.

4 thoughts on “In Bruges

  1. This is amazing!! Bruges is definitely a place i want to go and see for myself. But traveling with you guys here is exciting!! =)

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