It's early morning and I am awake, Brugge is not. So I thought I would jot down some thoughts on this place since I am off to Paris today and I will soon be overtaken with thoughts and emotions of that place. Brugge marked the real start of my holiday and it has been an amazing experience. I could not have asked for a better first place to begin. Gentle and quite slow, but still with a firm tourism focus so I was not like a fish out of water.
When I first arrived I was a bit shocked by how many tourists there were here and how many tourist shops there were. I have no idea why on reflection, but I guess in my head I had imagined I was going to a place not that many people go to. Let me say, lots of tourists come here, yet, the place is not a Queenstown where the only discernible identity is tourism. Rather this is a place in touch with its identity and history and making a living from it.
The history here is amazing. The old city is still in existence and you can walk its cobbled streets past old old houses still full of life and no doubt modernised inside. The centre is full of amazing and very grand buildings. These were the first of this type I had seen and seeing them and indeed going inside them bought more than one tear to my eye. Between here and Amsterdam I have walked into some amazing old churches. However, here, was the first time I walked into a still functional and still very operational Cathedral. OMG the vastness and ornate nature of these buildings was something I was not prepared for. I can understand for the first time how people can be religious in a place like these. They are truly monuments and testimonies to human kinds relationship to the divine. The awe of organised religion and God was never more real or understandable than in these places.
Walk outside the Centrum and down the streets of the old city and you have a completely different experience. The tourists throng around the Markt Square and surrounding areas. Two streets across and you are in quiet cobbled streets with people going about their lives. This is one of the things I most value about a visit to a city or town. To get the feel for what life is like. It must be an amazing experience to live your life in these ancient streets. The cobbles and houses mean you are surrounded by history. Yet, I am sure you forget all that when it is your daily reality. The children going to school, the old lady washing her windows, the delivery truck, the oh so elegant woman biking to work.
At night the city is even more quiet outside of the main square and I love this. I have spent two nights here and both nights just wandered empty cobbled streets enjoying my time alone in this remarkably special place. Not once did i feel scared or frightened on these streets even though I was very alone and sometimes a little confused as to where I was.
I have visited quite a few places, but if someone was coming here I would recommend the following. Groeningemuseum (amazing examples of Flemish art), Sint-Janshospitaal (former place for the sick, infirm and needy with an amazing medical history), O.L.V.-ter-Potterie (another former hospital with an amazing chapel inside), Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (an amazing church with huge vastness and a stunning Michelangelo over the alter, and of course the Belfry (well worth the climb!) Also, if I have not made it clear, just walk those streets!
Brugge is also a brilliant place for an monolingual English speaker like myself. Everyone pretty much understands English and most will happily converse with you in it. Only the old ladies on the back streets will not reply in English and really that is part of their charm. I even managed to post a parcel home at the postoffice which was a remarkable achievement when all the signs were in Flemish.
So in closing, Brugge has left an impression on me and i would happily return here and live in an apartment for a few weeks to really experience the place. Without Flemish/Dutch it will always be difficult to get really inside the place, but this is a place where you can just be.