When I first did a post on Bruges, I was probably a bit speechless as they were mainly pictures. The (magic) dust has now settled and I’m ready to talk about it.
The city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and when you’re standing in Markt (Market Square) you can see how the medieval atmosphere has earned it the title.
It’s a sort of Narnia because of its the mysterious quality; if you walk a few streets outside the city centre, it’s as though you were never there in the first place. The trace of the city is gone. You can’t hear it and you can’t see it. A river, trees and miniature unassuming houses replace the horses and carriages and majestic buildings. If it wasn’t for the magic you just experienced, you may not even remember it.
Time has its own meaning here and it’s separate from the rest of the world. A man painted in gold, dusted with green (symbolising mould and the old feel of the place? Hello GCSE English Literature…) dressed as a witch – pointy hat and wart-ridden nose included – cradles his orb on a walking stick. Children pass and give him money, approaching the strange witch-man as he crouches down, lowers his orb and places their small hand over it. The children weren’t frightened but fascinated, revelling quietly in the secretive moment together with the witch. It seemed very personal – as though they both believed with all their hearts that this act was summoning an old, transcendent magic.
The buildings all hold the same gothic but bright grandeur, despite being contained in a miniature city. Although interestingly, some of the oldest looking things were actually built later. These are what I wouldn’t miss out on…
Heilig-Bloedbasiliek, the Basilica of the Holy Blood
Here you can (supposedly) see Jesus’ blood. All wrapped up in a (slightly dirty) capsule. This bewildered me to some degree. I can’t claim to be a religious person. I love seeing churches/cathedrals etc, but when I heard this place contained Jesus’ blood, I was both intrigued and confused.
It’s a very odd experience: on a raised, small platform accessible either side by stairs, someone stands watch, guardian of the protected capsule. You orderly walk up from one side, view it, say thank you, donate some money, and leave. The viewing was the most confusing part for me. I mean, how am I supposed to react to Jesus’ blood?
Otherwise, it’s a beautifully structured 12th century building with impressive stained glass and sharp architecture. Definitely worth a visit, suspicious of the thought of Jesus’ blood or not.
Medieval belltower, comprising of 366 steps. Tip, of upmost urgency: go early. Really early. Avoid the queues; twice I have been defeated by them. This is a stunning building that upon seeing it, you want to go and see what’s up. Climb to the top for beautiful views over Bruges. It’s buildings like this that utterly convince you of Bruges’ past prosperity (it was built when trade with the cloth industry was going super); to me it oozes with power and importance.
Bruges Sint Janshuismolen Windmill
One of the most fairytale places of them all for me. You have to walk a little for this, but it’s a windmill, so it’s worth it, no? It sits on a very manicured green hill that is so green I believe it’s been coloured in by a Disney illustrator.
Bruges Provincial Government Palace
This was the first building my eyes clapped on without shifting when I first visited Bruges. I immediately imagined the royal family all living in this fantastic light but jagged palace, flags billowing. This is not what it is. Like most of Bruges, this building has been through a lot of transformations and versions of Gothic architecture. I’m thankful to the people of Bruges determined to keep it gothic.
I also suggest Church of our Lady and simple walks over the canals. Being nicknamed the “Venice of the North”, it would be a shame not to bathe in the sun beside a canal drinking some authentic Belgian beer.
All in all, I prefer large cities that spread out and have hidden neighbourhoods, nooks and crannies. But there is something about the little Bruges that still allows you to get lost in it.
Enjoy Bruges and let me know what you thought!