Thursday, September 02, 2010

European Trip Day 2 - Bruges

After a lovely breakfast at our b&b, we were ready for action. It was an overcast morning but we only had this one full day so we set off into Bruges with rain wear if needed. Although it threatened, it never did rain.

First port of call was back to the nearby square we'd visited the previous night as we wanted to get a large scale street map from the tourist office. We were too early and rather than wait for it to open, we decided to leave it and just use the maps in our guide book instead.

We looked at the fountains again and in daylight, there was more to see. There were bronze statues of people riding surprise there. There were bronze statues of naked people....again, no surprise. I wasn't so sure about the mermaid with the water pouring out of her breasts though. I guess if there can be statues of little boys peeing.........

As with the rest of Bruges, the square was clean and litter free. It was lovely to walk around a town, a city, where the locals had pride in its appearance and even the visitors fell into line.

We then walked through the wonderful old town with its narrow cobbled streets and steep sided, colourful buildings. It was a fairytale place and I loved it. We arrived at the central Markt and although early, it was much busier than it had been 14 hours earlier. The horse drawn carriages were already ferrying people around the town and, more importantly for us, the bell tower was open for business.

I was hoping to meet the ticket seller featured in the movie "In Bruges" but I guess he was an actor. Probably just as well as he'd had the s**t knocked out of him by Ralph Fiennes !

Then it was up the steep narrow steps of the tower and man were they narrow...and steep. Now I've had experience of steep steps from visits to various towers and domes in my travels but either I'm getting older (which just may be the case ) and more unfit (which is definitely the case) but those steps just about killed me. Then again it could've been the extra 35 pounds I carry about these days !

In any case, I was very glad there were a few stopping places on the way up - they were there to show off parts of the structure and then, nearer the top, the workings of the clock but to me they were aid stations where I could regain my breath and my legs could stop shaking. If there had been a suggestion box around I'd have suggested a nurse with some oxygen equipment to hand, although to be honest, the oxygen wouldn't have been a deal breaker !

The views from the top were stunning and really gave a wonderful view back down to the Markt as well as views over Bruges.

Going back down wasn't much better and we also had to contend with those making their way up. After several rather intimate exchanges, I reached the bottom with 2 marriage proposals and the unwanted knowledge that a sweaty German man in a Bayern Munich t-shirt had an uneaten braadworst in his front trouser pocket ! I hope.

While getting our bearings in the sizeable area at the tower bottom, we saw that those excellent Segway 'people movers' were being used in Bruges. I'm all for them in tourist towns but given that every street in Bruges is cobbled, I'd have to think that unless your job involved the use of a pneumatic drill, a few hours of Segway use in Bruges would leave your joints a bit jarred.

With the tower conquered, our only other challenge for the day was to visit a windmill. I'd also set myself the task of finding a view that I'd seen in my guide book and with no proper street map, it wasn't going to be easy. We set off to walk to the east of the old town as 'there be windmills' there. It seemed that around every corner there were photogenic houses, canals and streets and here are just a few of what we saw.

We had a lovely lunch in a restaurant on one side of the Jan Van Eyck Plein (Jan Van Eyck Square) and a statue of the famous painter was just outside the large panoramic window. This square also featured in the movie I've mentioned several times now and the leading characters had a deep conversation while sitting on the bench near to the statue.

I read the guide book again while waiting for our food to arrive and studied what maps were available and by checking with the names of streets I could actually see out the window, I realised that MY VIEW wasn't far away. The view I'd wanted to find since seeing the guide book photograph. A few minutes after leaving the restaurant, we were there and this is that view.

I've probably talked it up to being more than it is....but I lked it in the book and was pretty chuffed to be there in person.

A relatively short walk then brought us to a lovely grassy area where there were 2 windmills with the wonderful bonus that the first one was not only working, but was open to the public. Yes we could go up inside it.

Of course that involved more steps and amazingly these were even steeper than those at the tower. Admittedly there weren't many of them but they were open steps and climbing up them almost on hands and knees, it was obvious that on the return journey, they'd have to be negotiated backwards !

That last photo shows Stephen climbing up the steps and given his fear of heights, he did well to even attempt it. The top of the steps was really the base of the windwill, or at least the part where the grain would be milled and bagged. Another set of steps took us up into the workings of the windmill and provided great views back to the town. The wooden cogs and gears were all very interesting but I preferred the views.

We managed to make out way back to the ground without incident and to celebrate this and the fact that the weather had improved enormously, we unanimously decided to have ice cream. As you can see, we didn't have to go far !

Fully refreshed, we set off again to return to the Markt and that meant walking past the other windwill. With its blades stopped, it raised the interesting question of what position they should be in to give the most pleasing view. Whether by luck or design, these blades were in the perfect position we felt.

It helped that the weather was so much better by now and we had a lovely time exploring the sights and streets on the way back. Bruges does have its cyclists but nothing like on the same scale as, say, Amsterdam and it's all the better for that. We came upon various examples of how the locals had either bought unusual bikes and cycles or else created them themselves.......

After all that walking and step climbing, we got back to the Markt and rested for a while and people watched. Then it was time for supper and a return to the b&b to think about our trip the next day to Amsterdam.

We all agreed that we loved Bruges and for me it was another location ticked off on my 'must visit' list. It was everything I'd hoped it would be and much more and as is the way with the places that impress like that, I would have no hesitation in returning another day. simply blew me away.


Daphne said...

Before we visited Bruges, everyone who'd been there smiled knowingly and said "Ahhh - you'll absolutely love it". They were right. Lovely blog post and great photos, too.

Jennyta said...

Fantastic photos, Ian, All that climbing up all those steps was definitely worth it for those wonderful views.

Milo said...

Ah, one to add to my list. I keep hearing really good things about Bruges - thanks for the write-up!

rhymeswithplague said...

Beautiful photographs, Ian!

Debby said...

Think a mermaid statue would work in BB???

I want that scooter!

Katherine said...

Delightful post, fab shots - every one would be a great choice for a classy calendar. Weee-lll maybe not Stephen's bottom... (not that there's anything wrong with per se she adds hastily)

When I was little I always imagined the stairs on the house gables were for you to run up if there was a flood or a fire, so you could be helicoptered off the roof.

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