Ever since we landed in Brussels, every other person we spoke to recommended Bruges to us. It is known as the Venice of North. Now having seen Venice about 2 years back I had mixed feelings about the place, for how could anything compare with Venice? However this Sunday, we simply needed to get out of the scorching hot Brussels and so we decided to head out to Bruges.
Before I start exploring our experience of Bruges, it is interesting to note how the place got its name; Bruges. It is interlinked with the fact that this city was once the main center of sea trade in Northern Europe. The name of the settlement was derived from the water name 'Rugja', in other words, the first canal, Reie. In the 8th and 9th century the name evolved and eventually contaminated with the Scandinavian word Bryggia, which means landing stage. This name again changed in time, and that's how the current city name came into being.
Apparently Bruges has seen its sine curve of life. Starting right from the earliest settlement, it shaped and grew to become a major port for traders before succumbing to slitting up of the zwin and losing its status. It skimmed through the golden Age of Burgundy era and dropped to being the poorest city in Belgium before again raising to become an area of economic activity and the currently the much renowned travel destination
To us, Bruges turned out to be a neat little surprise. Hidden just beyond the main road, in front of the railway station, the first sight of the pretty canal and the sidewalk stole into our heats. With no particular agenda in mind we grabbed a 50 cent map from the station and along with a print out of the popular walking trail map, we spent the whole day navigating thought the sidewalks, bridges and cobblestone streets flanked by canals and medieval buildings. The 7 euro boat ride changes the perspective and it feels like you are taking a peak into a civilization from its water hedged edges. The boat driver spoke only Flemish and so we could not understand a word of what he said, but I think that just gave us more time to observe and shut out rest of crowd around us.
All outings seem almost incomplete without the waffle experience and hence we treated ourselves with caramel waffles for Lunch. As we walked around we came across many horse driven carriages which is supposed to be a unique way of experiencing Bruges, but somehow that did not catch our fancy we were content with just watching the carriages whisk away couples and families. Once we reached the Market square near the Belford tower, P decided to buy French fries and even as we were discussing whether it was worth taking sauce with the fries (As it meant extra cost), we heard the vendor address us in Hindi! He turned out to be a Nepali. Sometimes language unties people like nothing else and even though he was a Nepali he still felt like our fellow countryman. At the end of our small chat he topped our fries with “mirchi wala chtpata sauce” (in his words) for free!
We could not climb the tower which is supposed to give a fantastic view of Bruges as it was closed for renovation. The market square also known as Grote Markt, is also the center for food, drink and music. As we moved around the city we could hear strings of music wafting towards us from the center of the Mart. A band of musicians played some lovely music which only added to the charm. We continued exploring the city till 4 in the evening, by which time our legs were screaming for respite. So we walked back to station and took the 4:30 Pm train to be back home by 6.
On the way back I remember comparing Venice and Bruges and as against Venice which came out as romantic ghost city with dark corners and darker mystery, Bruges was a dash of sunlight which illuminates the mossy nooks and manages to create a charming picture. It is like a window to a time when the air was laced with opulence and power.