We’re back at the canals, with a cameo by my good friends the swans. We began our visit to Bruges with a nice walking tour, led by our professional guide Toon.
Bruges is a beautiful city, well preserved to maintain its medieval atmosphere. It is the capital of West Flanders and sometimes called “the Venice of the North” due to its network of beautiful canals. Although by that definition, every city in the Netherlands would be a Venice. Though Bruges differs from the canal cities of the Netherlands due to the fact that the water goes right up to the doors of the houses, like in Venice. Thus, the canals were used as a final transportation route to the doors of the customer.
Another idyllic aspect were the fancy ubers that the city sported. And by Uber, I mean the horse-drawn carriages clomping around the cobblestone streets.
Interesting point – as we walked past the Town Hall we saw a bit of a ceremony for Belgian Independence Day. I heard something along the lines of “Leef Belgie, leef de koning.” I was talking to my friend later the day though and he said that Flemish people almost don’t celebrate the Independence Day at all besides enjoying the day off of work. It celebrates the day that King Leopold I was sworn into the new nation of Belgium. However, many Flemish people did not want to revolt against the Dutch in the first place and Leopold was no friend to the Flemish, breaking his word to allow Dutch to be spoken. Anyway, it is quite the contrast from America where the 4th of July unites all citizens. Here, even a national holiday could incited a political response, or at best, an apathetic one.
Church of Our Lady
We stopped by the Church of Our Lady, or Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, which is the second tallest brick structure in the world. Built in the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries, the Church puts on a constrained Gothic display. The brick provides a warmer, lighter feel than the normal grays and blacks of gothic churches. Decoration is minimal and the pointed arches are almost round, only barely pointed at the tip.
Only one church a day is truly the beginner’s level. Off to Saint Salvator’s Cathedral! It is the oldest church of the city, its building beginning in the 12th century. It was originally built as a church but became a Cathedral in the 19th century when the bishop was instated into the church following Belgian independence from Protestant Dutch.
Because these magnificent churches take centuries to build, the architectural style changes in the middle of the process. Thus, we see a gothic structure but with a Romanesque addition to the tower after a fire ravaged the Church in the 19th century. There is a clear separation of types of brick when looking at the tower, denoting the 12th century and 19th century portions. The interior of the church is marked with the beautiful baroque style as the interior of the church was renovated in the 17th century. To me, it is quite recognizable by the sharp black and white contrasts to create vivid decoration. This baroque style is also seen at the Saint Carolus Borromeus in Antwerp church from which I recognize it.
And there was an organ player at the church. Hear him here.
In such an idyllic, medieval city, a few of us (let’s be real, Maggie and Brynne) decided to have a fancy luncheon.
We went to Le Pain Quotidien which simply is called daily bread but in French, naturally, it sounds sophisticated. The establishment was respectable and served drinks with chocolate wedges before our meal as every restaurant should. Merci.
Perhaps now is a good time to clarify that “boujie” is a reference to the bourgeois elitist ideals and materialism. Though, talking of the French-speaking bourgeois of Belgium, let me go on about their oppression of the Flemish (just kidding, simply check out yesterday’s blog!).
Naturally, us bourgeoisie needed to sample and purchase some tea and chocolates for the remainder of our lunch our. Bruges (as every quaint city in Belgium does) is filled with chocolate shops. Each one says the “finest” Belgian chocolate which must be quite the mathematical accomplishment. But in all serious, they all seem delicious though I must say that I have developed a particular loyalty to Leonidas. We stopped by the famous Chocolate Line and saw some of the chocolate making process. I had also visited the Chocolate Line in Antwerp. I like the large chocolate sculptures that the Line produces. However the “production” in the Chocolate Line seems a bit touristic. We picked up some orange chocolate peels and stopped by a souvenir shop in which I selected a couple items. Sometimes there is a time for embracing the tourist lifestyle.
Allow me a digression. In San Francisco there is a place called Dandelion Chocolate which is amazing. It produces chocolate from scratch entirely itself. First, the owners personally travel to regions in Africa / South America and find a good harvest and negotiate for the beans. Then, the raw cacao pods are brought to the SF shop. Inside the shop they make the chocolate from scratch from roasting to packaging. It is amazing. Definite recommend.
Now, where were we? Ah, yes we’re back at the Grote Markt, ready to museum ourselves.
I quite liked the museum. It had a good specialty in Flemish art from the 15th century (Flemish primitives) that we hadn’t been exposed to yet which was nice.
In the 15th century, Bruges was the center of Europe for art. Famous artists such as Jan van Eyck and Petrus Christus worked in Bruges. Their artwork was considered “Flemish primitive,” characterized by an attention to fine detail and realism.
After the museum we swiftly made our way to the train station and I caught the 17:22 train to Mechelen just in time. I was off to visit my cousin in Mechelen (and my aunt in nearby Leuven the following day). While I had visited before, it was nice to return and relax a bit with tasty food, good conversation, and a comfortable bed. Lekker!