Lex, Jennifer and I made our way from Amsterdam to Bruges via the rail system. It took us a 2 hour train ride to get there because of long train delays in Amsterdam. Bruges, a picturesque Flemish town, is located in the northwest of Belgium and it has become a rather popular tourist destination because of the movie “In Bruges”. Historically (especially during the Middle Ages), Bruges is an important and wealthy town because it connected the Mediterranean states with the other parts of Europe. The disproportionately huge cathedrals relative to the surrounding buildings are an obvious indication of the wealth of the town during the Middle Ages.
Similar to what we did in Amsterdam, we first took a boat ride to explore the town. A tour guide, who was also the guy driving the boat, introduced the different parts of the town to us. He was quite an experienced guide as he alternated between giving English and French commentary. While the canals in Amsterdam are mostly straight and wide, the canals in Bruges are of various widths and shapes and this probably makes the town feel somewhat more romantic because you do not know what you are going to see around that bend until the boat makes the turn. The bridges are all very low and we had some fun trying to touch the bottom of the bridges as the boat passed through.
According to the tour guide (who laughed at his own jokes at times), people in the past used cow’s blood to paint the canal-side houses red. That is quite grotesque, I am glad people found other sources of red pigments eventually. The canal-side houses have gable roofs – very similar architecture with those found in Amsterdam.
There are not too many things to see in Bruges so after the boat ride, we spent the evening exploring the city by foot, admiring the architecture and taking photos at a leisurely place.
We went to the Grote Markt which is located in the heart of the city to have dinner. Many beautiful 12th and 13th century buildings as well as restaurants are located in the square. However, the square is too touristy to my liking, the locals don’t seem to hang out there. We saw a few horse carriages there providing an interesting alternative mode of exploring the city for the tourists.
One of the buildings in the Grote Markt is the Basilica of the Holy Blood which contains a phial that reputedly contains Christ’s blood brought back from the Crusades. We visited the basilica the next morning, queued and saw the phial out of curiosity. The object was what I expected it to be – a phial with dried blood on the walls. There was a mini ceremony before the phial was brought out for viewing and the atmosphere was rather solemn and quiet that I could actually hear my own breathing. In Bruges, building owners paid taxes according to the number and size of windows that the building has. I guess this church really needs more donations.
We also visited the Chocolate Museum because we thought we could sample different Belgian chocolates. It turned out to be different from what we had anticipated and it was a museum with more facts about chocolates (where cocoa came from, how people ate cocoa in the past, how chocolates are made) than actual chocolates. Nonetheless, we learnt quite a bit from this visit. Apparently, cocoa came from Latin America and chocolate drink came before chocolate bars. We passed by a “kitchen” in the museum and saw a funny sight – a Manneken Pis urinating chocolate syrup. Having seen that, we were all excited to visit the real Manneken Pis in Brussels!