A brief visit to Brugge

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by Susan Fogwell, Princeton, NJ

The accessibility in reaching Brugge, Belgium, via train makes it a fun and delightful day-trip destination. I boarded a train with my husband, John, at Centraal Station in Amsterdam for the 3-hour journey. With a quick change of trains in Antwerp, we were on a comfortable train slicing through flat Belgian farmland. 

Light snow covered the landscape, dotted with horses with thick winter coats. As we got closer to our destination, villages of gabled buildings with cobbled, narrow streets passed by the window. 

It wasn’t long before the train stopped in Brugge, the capital of the West Flanders Province and considered one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. Its historic center was added to the long list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2000. 

First impression

As we made a beeline for the line of waiting taxis, I thought how apropos it was to be in Belgium on Valentine’s Day. After all, the small country is world famous for its decadent, rich chocolate and fine handmade lace. 

A 5-minute ride later and we were in the heart of the small Flemish city. In perfect English, the taxi driver asked, “Is this your first time to Brugge?” (In Flemish and Dutch, it’s pronounced “Broo-gah.” In French and English, it’s spelled “Bruges” and pronounced “Broozh.”) 

I answered, “Yes,” and he responded with the standard, “You’ll absolutely love it.” 

Upon first seeing the gothic town, I instantly fell in love with it. Everywhere I looked there were colorful buildings, replete with heavenly chocolate shops and toasty restaurants. Simple pink and red hearts hung from tea shop windows, where inviting fireplaces glowed from within. 

Independent explorations

The taxi pulled up in front of the Hotel Heritage (Niklaas Desparsstraat 11; phone +32 [0] 50 444 4444, www.hotel-heritage.com), a small, elegant hotel that at one time was a Georgian mansion. The warm surroundings made me feel instantly at home. 

Isabelle, who was stationed at the front desk, promptly checked us in and asked, “Is there something specific you would like for dinner?” 

I answered, “Yes, mussels.” A couple of friends who had visited Brugge had raved about dining on mussels and Flemish fries. 

The authoritave Isabelle suggested a few restaurants and offered to make a reservation for later that evening. She then told us that at
2:30 the next day there was a 2-hour English-speaking walking tour that was included in the cost of our stay. 

The best way to absorb Brugge is by getting lost on its cobblestone backstreets, away from the tourist-trodden shops. Grabbing two umbrellas on our way out the door, we set out to explore the town that had grown wealthy on the cloth trade in the 11th century. 

At one time, Brugge was a focus for international trade. High-quality English wool was turned into clothing and exported all over the known world. Unbelievably, by the 14th century the population had grown to the size of London’s. With a population of 35,000, it was one of the biggest cities in the world. 

Today, Brugge prospers on mass tourism. Springtime is bursting with vivid colors. Daffodils and tulips are in abundance, and comfortable temperatures and longer days are perfect for bicycle rides to nearby Damme and boat rides under arched bridges.

Market Square (Grote Markt) is home to one of the city’s most distinctive medieval landmarks, the Belfort. Since the 13th century, this 272-foot-high bell tower has stood over the square. To survey the town’s storybook rooftops and outskirts, I’d recommend climbing the 366 steps to the top. On a clear day, the coastal towns along the North Sea can be seen in the distance. 

Two of the most visited sites in Brugge are the Groeninge Museum, which has one of the best collections of Flemish art in the world, and the Memling Museum, which is in a former hospital where several of artist Hans Memling’s masterpieces are displayed among surgical instruments from medieval times. 

Touring the city

Our scheduled walking tour took us around to all of the museums. We began in Burg Square, where we ran smack into our tour guide. The voucher in my hand gave me away. 

The guide introduced himself as Andrew and informed us that he spoke seven languages fluently. Like most of the Flemish, Andrew was able to effortlessly shift from one language to another. Not only was he fluent, but he amused himself by using American slang picked up from Hollywood movies. 

There were a total of eight British couples and one other American couple on our tour. Brugge is a heavyweight sightseeing destination for the British, as it’s easily reached via the London-Brussels-Cologne railway network. 

Andrew’s wealth of Northern European history was sprinkled with lively jokes, which had everybody laughing.

After the 2-hour walking tour, we made our way back to Market Square. A revolving line of horses converged in the center of the square, where a buggy whisked us off through the cobblestone streets of Brugge. This was a fun, relaxing 30 minutes, with the driver pointing out interesting sites along with tidbits of history. 

The horse rested for 10 minutes at the peaceful Begijnhof, where women spent their lives in piety without having to take the vows of a nun. The brief stop was just enough time to decide whether or not to return later to explore the grounds further and take a casual tour of the small museum — time well spent. 

A full two days and two nights is the suggested amount of time required to see all of the sites in Brugge. Ideally, the best itinerary is to combine a visit to Brugge with other European destinations. Whether it’s Holland, France or Germany, each is within close proximity.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

by Susan Fogwell, Princeton, NJ

The accessibility in reaching Brugge, Belgium, via train makes it a fun and delightful day-trip destination. I boarded a train with my husband, John, at Centraal Station in Amsterdam for the 3-hour journey. With a quick change of trains in Antwerp, we were on a comfortable train slicing through flat Belgian farmland. 

Light snow covered the landscape, dotted with horses with thick winter coats. As we got closer to our destination, villages of gabled buildings with cobbled, narrow streets passed by the window. 

It wasn’t long before the train stopped in Brugge, the capital of the West Flanders Province and considered one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. Its historic center was added to the long list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2000. 

First impression

As we made a beeline for the line of waiting taxis, I thought how apropos it was to be in Belgium on Valentine’s Day. After all, the small country is world famous for its decadent, rich chocolate and fine handmade lace. 

A 5-minute ride later and we were in the heart of the small Flemish city. In perfect English, the taxi driver asked, “Is this your first time to Brugge?” (In Flemish and Dutch, it’s pronounced “Broo-gah.” In French and English, it’s spelled “Bruges” and pronounced “Broozh.”) 

I answered, “Yes,” and he responded with the standard, “You’ll absolutely love it.” 

Upon first seeing the gothic town, I instantly fell in love with it. Everywhere I looked there were colorful buildings, replete with heavenly chocolate shops and toasty restaurants. Simple pink and red hearts hung from tea shop windows, where inviting fireplaces glowed from within. 

Independent explorations

The taxi pulled up in front of the Hotel Heritage (Niklaas Desparsstraat 11; phone +32 [0] 50 444 4444, www.hotel-heritage.com), a small, elegant hotel that at one time was a Georgian mansion. The warm surroundings made me feel instantly at home. 

Isabelle, who was stationed at the front desk, promptly checked us in and asked, “Is there something specific you would like for dinner?” 

I answered, “Yes, mussels.” A couple of friends who had visited Brugge had raved about dining on mussels and Flemish fries. 

The authoritave Isabelle suggested a few restaurants and offered to make a reservation for later that evening. She then told us that at
2:30 the next day there was a 2-hour English-speaking walking tour that was included in the cost of our stay. 

The best way to absorb Brugge is by getting lost on its cobblestone backstreets, away from the tourist-trodden shops. Grabbing two umbrellas on our way out the door, we set out to explore the town that had grown wealthy on the cloth trade in the 11th century. 

At one time, Brugge was a focus for international trade. High-quality English wool was turned into clothing and exported all over the known world. Unbelievably, by the 14th century the population had grown to the size of London’s. With a population of 35,000, it was one of the biggest cities in the world. 

Today, Brugge prospers on mass tourism. Springtime is bursting with vivid colors. Daffodils and tulips are in abundance, and comfortable temperatures and longer days are perfect for bicycle rides to nearby Damme and boat rides under arched bridges.

Market Square (Grote Markt) is home to one of the city’s most distinctive medieval landmarks, the Belfort. Since the 13th century, this 272-foot-high bell tower has stood over the square. To survey the town’s storybook rooftops and outskirts, I’d recommend climbing the 366 steps to the top. On a clear day, the coastal towns along the North Sea can be seen in the distance. 

Two of the most visited sites in Brugge are the Groeninge Museum, which has one of the best collections of Flemish art in the world, and the Memling Museum, which is in a former hospital where several of artist Hans Memling’s masterpieces are displayed among surgical instruments from medieval times. 

Touring the city

Our scheduled walking tour took us around to all of the museums. We began in Burg Square, where we ran smack into our tour guide. The voucher in my hand gave me away. 

The guide introduced himself as Andrew and informed us that he spoke seven languages fluently. Like most of the Flemish, Andrew was able to effortlessly shift from one language to another. Not only was he fluent, but he amused himself by using American slang picked up from Hollywood movies. 

There were a total of eight British couples and one other American couple on our tour. Brugge is a heavyweight sightseeing destination for the British, as it’s easily reached via the London-Brussels-Cologne railway network. 

Andrew’s wealth of Northern European history was sprinkled with lively jokes, which had everybody laughing.

After the 2-hour walking tour, we made our way back to Market Square. A revolving line of horses converged in the center of the square, where a buggy whisked us off through the cobblestone streets of Brugge. This was a fun, relaxing 30 minutes, with the driver pointing out interesting sites along with tidbits of history. 

The horse rested for 10 minutes at the peaceful Begijnhof, where women spent their lives in piety without having to take the vows of a nun. The brief stop was just enough time to decide whether or not to return later to explore the grounds further and take a casual tour of the small museum — time well spent. 

A full two days and two nights is the suggested amount of time required to see all of the sites in Brugge. Ideally, the best itinerary is to combine a visit to Brugge with other European destinations. Whether it’s Holland, France or Germany, each is within close proximity.