In Bruges

20th October 2008 – 7.55 am

I took a short trip, travelling on a Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel before being picked up by the tour operator in Lille and driven by coach on to Bruges. The journey was pleasant and uneventful with relatively little fuss crossing the borders. A quick wave of the passport in St Pancras to start with and then full speed across the French-Belgian border.

Bruges is wonderfully picturesque, nearly all the buildings and roads are ancient with remarkable brick and stonework. It is also quite small. Although there are some bus routes through the city the main form of public transport is hiring a bicycle, but even that wasn't necessary as strolling around town is quick and easy, with plenty of sights to enjoy on the way.

I saw the only Michelangelo sculpture outside of Italy, Madonna with Child, in Our Lady's Church. I had a tour through a local brewery, which was interesting but smelly. There was a demonstration of chocolate making from one of the three places in Bruges that still makes all their own chocolate in the shop, which was also smelly but in a much nicer way, and offered a small taste of their finished product on the way out. The chocolate maker was remarkably professional, as when he spilt a bit of molten chocolate on his finger he calmly wiped it off on a towel instead of shoving his whole hand in to his mouth, which would have been my temptation.

My fear of heights was tested when I ascended the Belfry in the town square, to get some excellent views of the city and surroundings. I was fine when in the belfry itself, surrounded by solid structures and on steady floors, but going up and down the narrow, steep spiral staircase had me close to panicking a few times, particularly when there were open stone windows half-way up. I got some good photographs, seeing as far out as Zeebrugge, and for some reason all the public museums were opened free of charge that day, the Belfry included, so at least I didn't pay for the privilege of inducing a mild state of panic. Taking advantage of the free admissions I also visited an apothecary museum and the diamond museum, although the latter turned out to be privately owned and wasn't free.

There was a day trip to Ypres. We visited the Tyne Cot Cemetery to commemorate the history of the region, as well as a small museum at Hill 62, which has some trenches amongst other features. Moving on to Ypres saw us pass through the Menin Gate in to the city. In Ypres it is stunning to see how beautifully rebuilt the city is after it was reduced entirely to rubble during the First World War. It was quite a stirring day.

Back in Bruges, you had better like slaagroom because it is served with many foods and drinks, including chocolate, coffee and waffles, often with additional slaagroom as an option. The language barrier existed but most people spoke excellent English, partly because of the tourist industry and partly because of the ties between the countries, and most menus had translations available. It was quite easy to work out that slaagroom is cream, but other foods weren't quite so easy to translate. For example, when trying to work out what speculoos was, or why I'd want extra speculoos on our ice cream, the menu wasn't too helpful. 'Speculoos' was translated as 'speculoos'. It was later that I discovered 'speculoos' is a brand name of some brown sugar biscuits, hence the translation trouble.

There is plenty to see and visit in Bruges, as well as lots to eat, and I had a splendid short break. I brought home some authentic Belgian chocolate, which I shall thoroughly enjoy. Kenickie took care of everything at home, including bringing home a dead mouse or two, and he was happy to see me return.

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