A good alternate title for this post would be ‘Bruges In Mostly Black & White’ because what else do you do with your photos when they’re all gloomy-looking from a day where the rain just wouldn’t stop?
After our day of rain and hail in Ghent, we were really hoping the sun would come out for our next day trip to Bruges, but it wasn’t meant to be. While we didn’t get caught in any more freak hail storms, we did have to hide under our umbrellas for practically the entire day. Not such a big deal until you see something you’d like to take a photo of and are forced to balance your umbrella overhead by using your chin and your shoulder because your hands are busy fixing your camera settings and composing the shot. Do that enough times, especially in high winds, and you’ll really start to analyze how photograph-worthy that scene actually is.
Anyway, the day we went to Bruges was our last full day in Belgium. From Brussels, the train ride to Bruges only took a little over an hour, and we were pretty close to the center of town where the train let us off. The only thing I had planned for us to do here, besides eat chocolate, was take a photography walking tour of Bruges I’d put together using tips from a few other sites, which leads into what today’s post is actually going to be about – our self-guided walking tour of Bruges, Belgium.
The Church of Our Lady
When we exited the station, it was raining cats and dogs and the wind was blowing so hard that it was turning our umbrellas inside out, so instead of trying to start our walk straight away, we ducked into one of the first tea rooms we saw and spent the next hour or so drinking hot cocoa and wondering if reverse rain-dances were a real thing.
Eventually, the rain let up a little and we made our way to the starting point for our walk, Onze-Lieve-Vrouw, aka the Church of our Lady, on Mariastraat. It’s free to enter, and so we did, but were surprised to find the entire inside under construction. I’d hoped to see the Madonna & Child sculpture by Michaelangelo, but due to the restorations it was unavailable at the time we visited. Since we weren’t there to admire scaffolding and plastic, we only stayed a whopping five minutes. At least they were a dry five minutes.
After leaving the church, we walked to Markt Square, one of the two main squares in town and a UNESCO world heritage site. You can see the tall tower of the belfry from all over Bruges – simply walk towards that and you’re in the square. Speaking of the belfry, for a small fee you can climb the 366 steps to the top and get a panoramic view of the city. Seeing as we’d just climbed the Ghent belfry the day before, our legs weren’t up for the task and we decided to skip it this time.
Instead, we just stood in the middle of the square and made out. Kidding. Lexie only tolerated that kind of behavior long enough for one photo, and then we were off to our next location, but we did return later in the evening to have
one very overpriced dinner on a restaurant patio overlooking the pretty gabled houses and guildhalls of the square.
Walking down Breidelstraat, we quickly found ourselves in the Burg, the second of Bruges’ main squares. Not quite as large as Markt Square, the Burg is essentially a “business district” made up of gothic and Renaissance buildings housing the courts of law, the City Hall, administrative offices, and a small basilica. A huge stage was set up outside the City Hall, so we didn’t take many photos here before skipping along to our next destination.
Our next stop was Rozenhoedkaai, one of the most photographed streets and canals in Bruges. The name comes from the 18th century when vendors once lined the street here selling rosaries. While the scene is certainly very picturesque, especially with the belfry looming up from behind, I still liked one other spot along the canals a little bit more – I’ll get to that at the end. If you’re hungry, there are lots of little cafes around here with pretty views, but if they’re anything like those in Markt Square, sitting down for a meal in one will probably come at a premium.
De Meulenaere Almshouse
Everything we’d seen up until this point had been within a few steps from each other, but our next stop took us a little further out from the center of the city, giving us the opportunity to wander down much quieter streets than those around the squares.
From Rozenhoedkaai, we turned left down Eekhoutstraat, and at the end, turned right onto Nieuwe Gentweg. It’s here, at number 22, where we entered the pretty courtyard gardens of the De Meulenaere, a 17th century almshouse still used as housing for elderly widows today. Visitors are allowed inside, but it’s important to be respectful – these are people’s homes, not a public park.
From De Meulenaere, we walked to the Begijnhof, sort of a much larger version of the almshouse we’d just seen. The Begijnhof is a béguinage, an enclosed 13th century community built for the Béguines, women who dedicated their lives to God without withdrawing completely from the world as nuns do. The béguinage was essentially a miniature town, open to the real city by day, but closed up at night for the safety of the women living there. Life in a béguinage was characterized by simplicity and humility, as it still is today, now that the “town” is occupied by Benedictine nuns.
It’s a beautiful, peaceful place to visit, but make sure you arrive before sunset because the Begijnhof still closes itself off from the outside world every evening. Combined with other Flemish béguinages, this spot is also listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. To get here from De Meulenaere, take a left on Katelijnestraat, and then a right on Wijngaardstraat, following that until you get to the canal in front of the Begijnhof.
Quiet Canals Behind the Church
As we brought our walk to a close, we headed back towards the Church of our Lady where we began, along the way stopping to take some photos by the canals behind the church. This area was my favorite – the houses lining the canals were so full of character, and I loved the little bridge connecting both sides of the canal. I could have stayed here, sitting on the side of the canal with my legs swinging over the water, for quite some time if it hadn’t started to rain heavily again. But after walking for over two hours, it was time to find something to eat anyway, and so we ended our walking tour of Bruges with big plates of seafood and a little people-watching in Markt Square.
So why the photo of my shoes? I made a rookie mistake on our Bruges day trip, a big one – I wore new shoes. I had assumed that being flats, and super comfortable to boot, it wouldn’t be a problem. Ohhhh, I was wrong. By the end of our walk, I had blisters covering the back of both my heels that were bleeding into my shoes. I wanted to cry, mostly because I was ruining my new shoes, but the pain thing, too. And there was nothing I could do about it because my other shoes were an hour away in Brussels. Moral of the story – never ever bring new shoes on holiday, no matter how cute or sensible you think they are.
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