Once upon a time…
Once upon a time, way back in the 13th and 14th centuries, there existed a city that was so prosperous that the wealth of its citizens rivalled that of queens.
Its fortune was made on the back of textiles and trade, with international traders setting up to do business with the ships laden with all sorts of exotic goods – wool, wine, silks, spices –that berthed here. The city was so important that stock exchanges today are still called bourses in many languages after the trader’s houses that many merchants met in during the 13thcentury right here.
It was here that English wool was converted into fabric, and here that Flemish artists painted works of such perfection.
As often happens in these situations, the craftsmen began to disagree and stand up to their overlords. Retributions followed – as retributions often do – and traders began looking for somewhere else to do business. Merchants followed the traders and the city began to fall into a decline.
Then disaster struck…
The long sea channel that connected the city with the sea – and the city’s economic lifeline – silted up. With access to the sea gone, houses were abandoned, and canals remained empty.
The city slumped into a slumber that would last around 400 years – which is, in a way, somewhat appropriate for a place that looks as though it has sprung straight from the pages of a fairy tale.
The city is Brugge (or Bruges), and it’s thanks (in part) to this extended slumber that it miraculously survived two world wars. Some tourists made their way through late in the 19thcentury on their way through to Waterloo (does anyone else want to burst into song at that name, or is that just me?) but it wasn’t until much later that Brugge was rediscovered.
Today it’s a picture postcard example of a perfectly preserved medieval city.
In the past Brugge’s trade was mercantile, today it’s about tourists with its prime assets being a massive market square, narrow cobbled streets, historic churches, perfectly preserved buildings and photogenic, willow-draped canals.
Textiles are still popular, with plenty of shops selling tapestries and lace – keep an eye out for the map of the city done in lace. The pic below doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea.
Chocolate is king here. You can buy all chocolate here from commercial novelties (think phallic – this is a PG-rated site so I won’t post the pics) to artisan chocolatiers. The entire city is full of air-borne calories, so take care not to breathe too deeply.
We visited on a day-trip from Lille so sadly had just a short time to explore. Anyways, here’s some of what we did see…
And no, I haven’t spelt it incorrectly – there is no “e”. This open market square is the centre of town.
Basilica of the Holy Blood
Tucked into the square, beside a chocolate shop, is the Heilig- Bloedbasiliek or Basilica of the Holy Blood.
It takes its name from the phial that apparently holds a few drops of Christ’s blood. For the donation of a few euros, you can check it out. It doesn’t look anything like blood – not that I’d know what blood would look like after it’s been in a phial for over a thousand years.
Anyways, it was reportedly brought here in the 12th century after the Crusades. The Noble Brotherhood of the Holy Blood was formed soon after to protect and preserve and venerate it – which all sounds a little Dan Brown-ish. Each Ascension Day they do a procession through the city.
There’s even a legend that every hundred years the blood flows again. Given no one alive has actually seen this phenomenon I suspect it’s a little like the “back in 30 minutes” signs you see on shop doors – when you don’t know when the thirty minutes actually has started.
It does, however, make for a good story, and from a rather nondescript exterior, the stairs lead up and around into a lovely and intricately decorated chapel.
Half Moon Brewery
Brugge is very much a beer town, yet there’s only the one family-run brewery still actually operating in town- Half Moon Brewery…the perfect spot to stop for lunch after walking all morning. Although this brewery was founded in 1856, there has, in fact, been a brewery on this site since 1564.
The 2-course menu here was 22E, so we shared the shrimp croquettes and I had the Flemish Beefstew – which is, incidentally, called Carbonnade or Carbonade Flamande in Flemish France. (Keep an eye out for the recipe over the next few days).
Hubby and F chose the beer ham and cheese soup – also excellent – and thankfully helped me out with my fries.
On the subject of fries, or frites, it seems that the nationality of the cook who accidentally dropped a piece of potato into some hot oil and invented the chip is as hotly debated as the question of who made the first pavlova. The Belgians say it was them, and the French claim that it was in fact them. Whatever – these fries were flipping good.
The Beer Wall
On the 2 be Beer Wall there are over 1800 beers – and their accompanying glasses (all Belgian beers have a branded glass that the beer should be served in) – in the wall. Wait, wasn’t there a song about that? 1800 beers on the wall…no?
The bar has only about ten beers on tap at any one time, but plenty more in bottles. Worth a look…and a drink.
Yep, it’s seriously touristy, but at 8E it’s worth it to get a different view of this gorgeous city.
A must do.
St-Salvatorskathedraal…Sweeping high ceilings and antique tapestries make this one interesting.
While we were wandering around there was a girl standing high up on some scaffolding do painstaking restoration work. Now, there’s an idea for a character…
There are the shops that sell tapestries and lace, shops that are just about Christmas – all year round,
a market building where I can’t remember the name…Vismarkt?
and enough architecture, art, history, and dreamy canals to keep anyone interested.
The problem is, lots of other people know about Brugge’s beauty and the streets are mobbed in summer and on weekends. Come in the off-season, or midweek – as we did – and avoid the crowds.