Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Brugge Weekend

The Belfry Tower [Belfort Tower] in the market square. I took this foto from the inside courtyard of the tower. This tower also has a market hall annexed to it where I bought 2 silver windlamps for my dining table.

Write ups about Brugge exclaim proverbial praises of its ooh-so romantic atmosphere. In addition to that, travel enthusiasts have coined the assertion that Brugge is the little Venice of North Europe. My opinion? In all honesty, I can’t really say the same thing. Paris would have been far romantic, although, rationally speaking I don’t consider Paris as that romantic of a city. And what about the somewhat confusing title: The little Venice of North Europe? Uh, give me a break? Whoever made this declaration is nowhere near the truth and must be high on something. The number of canals in Brugge, I can easily count with my own set of fingers? There’s more water in Amsterdam, I say.

I guess its all about perception and taste?

This is a row of pretty medieval structures in the marktplaats (market place/square] with the typical ladder and gable roof design reminiscent of the Dutch-Flemish architecture. They say the Flemish builds this ice skating rink (in the right foto) in the square every Christmas season.

Despite all the misleading statements about Brugge, I can still say, it is undeniably a remarkable, very pretty and very charming historical little city that exudes a lively and warm cultural appeal with an exclusive character of its own. I even thought the city was far prettier and more charming than Brussels and Antwerp.

These are scenic canals and stone bridges in Brugge. On the left side foto is an entry port going into the city center (taken by MadamE inside the car]. As mentioned in my entry, Brugge is a fortified medieval settlement that can be quickly isolated from its enemies, well before the trebuchet and ballista were engineered.

Perhaps because of its compact urban planning design, Brugge come across as an impressive and cozy city to the normal visitor like me. The city truly brings us back to the middle ages settlement when people relied on walking and easy means of transportation, i.e. bike, to reach point A to point B, and cities are fortified in massive stone walls with watch guard towers surrounded by a moat, and the only way to go in and out of the city is through the archetypal representation during the castle era, draw-up bridges.

The fortification of cities by the way is prevalent in the past when invasion meant civilization.

Here are some of the things we, MadamE and I, noticed and experienced in Brugge:

I think this is a very attractive and charmant petite bistro. Don’t you think? Mid foto are the ubiquitous Belgian chocolates, this time they came in big breasted, ha-ha. On the right foto is an arch extravagantly detailed and ornamented. This gateway leads towards the square called “The Burg” that dates back to the 13th century.

>>> The drive to Belgium was an eventful experience. Q: How could Belgians manage not to curse in the highways?

Firstly, the Belgian road signs are old and rusty. They also do not follow a sense of uniformity, which I must insist is a very important factor for drivers to stick by because it helps smoothen the driving experience and make long rides comfortable. On top of that, it also provides proactive safety measures. Secondly, they do not put up enough traffic boards and signs in the highways and in the provincial roads. If there are, they are on the right side of the road and not above the highways where drivers can easily see and follow. It is extremely irritating to second guess your next move, whether you must change lanes or turn somewhere. Most especially when you are driving at 100KM-120KM per hour. Thirdly, due to the lack of these road and directional signs, there is no sense of anticipation.

My companion, MadamE, was highly tensed up all throughout the ride, like she was driving half of the car with me, “Instead of anticipation, I am going through precipitation and palpitation!” she blurted out while helping me search where we need to turn because we took the wrong exit – what else, there were not enough signs from the exit road that points us back to the nearby settlements! Now, start thinking creatively what precipitation would mean, lol.

I am indeed pampered that I have become so spoiled with the Dutch orderliness and uniformity in the roads.

Another pretty row of ladder and gable roof structures, and me holding the lamp post. On the right foto is MadamE resting in the sidewalk and caught in photography action, by me.

>>> There are boat trips in Brugge city center but there was always a long queue of excited tourists waiting in line. This is the same case with the popular horse-drawn carriage ride in the market square. The impatient side in us couldn’t be bothered so we decided to explore Brugge by foot. A lot better, it was.

Yours truly in the market square, with the Christmas Markets, Ice Skating Rink and Brugge’s Provincial Court (town hall) in neo-Gothic design.

>>> To those who are Dutch speakers, have you ever heard of the phrase, “Zoete dromen...”? Well, our amiable Belgian hotel owner, who speaks by the way 4 languages, Dutch, French, English and I believe German, and a charming one to add, parted us with this statement after dinner on our first night - “Zoete dromen dames…” [Sweet dreams ladies] he said, with a trail of the distinctive Flemish accent that I needed to get used to with during our short weekend getaway. We were like - Woah, what was that? What did he say again?

Umm, how shall I say this? In my 4+ years of living in this country, I have never ever heard of this phrase being casually said in the Netherlands. The Dutch would instead say, welterusten or the shortcut ‘trusten [have a good nights rest] or slaap lekker [sleep good]. Try googling zoete dromen and you will notice the hits are mostly Belgian websites. So when we heard it, MadamE and I giggled. A lot. We couldn’t stop giggling in our room.

Busy Christmas markets, well food markets I should say. I ordered gluhwein (mulled or glow wine) and a prawn kebab. Lekker (delicious)! On the right foto is another scenic representation of Brugge’s canals.

>>> The Belgian sales lady in the store where MadamE bought cookies was very taken at the fact that we speak Dutch and with a Dutch accent to boot, ha-ha. She said - not many foreigners would volunteer to learn the local language, which is obviously an issue in the Netherlands too.

>>> We were also just right on timing --- Last weekend was Kerst Shopping Weekend [Christmas Shopping Weekend] in Brugge. Needless to say, we came home with a couple of bags stashed away at the back of the car. I felt guilty for spending but with a persuasive, positive and energetic shopping companion like MadamE, all my guilt vanished right in front of me. Amazing it is. Now, I do not know if having her around is a plus point, or a ..., lol.

The horse drawn carriage ride is one of the popular ways for tourists to get familiar with Brugge. Vaulted arches in the outside hallways of the Belfry Tower.

>>> What is with the ATM’s in Brugge? ING and AXA do not accept international cards. I’ve always thought that Belgium is a stone’s throw away and is quite like a half twin sister of the Netherlands but why is it that my ABN Amro card does not even work in their ATM’s? Huh? (ABN Amro of course has a strong presence in Belgium). At any rate, you can quickly tell which ATM’s allow international card transactions, because they all have a very, very long queue of disgruntled looking people. You could actually take a nice and relaxing pedicure and manicure while waiting for your turn.

>>> I have not seen a supermarket in the center? MadamE and I wanted to buy the savory dried sausages the south of Belgium is famous for, but we couldn’t find any?

MadamE and I taking time to pose up for a souvenir foto; the right one is taken by this huge, modern, and quite impressive statues of fountain in ‘t Zand square (which is right above the underground parking place).

>>> Lastly, we just couldn’t believe our luck. The weather has been terribly dull, dreary and wet lately but during the weekend, we only had marvelous weather – lots of sun, clear blue skies, albeit a bit chilly, still, it was the perfect weather for the time of the year and for the weekend. The next day Monday, mister merry weather retired back to its dull, dreary and wet nook. Now, that’s what I call, real great timing!

Travel Period: December 2006
Destination: Bruges (West Flanders), Belgium

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