366 steps


Walking into the city center of Bruges (Brugge) is like being transported into the pages of a Sleeping Beauty story. Disneyworld is not the happiest place on earth.  Bruges is.

Its historic center a Unesco designated World Heritage Site (WHS), Bruges is the capital of the province of West Flanders in Belgium. The city center is home to about 20,000 people but on the sunny day that I visit, it feels as if there were 10 tourists to every one local person, making for very crowded quarters. For a place that’s so jam packed, it is incredibly well preserved, maintaining historical integrity in every way, and amazingly organized. It is a case of knowing how to marry tourism with preservation. Other WHS cities should take note.

Its main square is one of the most impressive in Europe. When I look at the architecture around this square, I can almost visualize the knights in full regalia atop their horses and the noblewomen strolling, showing off their best gowns. I suppose if this were Disneyworld I might be able to find someone in costume.  But for the moment, let’s just enjoy this medieval gem of a town:


I’ve always had an annoying fear of heights but where there’s a bird’s eye view to catch, I have to swallow my fear and get the shot.  The fear is heightened (all puns intended) when there are spiral staircases involved. So this day I have a big problem: there are 366 narrow, spirally steps to the top of the belfry. That’s 366 up and then 366 down. 

To get to the top of the tower, I enter the courtyard of the belfry…


…then pause to contemplate my decision on going up to the top on a very windy day. Actually I sit down here for a while because my head is spinning and my heart is pounding just from the idea of it. But look at the size of the door behind me!


So I tell myself maybe it’s enough to just take a picture of the tower without having to go to the very top…


But then I see a much older couple get in line to make the ascent, and I can’t stand it. Can’t stand myself. Fear or no fear, I’m going up!

It’s worth all 366 scary steps:


Pay close attention to the pruned trees that line one of the streets you see below:


The mechanisms behind the bells:


Here are the sights and sounds at the carillon:



I later find out that Belgium has the singlemost number of active belfries in the world. About an hour or so later, I am happy to be back on the ground below to check out the canal that I have just seen from above, this time safely from a boat:


During the ride we pass by a flea market that’s taking place on a bridge:


I wish the guide would let me hop off the boat at this point so I can scour the market for trinkets. Of course he doesn’t. Then I see a horse drawn carriage crossing yet another bridge:


Again, I wish I could jump off the boat and go ride in the carriage. That’s always the problem with being in Disneyworld. You want to go on all the rides.

After a late lunch, I wander around the city and come to this street…do the trees look familiar to you?


I finally reach the Beguinage, which literally feels like the calm in the center of a tourist tornado. The visitors who descend upon this garden shaded by poplar trees are reminded to walk around the grounds in silence. I am relieved to not have the noise interfere with the solemnity of this place. The Beguinage was founded in 1245 and since 1937 remains a monastery for the Benedictine sisters.  The capitalist in me thinks this place could be turned into an upscale mixed-use project. The history lover in me prays no one with deep enough pockets would ever do such a thing.


This picture is taken inside another, albeit much smaller, hofje:


There’s daylight till around 9pm in Europe. So as if the full day in Bruges weren’t enough sensory excitement, we make a pit stop at the North Sea on the way back. It’s freezing cold but the shimmery shades of silver and blue just before dusk make for a picture perfect ending to a wonderful day:

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