Bruges city centre is a marvellous Frankenstein of all great European cities. Here you’ll find a little of Venice, a smidge of Amsterdam, and a whole lot of Paris. Grand, gothic design is the face of this beautiful monster. From the intricately carved scale of the Belfry of Bruges, to the grand archway of McDonald’s, every building balances a certain aesthetic, one that’ll have you itching to retire to a café to write the great Belgian novel (and there really is a lot to write about).
The good people of Bruges, in their ridiculously cultured essence, are more than equipped to assist with any artistic endeavour. It’s a struggle to drop by a public building without being absorbed into a folk festival, food tasting or re-enactment of some sort. Tap your foot to folk tunes, scoff the food, down the wine, and embrace the passion Belgium has for its past. After all, any city willing to shut down its centre for an antique horse and carriage competition is alright by me.
In this sense, ignorance is bliss. Bruges is remarkable to experience ‘blind’. In a city draped in its own history, the less you know, the more you have to discover. After all, this is a city of historians, most of whom enjoy discussing their peculiarities. Boat tours are a neat way of speedily digesting much of what’s on offer. Afterwards, take a stroll through the central markets, glare on in disbelief as old-timers churn out books, wooden spoons and weird pastries by hand. Next, wander antique stalls, pick yourself up a thimble, pocket-watch or Nazi army helmet. Tie everything off with a drink at a market square alfresco. Outdoor heating and good service makes for the perfect environment to enjoy whatever cultural showcase is unfolding nearby.
This really is a city that offers the full-packaged, European experience without the bustle. For reasons unknown, Bruges doesn’t quite draw the attention of the waterways of Venice, the architecture of Amsterdam or the heritage of Paris. Bruges, for now, is largely a steal of the older generation. Popular with retirees, this costal gem remains unmined by millennials. But surely it’s only a matter of time before we give our elders the benefit of the doubt and let ourselves wander beyond the ‘same-old’, to experience a road, a Europe less travelled.