Bruges: A gothic fairytale Print
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Friday, 14 January 2011 00:00

Friday, 14, Jan 2011 03:58

I've been dreaming of Bruges for two years. I've been dreaming about the north Belgian city ever since I heard it being described as a "fairytale town". But does Bruges cast an ancient spell of gallant knights and beautiful princesses? Or is it all make-believe with carriages returning to pumpkins at midnight?

We arrived in Bruge by train from Brussels, through the snow and past the giant steel wind turbines that dot the Flanders landscape. Two trains an hour run from Brussels Midi station, costing 12.90 euro for a single ticket. The train station is concrete and cold, and the view as you leave the station industrial, devoid of magic. We got a taxi into the old city (around 10 euro), and only after we entered the old city, did Bruges transform.

We were told that Bruges was easily walkable and despite the snow and ice encasing the cobbled roads and stone bridges, the place was still navigable by foot. Due to the lack of time and freezing weather, we focused on the centre and west of the city, containing the Gothic squares, semi-frosted canals, and terracotta brick buildings.

If you only have a few hours in Bruges, then the Markt and the Burg in the heart of the city is where you must go. We walked there along Steenhouwersdijk street next to the canal, turning right after the Vismarkt fish market, and down a narrow path between two giant walls.

Taking route means the Burg opening before you as you pass under an arch, with the patchwork of different architectures and buildings appearing in view.

To your left in the Burg is the gold-tipped Stadhuis (City Hall), with three strong turrets, mighty enough to hold an aging king's ransom. To your left is the Oude Griffie, an old county records office disguised as an royal wedding cake. And in the far corner is the Heilig Bloedbasiliek (Basilica of the Holy Blood), a place where the relic of Jesus's blood is kept, and a building where I imagine wicked witches cook up newts and puppies.

We then took the Breidelstraat, past the lace and chocolate shops, towards the Markt. In the market square, the Belford-Hallen (Belfry) stood over us. For a few euros, we paid to walk up the 366 steps to the top, stopping off first to warm up in stronghold within the tower, with the thick walls make to protect treasure shielding us from the arctic winds.

Past more rooms of with giant bells and massive clockwork cogs, the steep climb was rewarded with a good panoramic view of Bruges, where you can peer down at the plebeian hustle and bustle going about their daily business.

We then further west walked along the Steenstraat, where the spell was broken somewhat by new commercial store facades and the public sound system playing all the latest hits from the the 1990s, although there is a certain excitement in shopping for the perfect trinket.

But the best fairytales are dark in nature, and you can visualise things turning grim at the Sint-Salvatoreskathedraal (St Saviour's Cathedral), then southeast to the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady). Cold building with shadowy alcoves where monks plot revolutions and dark streets where priests confess their own sins.

However, a night time stroll along the Guuthusestr Dijver by the canal returns the romance, with Bruges lit up with spotlights, illuminating the water and brickwork.

And if you have a few hours the next morning, a walk to the Minnewater (Lake of Love) and surrounding park will make you think of princes and princesses, while a quiet moment in the grassy Begijnhof courtyard next to the park is enough to make you leave Bruges hopefully living happily ever after...

By Kwok Wan


Getting around in Bruges

If you don't feel like walking, then Bruges also has a bus system, with the number 1 bus especially handy as it hits the Burg, the Markt, the Begijnhof, and the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk amoungst others.

Taxis are available at the trains station and at the Markt.

If you're feeling energetic, you might want to try a bicycle tour with QuasiMundo Biketours or the Pink Bear.


Eating out in Bruges

For an inexpensive lunch, the excellent and fresh Gouden Karpel by the Vismarkt fish market provides a wonderful set menu everyday. If you miss lunch in the restaurant, the fish bar is open in the afternoon for a late lunch or early supper.

Crunchy, fluffy, and gorgeously sweet Belgium waffles are on the menu at the Carpe Diem cafe near the Begijnhof, with its rustic interior making it popular with crowds. Heart shaped sugar cubes are a cute touch too.

For drinks, the mecca for Belgium beer is the well known 't Brugs Beertje on Kemelstraat near the Sint-Salvatoreskathedraal, where around 300 beers are available for thirst adventurers.

And for a posh reward, foodies might want to try the three Michelin De Karmeliet on Langestraat, where top quality food and service is matched by top-end prices.


Hotels in Bruges

We stayed in the lovely, family-owned Patritius Hotel ( and converted mansion with a cosy old-world interior and very friendly owners.

Budget travellers could try the popular Bauhaus hostel (, where some private rooms are also available in addition to shared dorms.

Or those wishing to splash out might want to check out the De Orangerie (, a converted convent in the middle of town which overlooks one of prettiest canals in Bruges.

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