Bruges: The Stuff of Fairytales


If you have watched the movie “In Bruges” then you are well acquainted with the hilarious camaraderie between Ken and Ray, two paid hitmen who arrive in Bruges to await further instructions from their boss. This medieval town in Belgium welcomes them, shrouded in mist like a fairytale-land of absolute magic. Yet, Ray, played by Colin Farrell, keeps moaning about everything from the moment he arrives. His constant whining it is a brilliant act of comic relief to an otherwise thrilling tale of murder and violence. What makes his grumpiness so entertaining is the ridiculous idea that Bruges could ever be the cause of discontent.
Just an hour’s train ride away from central Brussels, Bruges greets you modestly as you exit the station, as if it were a place like any other. Then you arrive at the central square—The Markt—and as you raise your eyes upwards to gaze admiringly at the top of the Belfort tower, you start to think that this place is perhaps not like the rest after all.
You then look around more carefully and your eyes rest appreciatively on the quaint buildings facing the square. You find yourself smiling at the timeless sound of horses’ hooves on cobblestones as carriages from a bygone era pass by. This is when it hits you and your eyes truly open.
Everyone seems to wander around with a cheerful expression on their faces. Couples of all ages walk hand in hand and you decide to follow some of them, picking the ones that seem to walk more confidently as if they know where they’re going. Soon enough, you feel pleased with your choice as they lead you the back of the Belfort tower, because this is where the magic awaits.
Every lane in that direction will sooner or later lead you to the most enchanting canals. Houses are built on the very edge and often there is hardly a sidewalk to separate them from the water. Walls are covered in moss or draped with ivy and every stone bridge is an invitation to cross to the other side.
In the early morning, the Belfort tower is still shrouded in mist, but the rooftops at the lower levels of the skyline are glistening in the morning light and the serene waters sparkle gaily as if in greeting. It is no surprise that around Bruges, one can come across the most cheerful of tourists. Here, it is impossible not to find joy in one thing or another. There is something for everyone.
I last visited Bruges a couple of years ago during the Christmas season since I had been tipped off about the stalls and the ice rink that bring extra bustle and cheer to The Markt at this time of year. However, I remember having a great time on my first visit too a few years earlier during the spring when the flowers were in bloom and the warming sunlight added extra zest to the sightseeing experience.
For the art lovers, there are two major museums, the Groeninge and the Memling, full of late medieval art by various artists such as Jan Van Eyck and Hans Memling. There are several museums in Bruges and those who are truly insatiable for the arts can obtain a list at the tourist office located at The Burg, another central square close to The Markt.
For particularly active visitors who welcome the exertion, there is the Belfort—or belfry—tower. But, a word of warning: It is not for the faint hearted or the claustrophobic. The indoor spiral staircase seems to go up forever at no less than 366 steps. There are rooms at intermediate levels where visitors can stop to catch their breath before carrying on with their ascent. The view from the very top is spectacular and is definitely worth the trouble.
I personally never miss out on an opportunity to visit churches in historical towns and my findings in Bruges were most thrilling. First and foremost, there is The Basilica of The Holy Blood (Heilig Bloedbasiliek), a church that houses a precious holy relic: A phial that is said to contain drops of Christ’s blood. If you have watched the movie “In Bruges,” I bet you’re smirking right now.
One of the most comical scenes in the movie involves Ray begrudging Ken for making him visit this church. The truth, once again, is totally different. No one will fail to appreciate the beauty of this precious place of worship that was restored in Neo-Gothic style in the late 19th century. Make sure before you leave to visit this building’s hidden gem: St Basil’s chapel that is located underneath the Basilica. Although remarkably less ornate, it has a unique atmosphere and should not be missed.
The Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk) is also a must see. Its towering spire is a key landmark of the Bruges skyline. Although the exterior was built in an austere Gothic style, the interior is classically Gothic with touches of Baroque. This church is amazing in many ways, but the most fascinating thing about it is that surprisingly enough, it houses a unique treasure of Renaissance Italy: “Madonna and Child” (1504-1505) by the legendary Michelangelo.
Walking around Bruges is a rare treat for the amateur photographer. To take some of the most magical pictures you have ever hoped for, visit Minnewater, a tree-lined lake near Minnewaterpark. Horse carriages stop there for a short sustenance break. This is a great chance to photograph beautiful horses and the forever smiling carriage drivers, as well as the multitudes of swans and ducks on the canal. Catch two birds with one stone while you’re there and visit the Begijnhof as well with its eerie ancient walls and tree-lined expanses of greenery. This beautiful enclave almost feels haunted as it rises from the morning mist. Back in the 13th century, it used to house women (béguines) who were left single or widowed by the Crusades.
Bruges is a town of many delights and the local food and drink are not be an exception. There’s fresh seafood, traditional Belgian stews, and delicious beers of many different types such as Trappist, Kriek, or Lambic beer. I rather stuck happily with “Brugse Zot” which is brewed locally. The jester on its logo seems to welcome you on the menu at every bar and restaurant in town.
Staying in Bruges makes dinnertime an absolute luxury. Among the local dishes I enjoyed Waterzoi (creamy fish in broth), Vlaamze Stoverij (beef stew cooked in Belgian beer), Moules Marinière e frites (steamed mussels in wine with celery and French fries) and the indispensable Chicons au Gratin (chicory leaves wrapped in ham and baked with a cheese sauce). I highly recommend two specific restaurants: Singe D’ Or (Golden Monkey) in T. Zand Square where the seafood is fantastic and also Gran Kaffee De Passage in Dweersstraat 26. You’d do best to visit the latter after dark. The candlelit interior and the décor are enchanting while the food and drink are as fantastic as can possibly be. As for dessert, if you have a sweet tooth like me, you’ll find it hard to resist temptation in this town. Delicious Belgian chocolates and a wide selection of waffles are available everywhere you look.
Thinking about Bruges, one word comes predominantly to mind: Perfect. To be frank, there’s only one thing wrong with this town: The longer you stay there, the more your heart breaks when it’s time to leave it behind. It is truly difficult to adjust to your familiar, modern world afterwards. Still, as you settle into your daily routine, it is comforting to know that Bruges awaits you. The fairy tale will begin again someday, the moment you return.


About Author

Effrosyni Moschoudi was born and brought up in Athens, Greece. She has a BSc in Computer Science and has been writing since childhood. She lives in a quaint seaside town near Athens with her husband Andy and a naughty cat called Felix. Her debut novel, “The Necklace of Goddess Athena”, is a fantasy adventure of Greek myths and time travel that’s suitable for all ages. It has reached Amazon’s #1 in Mythology and #2 in Fairy tales. Her paranormal romance, “The Lady of the Pier - The Ebb”, is a quarter-finalist in the 2014 ABNA contest. You can find out more about Effrosyni and her writing on her blog: Come take a look at Effrosyni's latest book "The Necklace of Goddess Athena" on!

Comments are closed.