A charming Belgian town, painted in copper and chocolate shades, will easily make you think you are taken back in the past times. Authentic medieval architecture, compact buildings, flower markets at squares, lace motifs, avenues of willows along the canal banks which reflect in the water, the sound of horse carriages in the narrow, cobbled streets.
All of these sounds and images subtly take you back in time, especially if you visit Bruges on car-free Sunday. Then you can freely explore the city in several ways – by boat, on foot or by bike. There are no traffic jams, but instead you will encounter hordes of tourists who are on the mission of discovering the hidden treasures of Bruges carrying the camera in their hands and an expression of delight on their faces. Many of the three million tourists that visit the city each year, enter it through Kruispoort, the city gate through which Napoleon and other famous military leaders once used to march through. Then, setting foot at this open-air museum, you start wondering – “What time does Bruges close?”. But Bruges does not close. There live, educate and work around 117.000 inhabitants. Although they are Flemish origin, apart from Dutch, they speak French, which emphasize their social and intellectual status.
From 2000, the historical core of the city has been on the UNESCO list of cultural heritage, and much of the medieval architecture has retained its original appearance. Notre Dame, one of the tallest buildings made of yellow brick, represents the harmony of architectural styles, primarily Romanesque and Gothic. The reason more why large number of tourists pay 4 euros to peek inside of the church and get to see the marble statue of Madonna, the only Michelangelo’s artwork that left Italy during his lifetime.
Only a few meters away, a cobbled pavement is leading you to the Diamond Museum. In Bruges the diamonds were traded long before they were traded in Amsterdam or Antwerp. A large number of artisans were engaged in this business back in the fourteenth century, and in 1999, the city got its own museum with a permanent exhibition that runs through the history of tools for making diamonds, the jewelry collection, and finally, a collection of processed and unprocessed diamonds. In a small workshop, you will learn that the diamonds can be found in 9 forms, the carat is a measure of their weight (1 carat = 0.2 g), they are polished so they have 57 facets, and the price of a diamond depends on its color. For instance, one carat of ruby diamond costs roughly one million euros. In case you do not have that much money with yourself, you can still buy a diamond-shaped souvenir for just 2 euros.
At the square in the historic center of the city, rises Belfort, a bell tower built in the thirteenth century. At first it was used as a treasury, municipal archives and the observation point, but today it serves tourists as a spectacular viewpoint that justifies all the time you spend waiting in line to enjoy in this respect, as well as not-so-cheap ticket price of 8 euros. The tower is leaning one meter eastwards, but even though you are standing at a height of 83 meters, almost at the very top, you do not have a sense of imbalance. From there, from another perspective, you can experience the winding streets, house roofs, bridges, after which the town was actually named, and the romantic canals along which today tourist boats sail, which succeeded the trading ships from the past.
After climbing down the Belfort, carrying a handful of pretty pictures, both digital and mental, you can make yourself comfortable in one of the restaurants “with a view” at the Markt square. While eating rabbit in beer sauce with prunes and drinking “Kriek”, you can slowly summarize the impressions of the day spent in Bruges. The word I would use first to describe this town is “magical”, especially in the morning of the last day of the week when everything that can be heard at the streets is the muffled sound of horse shoes.
In the eternal quest to bring order to chaos.