Our last stop in Europe was in a small village outside of Ghent. We were staying with Lien, a friend of a friend of ours back in the UK. From Brussels the journey was only short so we had the rest of the afternoon to visit some of the countryside around.
I borrowed a bicycle from Lien’s sister and cycled down the river Scheldt to a pretty little town called Oudenaarde. The cycle path followed the river all the way and soon enough I was away from the road and villages which was perfect. Jake met me with the motor bike and we slowly made our way back – him riding and me cycling – through the villages back to Lien’s house.
Brugge is known as the Venice of the north because of it myriad of canals and largely preserved historic centre. It is very beautiful and has it’s own unique charm, the houses are very much Belgian. It is quite a mix of different types of houses some are the very tall and narrow houses similar to that found in the Netherlands, however they are often bare brick rather than painted and others are much smaller.
Louise had found out about some ruins underneath the Grand Plaza hotel, and you can visit for free.
I didn’t expect much – from what if read online we were able to view the ruins of a huge church which stood on this spot in the 12th century. When we arrived, the receptionist pointed to a stairs and we gingerly went down. What we found was quite strange – they’d preserved what was left of the church but in doing so had turned it into a ‘feature’s of their hotel. Down here we found a function room in what would have been the main aisle and coffee machines and a cloakroom in adjacent chapels. Nevertheless, the information detailing the excavations was interesting and the remains of sarcophagus found here were beautifully painted.
I had found a free walking tour online and went off to do this while Jake went for an explore. The guide was fantastic – he took us through the city and as usual told all sorts of interesting but obscure stories relating to the city, the people and the buildings.
What was most interesting for me was that although the city is old a lot of the buildings were made to look old simply to encourage tourists. During the mid 1800’s the city became a popular tourist destination and when new buildings were built they imitated this old Medieval style so you’re never really sure if what your looking at is 500 years old or made to look 500 years old. Such as these below.
I had planned on finding a cafe as usual but I wanted to get out of the centre of the city and away from the hoards of tourists. In me search I ended up getting lost among the less busy streets of Brugge. It was really nice to go to an area that appeared only to have local people. It is still beautiful, all the houses are much the same as the centre but it’s peaceful and you can stop and look around without a crowd of others joining you.
My tour took me through the begijnhof. This is where, in the past, single lay women were able to safely live without taking any vows to an order. Here in Brugge, the begijnhof is a walled area which in the past included a chapel, areas to grow vegetables and its own mill. Here the women could be self sufficient.
Another of the freebies Louise was found was a harp concert. We weren’t too sure what to expect, so we arrived early thinking it would be busy. It wasn’t however, and only 8 of us made the crowd for this really beautiful concert. Luc Vanlaere – the artist – is amazing and can play seemingly any type of harp. He composes his music focusing on the resonance created and also plays various gongs and resonance bowls to emphasize the sounds coming from his harps.
On the tour we passed the largest canon in Europe – so big it has never been fired. Simply because they couldn’t move it or lift the cannonballs! Until recently the students in the city used it for another reason… new members of a fraternity or sorority must spend the night in the canon. Recently the local council blocked the canon to stop this because often, in winter, drunk students were falling asleep, getting hypothermia and ambulances repeatedly being called out. Fair enough really!
Another place we stopped at was ‘graffiti alley’. This is a dedicated space for graffiti artists (and everyone else) to paint legally. It was designated this after it was noted that the chemicals used to clean graffiti began to damage the old buildings. Rather than trying to fight against this alternative art they came up with this solution.