Monday, 29 August 2011

Days 23-24: Brugge

In my general life I typically regard train journeys as being a somewhat boring necessity. If I need to go somewhere I take the train, and I accept that I'll be sat in a seat for an hour or two without much useful or entertaining to do. I'm sure that the majority of people feel pretty much the same way.

By the fourth week of travelling you get to the point where the train journeys are actually pretty welcome. After burning through cities you have a forced few hours where you sit and listen to music or watch TV on netbooks and you can take a break without feeling like you're missing out on anything.

My first real impression of Brugge (or Bruges or Br├╝gge depending on the language you speak) is that it is astonishingly pretty. The buildings and cobbled streets feel old without being particularly dilapidated or crumbly (probably because a lot of them actually aren't that old), and the whole town is clean and relatively unindustrialised. The place felt remarkably like Cambridge, only clearly continental, and without the narrow, claustrophobic streets. It's also, like Cambridge, not a particularly big city, and it doesn't take long to walk from one side to the other.

We had tourist maps from the hostel, and spent the afternoon wandering around and seeing the many sights of Brugge.

(for once this is the building that's wonky, not my photo)

My other main memory for Brugge is that the restaurants are bloody expensive. Even fairly simple stuff like Spag Bol and Margheritas pizza broke well over the €10 mark, and eating out was easily more expensive than anywhere we'd been so far.

On the other hand, drinking was somewhat cheaper than the surrounding countries, and we found a pretty small pub called The Crash, which was pretty well-priced and had a pretty good rock-based playlist on the speakers.

Our first stop the next day was the Groeningemuseum, a gallery consisting mostly of fairly old Flemish paintings. Generally I don't have a particularly great appreciation for any art that's pre-1850, and I find most of it fairly boring. I can appreciate the skill on the part of the artists in recreating the likeness of stuff, but in terms of the paintings themselves as a spectacle it doesn't really do much for me. That said, the gallery was only €1 for students, and there was some more modern stuff in there as well that I quite liked.

From there we headed east, where there were windmills.

From there we ventured back into the centre of the city, and to the belfry in the main square. The view from the top is pretty spectacular, as expected, but there's also a really cool carillon at the centre of the tower, with a huge rotating drum (like the ones in self-playing pianos) connected by wires to about fifty bells above. I happened to be up there at one of the quarters of the hour, when it springs into life and rings out quite a complex melody on the bells.

Pretty much the instant I got down from the tower, the heavens opened, and we spent the rest of the afternoon cooped up inside the hostel with a pretty epic thunderstorm raging outside. It caused complete havoc at a nearby festival, so I didn't feel too bad about not staying outside to see more stuff.

We managed to save some money on the evening's dinner by eating at a pasta place opposite the hostel. I've never seen them in the UK, but they're fairly common in the area, and basically sell take-out pasta boxes which are reasonably cheap. Probably still a tad pricey for how easy it actually is to make pasta and a pesto sauce, but we didn't really have the option to cook ourselves, and it was good enough for a meal.

I really liked Brugge, and I reckon it's a place I'll probably go back to at some point. I don't feel like there was a huge amount that we didn't see, but it was still really nice, and I'd especially love to have a cycle around the city and the surrounding area.

Next stop, Paris (via Brussels).

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