After a four-hour train ride from Amsterdam, we pulled our suitcases off the platform in yet another new country, regretting our 6th hotel switch and 9th city of the trip. Into a taxi we went, and pulled onto a motorway as ordinary as peanut butter. In the words of Charlie Brown: good grief.
But, we were wrong.
We pulled into a city that I can’t wait to mosey around again here on the blog. For starters, we stayed in the historic house of a stained-glass artist. Around the corner, and just about every corner in town, was a cathedral. Around every other corner was a glossed canal.
Walker’s reaction was unprecedented. He’s traveled a lot more than I have, and I'm usually the one pointing out palm trees and weird grasses. He was ecstatic. I couldn’t get him to stop talking about how fantastic this town was, how to get here from America someday, and on and on. But, I agreed, whispering thanks to Rick Steves for directing us away from Brussels.
Before I get carried away with this town of swans bobbing by our boat tour like a Disney set, let me give you the low-down.
Bruges, a port city in Belgium, is the capital of the region called Flanders. Once the center of commerce in Europe, it is now a quiet town surrounded by farms. It seems the main businesses are chocolate, cafes, and tourist boats.
We ignored the museums, this time, and took a local’s advice: a walk---across town, past ancient Flemish gates, through a long, narrow park of windmills along a canal. The local had told us there would be many seductions along the way. We gathered these were the many arched bridges and cozy side-streets,
as well as the gorgeous town square with not a single pigeon. Celestial!
We were floating on the warm, fresh air, and loving every second of this place.
Having already taken planes, trains, cars, vans, horse-carriage, and our walkin’ legs, we stopped by a bicycle shop, and off we went over bumpy roads (my hands hurt from reigning in the poor bike, and I was left to wonder how Tour de France guys do that with thin tires) toward the farmland. We peddled through the city walls behind, waited for a drawbridge to go up and down, and were off through the country (sans camera).
Past windmills (that still run in the summer),
we ended up riding through neon green grass, past massive white cows with perfect black spots, butterflies and a canal lined for miles with perfectly spaced trees. We even rang our bike bells at each other (flirt alert?) and the cows. I may have mooed at the cows in my ecstatic state. Walker on the other hand, attracted a fenced-in (thank goodness!) turkey which gobbled at him well after we had sped on to get our little puffy donuts and pannekoeken (crepes).
The small houses with picturesque yards full of wildflowers and goats make me feel like walking up with a basket and asking for eggs. But, I'd forgotten my bonnet. Wholesome, the whole countryside felt so deeply wholesome. It did us good.
That warm, fresh air (with a side of bugs-in-the-mouth as we cycled) perked us up, and in one day, we would’ve have traded Bruges for anywhere in Europe.
Here are some of my love-its from Bruges:
Lots of kids. They biked past us, rolled down hills by windmills, licked ice cream cones around town. The willowy little girls wore darling cotton dresses. They were happy, and they were allowed to be kids, and in a town with a chocolate museum, I'd expect nothing less.
Walker is the reigning champion of tree-photography in our home, but the fresh light cloud of spring green hovered over us in the form of baby leaves, and I was addicted. I couldn't stop shooting their lovely contrast with bricks.
Movie-set lighting. It makes sense that they (the ambiguous 'they', as we have no idea whom) were filming a movie while we were there: the town has a glow. The sun seemed to set for hours upon hours in the evenings and in this photographer’s amusement park, with light beaming around corners and canals sharing glassy reflections of lovely homes.
Every restaurant advertised it. Flanders is crazy for local asparagus when its fresh, and whole entrees are devoted to its adoration. In the evening, we sat out under a creamy-modern awning eating our fresh white asparagus with French egg sauces, and feeling completely at ease. (Sorry, we don't bring the camera to din-din, but it was tender, so tender it dissolved under the fork.)
This should be a destination wedding location. The town, with its excessive swan population and proliferation of churches, literally rang bells for half an hour at a time, several times a day.
Ducklings makin' their way.
These little guys would get behind in distraction and then suddenly zoom over to their mama: the cutest thing I've seen in ages.
A beguinage was a community similar to a convent, established about 800 years ago. 18 nuns still live on the property, and the light shone onto the field of daffodils in this place of silence.
This stepped roofing is what makes Bruges' architecture distinctive. I like.
Wrapping up the afternoon, the trip, with waffles.
So, while Walker is figuring out the most efficient way to get to Bruges on the TGV (some fast-train), I'll keep dreaming of the perfect cafes, the crisp waffles, the clean air, and the Flemish colour party everywhere.
That and the joy flowing down in the rays.