My next destination on the travelling agenda was somewhere I’m a little more familiar with – Bruges in Belgium (Brugge in Dutch). Situated in Flanders, the Flemish region where all my relatives come from, Bruges is often known as the “Venice of the North” due to its many canals encircling and crossing through the town centre. With quaint market squares, winding canals and impressive architecture, its picturesque postcard scenery makes it not only Belgium’s most popular destination, but one of the most visited medieval European cities in the Europe. Despite its reputation for being one of the best preserved medieval cities suspending it in a time from centuries and centuries ago, Guillaume and I couldn’t help but make continuous references to the classic ‘In Bruges’ with Colin Farrell…
Being familiar with the Flemish-Walloon clash in this small yet rather complex country, I was surprised at how willing everyone was to speak in French. I won’t go into explaining the long and complicated linguistic history of Belgium, though, for anyone who doesn’t know, there is a slight battle of pride on the front of the Flemish to kept Flanders a strictly Dutch-speaking region. However, it would seem that when it comes to tourism, the Flemish are quite willing to swallow their pride. Seeing as, from my observations, the vast majority of tourism comes from the French, it would be extremely foolish to greet French speakers in a cold and resentful manner. This was the first time of course I have seen Belgium from a tourist’s perspective, as I am usually with my Flemish family. I have always been taught from an early age that it is always better to speak in English rather than French in the Flemish region. The linguistic conflict has nothing to do with tourists quite obviously, though if a Walloon tried speaking French in a non-touristy Flemish region, they would not receive the same treatment. That being said, we did get one guy selling chips who rather coldly and bluntly replied in English when Guillaume ordered in French. Plus, due to the fact that I do look pretty Flemish, everyone addressed me in Dutch – unfortunately, having never been taught it by my mum, I cannot go much further than greetings and asking for things in shops.
Though I had been to Bruges once before, I was obviously far from being an expert on the town. Though, being fairly small, it is pretty easy to find your way around. We even walked from the station and found that our hostel was conveniently placed not too far from the centre. Plus, if you’re ever lost, there’s several monuments towering above the rest of the town which you can easily spot to get yourself situated. There’s the famous belfry for starters, a medieval bell tower which is one of the town’s most prominent symbols (and which also plays a large role in In Bruges as anyone who has seen it will know). It is possible to climb up its steep, narrow 366 step staircase and view the cityscape from 83 metres high. We were disappointed that student status does not grant free privileges as is the case for many historical sites and museums in Paris, however there was a discount. The view is worth a see; however the crazy gale force wind forced us to take shelter and retreat downstairs pretty quickly. Bruges is home to two large squares (Grote Market and Burg) which show off its impressively preserved medieval architecture, including numerous imposing churches and the eye-catching city hall. As I think I have mentioned before, I’m quite a fan of Northern European and especially Flemish architecture – it’s so distinctive from that which I see on a daily basis here in Paris.
And then, being half Belgian myself, I known too well that there is something else which the Flemish are well known for – their love of food. Chips, waffles, pancakes, beer and chocolate – sums up Belgium in one. Within my short stay I managed to fit everything in except a pannekoeken (pancake), though I’ll be back in August to visit my family for second helpings! We also went on a brewery tour, which kindled Guillaume’s secret love for Belgian beer. I’ve always said it was good; I drink beer only in Belgium after all!
As always, my travels around Europe this year continue – next entry on my adventuring down to the South of France to follow soon!