Having woken up to an utterly grey and ominously clouded morning, the first drops of rain starting falling while we were having breakfast.
Not to be deterred, we dressed warmly (I'd switched to my Winter coat at that point), grabbed our umbrellas and drove down to Bruges, where we managed to find a spot at the car park near the station. You're getting a really good deal here: not only are you paying a maximum of € 3,50 for 24 hours, your ticket entitles you to free public transport to the town centre for up to four people.
|Still raining ... look, there's our bus!|
Soon we climbed aboard a crowded bus, which dropped us off at the Dijver, one of Bruges' most popular canals, by which time the rain seemed to be petering out.
Much photographed, the romantic Rozenhoedkaai, where the Dijver meets another of Bruges' canals, the Groenerei, was a mooring place for ships back in the late Middle Ages.
Needless to say, the crowds were thick here, with groups of people waiting outside the museums, accompanied by guides speaking every language under the sun, or queuing on the landing stages for a boat trip on Bruges' picturesque canals.
But we had our own agenda, which involved dodging the crowds (in as far as possible) and doing our own thing, wandering the city streets wherever our feet would take us.
From the Dijver, we entered an archway leading into the compact Arents Courtyard, surrounded by the Arentshuis after which it was named and which has temporary exhibitions of fine art, the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady), and the Gruuthuse Museum, known for its superb collection of 16th and 17th century tapestries, next door.
In the far corner of the courtyard is the tiniest of humpbacked bridges, St. Bonifaciusbrug, which is one of Bruges' most picturesque and certainly most photographed bridges. No photograph was taken, alas, as the bridge was full of people brandishing selfie sticks. I wonder if any of them realized that the bridge, which is looking decidedly medieval, was only built in 1910?
Looking upwards, we could see Bruges' smallest Gothic window (top left in the collage below), from which the Gruuthuse family used to keep watch on their landing stage below.
Immediately after crossing the bridge (which was't easy because, you know, selfie stick people), we passed through a gate leading to a quiet back street, where we admired two pink stuccoed Art Nouveau inspired houses dating from 1904.
The relative quietness was quite short lived as the end of the narrow cobbled street was blocked by people queuing at the entrance of Sint-Janshospitaal (St. John’s Hospital) immediately opposite. This is one of the oldest preserved hospital buildings in Europe, where you can learn about hospital life in the past. The museum also owns six masterpieces by the Flemish primitive artist Hans Memling, as well as many religious paintings and sculptures.
All very interesting, but on a quiet(er) weekday perhaps?
The hospital backs onto the canal, another one of Bruges' much photographed corners, which you can admire on the bottom right.
Meanwhile, we had reached the inner sanctum of touristland, where shops selling tacky souvenirs, lace items and chocolate lined the streets cheek by jowl. Or perhaps you would care for a waffle on a stick?
Ambling towards the Begijnhof (Beguinage) we came across a couple of bronze horse sculptures adorning a horse trough. Some real life horses eating their lunch from a nosebag made us realize we were hungry so we went in search for a half-decent restaurant to have lunch in.
While we were there, we noticed that passers-by were carrying umbrellas, but having been to Wales, we weren't put off by a little bit of rain, so we continued our walk without opening the cumbersome things. Jos did have his cap, but I'd forgotten the beret I'd brought at our B&B.
After crossing a bridge and entering through a lavishly decorated gate (above, bottom right), the Beguinage enfolds as a rough circle of delightful whitewashed houses surrounding a central green.
The best time to visit is in Spring, when the green is carpeted by daffodils. The bulbs, a total of 8000, were presented to the Beguinage by a Mrs. Sander in 1936, and at their peek this obviously is another much photographed scene.
Most of them were faded and dying by now, but it was still a magical experience to be walking among them, which we later found out was strictly forbidden.
The sun was trying her best to break through the thick layer of grey, enhancing the ethereal atmosphere under the canopy of the slightly crooked elms dotting the green.
Although the sun was beating a rapid retreat, the rain had temporarily eased off, allowing us to circle the Beguinage, which was founded in 1245, and admire the individual houses at peace, helped by the fact that the place was relatively devoid of tourists.
One of the houses, Begijnhuisje, can be visited, providing a peek into Beguinage life. Look at me, being all devout and trying my hand at being a beguine! But the bed behind me was too short, even for "petite" me!
By then, it had started raining again, in earnest this time. The tranquil lake known as the Minnewater (freely translated as Lake of Love), with its resident colony of swans, was looking rather forlorn, with a hazy fog fading out the spire of the Church of Our Lady in the background.
Legend has it that if you walk across the Minnewater bridge and kiss your loved one, it will become eternal love. But oops, we forgot to kiss! A good thing then that we don't believe in that nonsense, although admittedly, it is a rather romantic thought!
The tower at one end of the bridge is called Poertoren (toren is the Flemish word for tower), which rises more than 18 metres above the water line. It was constructed in 1401 and is a remnant of the late-medieval city walls. At that time, the city used the tower to store its supply of gunpowder.
Back at the Markt, we dashed into Grand Café Craenenburg, one of the cafés lining the square, for a restorative if rather overpriced cup of Cappuccino.
Our umbrellas finally came out for our walk back to the bus stop. Even though it was a Sunday, quite a lot of the shops seemed to be trading. And look, isn't that a Think Twice shop over there?
There was no way I could pass the shop without having a browse, especially as it was near the end of the shop's sales and everything was € 3.
I might have gone a bit mad and splashed out on this flouncy frock!
See you soon for the final episode of my weekend in Bruges.
Linking to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style as usual.