Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Bruges wasn't built in a day

After a fitful night's sleep and another one of Veronique's seriously sustaining breakfasts, we were ready to embark on our next adventure.

It was the 4th of February, and the day of our Anniversary, but also our last full day at the B&B, as we would be travelling back home the next day.

The temperature had taken a dive, and at only about 5° Celsius, I needed to dress appropriately for a day of being out and about. Enter this dress, which combines the funkiest of prints with a polyester knit fabric warm enough to withstand the chilly wind which had reared its head overnight.

My legs were kept snuggly by my thick orange opaques and the insulating layer of wool inside my chocolate brown boots helped to keep my calves and feet warm as well.

You've seen all my accessories, from the tan leather belt to the ring and beaded necklace, before. That particular necklace is fast becoming a firm favourite, as I seem to be wearing it all the time.

I wore a cardigan on top, obviously, but we didn't take any outfit pictures beyond these, so that I can not even show you my outerwear, starring my beloved Princess coat.

Rain had been forecasted for the afternoon, and on top of that, an icy, eye-stinging wind was greeting us when we emerged from the car park, so that we shelved any outdoor plans for the day.

Making our way to the Burg, we thought it was about time we explored the inside of the splendid buildings lining this square, and which had stopped us in our tracks each time we passed through.

Tucked away in a corner of the square is the Basilica of the Holy Blood, its dark Gothic façade richly decorated with gilded statuettes.

The basilica's flamboyant façade is actually a 16th century staircase which connects two chapels: the lower St. Basil Chapel and the upper Holy Blood Chapel, in which the relic of the holy blood is preserved. But more about that later.

The two chapels could not be more different: the Romanesque lower chapel, dating from the first half of the twelfth century, is austere with very little decoration (above), while the Gothic upper chapel is alive with colour and detail. 

The upper chapel was originally Romanesque as well, but was rebuilt during the 16th century as well as renovated multiple times during the 19th century in Neo-Gothic style.

It is lit by stained glass windows and covered with murals depicting the relic's journey to Bruges, but as these were being restored and thus covered in scaffolding, I had to resort to the almighty Internet for the photo on the top left of the below collage, as well as the one of the priest holding the relic on the bottom right.

The Holy Blood relic is embedded in a rock-crystal vial, which is placed inside a small glass cylinder capped with a golden crown at each end. The vial allegedly contains cloth stained with the actual blood of Christ.  Legend has it that following the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea wiped blood from the body of Christ and the cloth was preserved. It was then brought back by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders, in the 12th Century.

The chapel is open daily to visitors who wish to view the relic, and there are services for the veneration of the Holy Blood throughout the day, at the end of which the congregation are invited to file past the altar, look at the relic and touch it. This procession seemed to be going on while we were there, but we didn't feel the need to join in, so we turned heel and left.

Next door to the basilica is Bruges' City Hall, which was completed in 1421, one of the oldest in the Low Countries. The façade is richly decorated with Gothic windows, towers, statues and the coat of arms of subordinate towns. 

Inside, a ceremonial staircase leads from the entrance hall to the first floor, where you can visit the lavishly decorated Gothic Hall.

The impressive double vaulted timber ceiling is absolutely stunning, as are the walls, which are painted with scenes relating the history of the city. 

The medallions in the bosses show New Testament scenes, prophets, evangelists and saints, while the decoration of the corbels supporting the roof reflect natural and seasonal themes.

But don't be deceived as the so-called Gothic Hall actually isn't Gothic at all, but Neo-Gothic. After a fire turned the interior largely to rubble, it had to be refurbished, a project which started in 1890 and was finished in 1905. 

Included in the entry fee for the hall is a visit to next door's mansion, known as the Liberty of Bruges, from which the countryside in a wide area around the city was once governed. The building functioned as a court of justice between 1795 and 1984 and today houses the City Archives.

The gold-trimmed building is a real eye-catcher, with several gilded statues sparkling on its roof.

But its real jewel lies inside, in the Liberty's former court room, which has been restored to its original 16th-century condition.

It has a monumental timber, marble and alabaster fireplace dating from 1528, a tribute to Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), who visited Bruges in 1515.

Impressive though it was, I mostly had eyes for the enchanting wall paintings lining the room below the dado rail.

Our heads were reeling from all that splendour by now, so that lunch provided a more than welcome break.

The weather had turned even colder by the time we left the restaurant, and rain clouds seemed to be gathering, but our next destination, the Gruuthusemuseum, was thankfully only a short walk away.

The museum, which has recently re-opened after five years of extensive renovations, is situated behind the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady) which dominates the city's skyline.

The impressive city mansion the museum is housed in belonged to one of the richest families of the medieval city, the Gruuthuse family, who made their fortune with peeled barley or wheat, the main ingredient for beer-brewing in the Middle Ages. 

Originally built in 1425, it was later expanded under Lodewick van Gruuthuse, a high-ranking official at the Burgundian court and one of the richest men in Bruges. In the late 19th century, the centuries-old landmark was thoroughly restored, again in Neo-Gothic style, by city architect Louis Delacenserie. 

With its intricate stonework, decorative roof gables and belvedere tower, the museum is one of the most beautiful sites in Bruges.

On this quiet February day there was no need to queue for tickets, but I'm sure it would have been quite a different story at any other time of year. 

In fact, we were able to roam the museum's succession of rooms, laid out over three floors, at ease, and often had a room completely to ourselves. 

Our journey took us through three crucial periods in the rich history of Bruges, from the time of its Burgundian heyday, followed by the lesser known 17th and 18th centuries, to the historical reinvention of Bruges in the 19th century Neo-Gothic style that is so typical of the city today.

These three periods are brought to life with more than 600 exhibits, including tapestries, unique Gothic stained glass, elegant wooden sculptures, historical lace, paintings, Burgundian manuscripts, exquisite pieces of furniture, silver and porcelain.

During our explorations, we looked out for, and found, Bruges' smallest Gothic window, (above, top right) which can be spotted outside when looking up from the picturesque Bonifacius bridge in the courtyard behind the museum. The stained glass, however, was found to be in a bad state of repair and had to be replaced during the recent renovations.

At one point we came across a small side room, where a row of  wigs were displayed on an ornate mantelpiece, with an invitation to try them on if you wished to. This was obviously meant for visiting children, but - also obviously - there was no way I wasn't going to oblige!

The room also contained a contraption which offered silhouette portrait opportunities.

The museum's absolute highlight is probably the authentic late 15th century oratory on the first floor, which connects the mansion with the Church of Our Lady, and which offers a view of the Gothic chancel of the church. This prayer chapel gave the Lords of Gruuthuse direct access to the church, illuminating the privilege and power of the mansion's medieval occupants. 

On the top right you can see a view of the oratory's windows taken from inside the church.

There is access to a loggia on the third floor, an extension with a balcony added in the 19th century, with a splendid bird's eye view over Bruges, and the courtyard with the tiny Bonifacius bridge in particular. This would be inundated with tourists at any other time of year, but was now surprisingly - or not so surprisingly given the inclement weather - empty.

After admiring the treasures displayed in the third floor rooms, we made our way back downstairs to retrieve our stuff from the lockers. Then we ventured outside and around the corner for a visit to the Church of Our Lady, entrance to which was included in the museum ticket price.

But we'd had enough of sightseeing by then, so we dutifully dragged ourselves around the church, barely noticing the wealth of art treasures and the 15th and 16th century tombs of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold.

Dodging the rain, which was falling steadily by now, we walked back to the car park, but not before treating ourselves to cappuccinos and apple and pears crumble in a cozy café.

So, that was it. Another travelogue finished. But do not despair as we've already got another little holiday up our sleeves. For this, however, you will have to wait until April!


  1. Crossing posting - hooray!!!
    That wig's a good look, I can see you fronting a 1980s hair metal band!!
    Bruges is gorgeous, if the exteriors of those historic buildings aren't fabulous enough I'm overwhelmed by the opulence and ornate interiors. Sometimes all that beauty is hard to take in, isn't it? I seem to see more when I look back at the photos I've taken.
    I remember studying Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold at school, I'd have been thrilled to see their tombs.
    It sounds like Rajasthan and Bruges shared the same temperatures. Your Moroccan tile print dress was a stylish but cosy choice.
    I can't wait for your next adventure! xxx

    PS Happy anniversary to you and Jos!

    1. Your comment about the 1980s metal band had me in stitches. So true! And you're absolutely right about all that beauty being hard to take in. Doing all that in one day was quite overwhelming for the senses! xxx

  2. The Gothic and Neo-gothic buildings are very impressive, quite a feast for the eyes.
    I did a double take when I saw you in the wig! xxx

    1. Thank you Sally! It was too tempting not to try on that wig :-) xxx

  3. What a very interesting buildings. I love the historic stories they hide! Where are you going to in April?

    1. I love finding out the hidden stories of buildings! And, letting you in on a secret, we will be going back to Zeeland in April. The UK holiday has been planned for June! xxx

  4. OOOh, you've shown so many beautiful aspects of Bruges!!! Fascinating details too! I want to go back!

    1. Thank you Kezzie, if you do go back, January and February are idea to avoid the crowds! xxx

  5. Bruges is amazing. Thank you for charing Ann. We never been in Bruges, only in Gent. Gent was amazing, too.
    Hach traveling is wonderful.
    A very huge hug and kisses from Thailand, Tina

    1. Thank you Tina, and I hope all went well on your return journey. I agree, Gent is nice too, I used to have a friend who studied at the university there, but I haven't been back for a long time! xxx

  6. Oh, wow, that's just overwhelming in its splendour, all of it! I love visiting museums and churches, but I get "arted out" very quickly, as my brain becomes overfull of images and art and beauty.

    Is your dress actually a print, or is it woven in that pattern? It's really lovely. Thank you so much for sharing these trips with us! The photos and history are wonderful.

    One day to go, Ann!

    1. Thank you Sheila, and yes, I get "arted out" quickly too. It was just too much to take in in the space of one day. The dress's pattern is actually woven in. I love that one very much and it's perfecter for colder days! xxx

  7. oh my gosh. i have to plan a "picknick" in brügge myself. so gorgeous......
    i even would cope with more tourists to have a look at so much beauty.
    love your dress which reminds me of antique tiles somehow.... how fun is that wig! :-D
    big hugs! xxxxx

    1. I'd love to join you on your picnic if you ever come to Bruges! xxx

  8. How wonderful Bruges looks! The buildings are beautiful and what fabulous interiors. It seems the sort of place that one could never get enough of.

    I loved your outfit and the beads especially - they're lovely.

    It was as cold today in Bedford as you describe for your day in Bruges; plus we had snow this morning!

    Have a lovely weekend.

    1. Thank you Vronni. We've been back to Bruges so many times now, and there's always something new to discover. We had a tiny bit of snow last week, but it thankfully didn't stick! xxx

  9. I can see why that beaded necklace is a favourite of yours, it's stunning. I love the printed dress you wore it as well. The orange tights are gorgeous and it is good you added some wool in the mix. The boots are lovely as well. It looks you were all warm and cozy, dressed appropriately for the cold weather. It is always good to dress warmly.

    I sometimes wear regular socks under my tights. It helps to keep my feet warmer. Moreover, I often buy boots with intention of wearing them with socks ( I mean I try them on with socks) so wearing them with only tights makes them a bit big.

    The Basilica of Holy Blood is such a beauty. It was fascinating to read about it history and so lovely to see shots from the inside. Bruges has so many wonderful historical buildings, thanks for sharing them with us.

    1. Thank you Beate! No need to sacrifice elegance over comfort, there's always a way to get dressed up warmly! I always wear socks over my tights, never though to wear them underneath ... xxx

    2. I find it is really much more comfortable that way.

  10. The wig is great but I would never wear it. IIiiigh! ;-)

    1. You might be right there: I did wash my hair when we got back to the B&B :-) xxx

  11. Thank you so much for your visit to my blog and your comment.

    What stunning photos of your trip. I love that there was so much detail to enjoy.

  12. What a wonderful trip it was! Thank you for taking us along virtually.

  13. Thankyou for the final chapter of your travelogue in Bruges. It's splendour is a lot to take in! I would have been very tempted to have a look at the crystal vial in The Basilica of the Holy Blood.

    I had a giggle at you in the wig! As usual, your choice of attire for sightseeing is absolutely splendid!

    1. We'll leave the vial for another visit, when all the scaffolding has gone in the chapel! xxx

  14. Your dress looks beautiful and the wig very fun! Such beautiful buildings, so nice to see the pics you took inside :)

    Hope that you are having a great weekend :) We spent the day with my mum yesterday shopping the sales for the leap day (and getting some great toy bargains we've put away for the kids birthdays!)

    Away From Blue

    1. Thank you Mica, I had absolutely no idea you had leap day sales! xxx

  15. Extraordinary engaging, beautiful, evocative settings. They stop you clear in your tracks and take your breath away at the speed of light.

    ♥ Autumn

  16. What better way to send a cold blustery day? It's all so stunning, I wonder how you manage to take it all in in one day!

    1. I know Hazel, we will have to revisit the museum at the very least, as it was all a bit overwhelming! xxx