Bruges (Brugge in Flemish) is called "the Venice of Northern Europe". Wateways cut across the city just like Venice. The city is as pretty as they come in Europe. Its an hour and half from Brussels. A convenient day trip by bus (picked up from hotel) was tempting. After 2 days of what are called "bus tours" I am a little disenchanted with them. They are the most convenient for a family with a toddler. We get picked up at hotel (especially when you stay at some hotel like Hilton), we are dropped back at our door step. No need to get train tickets, to and fro stations, etc BUT these tour guides will take you to places like unncessary shopping just to line their pockets. In a 5 hour trip we lost precious time because our tour guide took everyone to a chocolate shop, this to people coming from Brussels, total waste. He kept winding through the same monastery garden twice. Charming as it was, it was just an unkempt garden nothing great. During the Amsterdam trip instead of giving us an hour extra to go places the tour guide took us to a humdrum craft store which people used more for the restroom than anything else since the 3 hour return trip was non-stop.
The two chief places in Bruges are "church of our lady" and "Basilica of blood". We managed to visit "church of our lady". This church is known for just one thing, a statue by Michaelangelo. As anything by Michaelangelo the statue of "Madonna and The Child" is exquisite. I am no art critic so I shall stop with that but what kicked up my curiosity was that the statue was made in 1504. Imagine this. An Italian sculptor is known across the continent in 1500's so much that the local aristocrat goes to great lengths (its 1504) to acquire a sculpture by him and bring it to Bruges. In his book "Geography of thought" Nisbet argues that a Greek would love to travel just to see a play or a performance. Nisbet calls that a typical 'western mind'. An oriental mind would not do that and would rather prefer to see "the world in a grain of sand".
During our walk around the city we saw a woman by the door knitting a lace. She was using 100+ spindles. We snapped away but she did not lift her head once. Apparently they are arranged to showcase the talent and merchandise of Bruges.
Rowena then wanted to go on a boat ride. Given the time crunch I had to sacrifice "Basilica of blood". Flowers, flowers, flowers everywhere for the europeans. Everywhere you turn its made for picture post cards. These places are a photographer's delight. Cruising the waterways behind the houses we saw snippets of Bruges household life. Most curtains were of the 'lace' kind. People enjoy having lunch/dinner out on the backyard overlooking waterways. Everybody looked like they are in no rush. THe laid out table was always perfect with flatware and wine goblets.Bruges is to Belgium what Lucerne is to Switzerland. Better to stay in Bruges than in Brussels, the hotels are swanky.Yet again the food at a local "Brasserie Vivaldi" was just too good.
The highlight of the boat trip was retrieving a hat. A tourist on the street lost his hat to the wind. Our good boatman decided that it was his duty to retrieve the soggy hat. He manouvered the boat, used his ubmrella as stick etc and did finally toss the hat back to the amused tourist on the ground above us. I was perplexed because my bus was waiting also the back and forth in a tiny canoe filled with people was not a great idea. Apparently there are no tort lawyers in Europe (or Bruges at least). The boat would not be allowed license in USA. No life jackets, we do not sign any waivers, the canals with low clearances had no warning notices. The whole scenery was simply unaffected by litigation concerns.
Our next trips around Brussels and Cologne we decided to do it ourselves. Lets see how that turns out.