The smells, the sounds, the sights delight in Bruges
What, no Keukenhof post? The canals, and windmills and tulips speak for themselves really (see the best of photos in the gallery). I met a lovely woman from St. Louis, Missouri with whom I compared and shared photos. It was cold and windy, but mostly dry and occasionally sunny so a great day.
From Amsterdam I jumped on a train to Bruges (or Brugge in Flemish).
Ah Bruges! It thrills the senses from the moment you arrive! The scent of chocolate mingles with warm waffles on every other street corner. Church bells are punctuated by hooves clomping on cobble stones. And with no less than 41 churches in this little town, there’s a spire to admire every time you look up.
As it turns out, Belgium is known for more than just its chocolate, waffles and beer (Bruges has its fair share of breweries too). It is also known for its tapestries and lace. What Bruges lacks in rubber duck stores, it makes up for in stores selling tapestries (mostly cushion covers) and lace (mostly knick-knacks). Quality kitsch! If you look long enough, you might just find a Belgium tapestry featuring Belgium lace.
It’s not that hard to get lost in Bruges - it certainly came easy to me. But no matter where you find (or lose) yourself, you’re never far from one major landmark or another. If you can recognise one or two of the the various spires, you can re-orient yourself with the aid of your preferred map app. Bruges is full of tourists, and tourist traps, so there are advantages to losing yourself in one of the many little lanes and alleyways, as they can be a haven of peace as well as an opportunity for discovery.
One (or three) wrong turns and I found myself at Godshuis de Meulenaere established in 1613 - unfortunately, it was closed. I later read it is still and active English convent and home to a handful of Augustinian nuns - they do open to the public daily albeit it briefly.
Like many European cities, Bruges is rich in culture and history. But it has more charm than most, and if it has a seedy side I didn’t find it. I ticked off almost all the major ‘to do’ sites, activities and museums, and a few of the less visited ones too, including the surprising Adornes Domein, which dates back to 1429.
The medieval Adornes estate, located in a much quieter neighbourhood, consists of the Jerusalem Chapel, several almshouses (Godshuisen has 46 preserved almshouses), and a mansion. The estate has been owned by the same family since it was established by Anselm Adornes (originally from Genoa, Italy) for 17 generations. The residing generation (who, apparently, do live in the mansion - why wouldn’t they!) are the Count and Countess Maximilien de Limburg Stirum.
Anselm was a successful (read wealthy) trader, who was politically astute and devout, Generous too given the almshouses. He built his chapel based on the design of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and as chapels go, it’s pretty impressive (with a spire to compare to many in the centre of town). The pamphlet you receive along with your ticket states:
Remarkably, the Adornes estate has remained within the family since its foundation.
On the one hand, that is quite remarkable. But, on the other hand, offloading the estate might prove to be the more remarkable feat should the Count and Countess be so inclined… it turns out, the chapel is home to the remains of all preceding 16 generations of Adornes. If the family photos and burning (yes, lit!) candles in the little crypt in the bowels of the chapel are anything to go by, it would make for a very grim open house!
P.S. The hotel I stayed in was gorgeous and I thoroughly recommend it if Brugge is on your bucket list - Hotel de Orangerie. I found it and booked it via Qantas (paid in part with points… bonus!).
P.P.S. It doesnt’ take long to see and do everything there is to see and do in Bruges - which is a pity given how delightful it is. Still, retirement to holy orders might be back on the table as an option.