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Bruges (broozh) is the capital city of the Belgian province of West Flanders. Like a number of other cities in Europe, Bruges was once wealthy and important, fell upon hard times, and then found new life as a tourist magnet. Bruges’ years of glory occurred from the 12th to the 15th Century, when its location and port made it a perfect location for trade between northern European states and those of southern Europe. With all the money circulating, Bruges was an early adopter of financial innovations such as letters of credit and bills of exchange. The city is thought to have been the site of the world’s first stock exchange. But with its waterway to the sea (the Zwin channel) silting up and competition from other ports (especially Antwerp) heating up, Bruges faded into something of a backwater. It made a comeback in production of textiles and (especially) lace, but again its commercial importance dwindled toward irrelevancy. But toward the end of the 19th Century, travelers found themselves drawn to the city, largely because of the many attractive buildings constructed during the city’s golden years, which were well preserved. Bruges launched a concerted effort to attract tourism, and the rest is (literally) history. A new port (called Zeebrugge) was built, and in the last half of the 20th Century was expanded into what is again one of the most important ports in Europe. But the two million annual tourists who visit the city mostly aren’t interested in the port – they want to see the cool old stuff.

Belgium

Belgium
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And so did we. Travelling to Bruges from Brussels by train is quick and pretty inexpensive. It takes about an hour. The approximate halfway point is the city of Ghent, which apparently has tourist attractions of its own, but we didn’t see them. We did see an impressive parking lot for bicycles adjacent to the train station, though.

Bicycle Parking Lot, Ghent

Bicycle Parking Lot, Ghent
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The Bruges train station is located to the south of the city center, but there are frequent buses that travel from the station to the city’s central square, a square called the Markt.

With Bruges being situated in Flanders, it should be noted that the language of choice is Flemish (basically Dutch). This results in many place and street names that are difficult to read and pronounce for people from outside the area. Such people generally refer to the city by its French name (Bruges), rather than its local name (Brugge). (It doesn’t help that the Flemish name sounds like an antique automobile horn (broogah)). You may have noticed that I’m following this convention as well (apologies to the people of Flanders).

The Markt is a large square that is dominated by two structures – the neo-gothic Provincial Court Building (built in 1878), and a 270-foot tower called The Belfry, which is considerably older (more on The Belfry later). The Markt is also surrounded by picturesque shops and restaurants.


The Belfry
The Belfry
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Bob Photobombing Nella and Belfry
Bob Photobombing Nella and Belfry
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Provincial Court Building
Provincial Court Building
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Markt Square Restaurants
Markt Square Restaurants
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With our time limited, we didn’t linger in the Markt for very long – we headed out of the square for the first attraction we wanted to visit, the Groeninge Museum. On the way we encountered one of the canals of Bruges, called the Dijver canal. The canals have caused some to label Bruges "The Venice of the North". As readers of this site are aware, we’ve visited "The Venice of Italy", and we found the Italian canal system to be much more extensive. The Belgian canals are undeniably pretty, though.

Dijver Canal and Tower, Church of Our Lady
Dijver Canal and Tower, Church of Our Lady
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Rozenhoedkaai Area
Rozenhoedkaai Area
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Belfry and Wollestraat
Belfry and Wollestraat
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Building on Dijver Canal
Building on Dijver Canal
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We’d love to show you more of the Groeninge Museum – they have an impressive collection of Flemish art. But they also have a strict no-photos rule, so you’ll have to take our word for it (or look elsewhere – the paintings are all over the Internet). Here are a couple of pictures taken outside the museum:

Nella at Groeninge Museum
Nella at Groeninge Museum
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Statue Outside Groeninge Museum
Statue Outside Groeninge Museum
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Unmissable from the Groeninge Museum is the 400-foot tower of the nearby Church of Our Lady, a church that we decided to visit next. To get to the entrance we crossed a canal (a jog in the Dijver) using a bridge called the Bonifacius Bridge and passed through an archway into a courtyard shared by the church and the Gruuthusemuseum, a 15th Century mansion in which tapestries, furniture and coins are displayed.

Church of Our Lady

Church of Our Lady
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Canal and Arch from Bonifacius Bridge
Canal and Arch from Bonifacius Bridge
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Canal from Bonifacius Bridge
Canal from Bonifacius Bridge
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Gruuthusemuseum
Gruuthusemuseum
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Detail, Gruuthusemuseum
Detail, Gruuthusemuseum
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We didn’t visit the Gruuthusemuseum, heading straight for the entrance of the church.

The Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk; I have no idea how to pronounce this) was built in the 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries and has a tower that is the tallest structure in the city (and actually the second-tallest brickwork structure in the world). The inside of the church was not very large but had some nice touches.


Angel with Child
Angel with Child
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The Nave
The Nave
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Choir Screen
Choir Screen
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Pulpit
Pulpit
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A good portion of the church was only open to paying customers. This section had some nice stained glass and some significant tombs (such as that of Charles the Bold). And also another no-photography rule. The church’s most famous possession is also in this section. This is a Madonna and Child statue that was completed by Michelangelo around 1504. Both Napoleon and the Nazis thought this statue worthy of looting, but in each case it was returned to its home. Here’s a picture that was taken accidentally:

Madonna and Child (Michelangelo)

Madonna and Child (Michelangelo, ca. 1504)
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Across the street from the church is the St. John’s Hospital, which is no longer used as a hospital (though it was until the 1970’s). Instead it is a hospital museum which gives visitors an idea of what hospitals were like all the way back to the 11th Century, when St. John’s was first established. The building also contains a tiny museum devoted to the artist Hans Memling, displaying six of his works. Again, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures. If you’d like one better than the following, you’ll need to look around a little on the Internet:

The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine

The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine (Hans Memling, 1474-79)
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Next to the hospital was a canal with a small landing from which tour boats periodically departed. This sounded like fun, so we looked for the ticket office. We found a cupcake shop in the process, but eventually procured some tickets. While waiting for the boat we had a good look at the hospital across the water.

Cupcakes
Cupcakes
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St. John's Hospital
St. John's Hospital
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Our boat eventually showed up and started by taking us southward, away from the city center. We saw a number of sights in this direction, including the entrance gate to the Béguinage of Bruges, a sort of a monastery for women.

Tower, Church of Our Lady
Tower, Church of Our Lady
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Tower, St. Salvator's Cathedral
Tower, St. Salvator's Cathedral
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Entrance Gate to Béguinage

Entrance Gate to Béguinage
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Eventually we turned around and headed back the way we’d come, passing under the bridge next to the landing area, and then under the bridge we’d crossed to get to the church.
Crossing Under Mariastraat Bridge
Crossing Under Mariastraat Bridge
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Turning Toward Bonifacius Bridge
Turning Toward Bonifacius Bridge
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We found ourselves on the Dijver canal, on which we passed the canal side of the Gruuthusemuseum, eventually reaching a turning area called the Rozenhoedkaai.

Boats at Gruuthusemuseum
Boats at Gruuthusemuseum
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Along Dijver Canal
Along Dijver Canal
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Rozenhoedkaai Area

Rozenhoedkaai Area
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Another jog to the left brought us to a canal called the Groenerei.

Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce and Belfry
Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce Hotel and Belfry
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Buildings Along Groenerei Canal
Buildings Along Groenerei Canal
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A turn to the left put us on a canal called Sint-Annarei, and another left put us on the Spinolerei canal. The end of the Spinolerei brought us to a building called the Poortersloge (yes, this means "porter’s lodge") and the end of the line.

Sint-Annarei
Sint-Annarei
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Buildings Along Sint-Annarei
Buildings Along Sint-Annarei
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Poortersloge
Poortersloge
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Spinolarei Canal and Poortersloge
Spinolarei Canal and Poortersloge
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Buildings at End of Spinolarei Canal

Buildings at End of Spinolarei Canal
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Our boat made a U-turn and went back the way it came, eventually returning to the original boat landing.

Manor House of the Brugse Vrije
Manor House of the Brugse Vrije
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Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce Hotel and Rozenhoedkaai Area
Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce Hotel and Rozenhoedkaai Area
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Boat Landing

Boat Landing
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We disembarked and headed back in the direction of the Markt square.

Gruuthuse Hof
Gruuthuse Hof
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Connie and Nella on Oude Burg
Connie and Nella on Oude Burg
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Near the Markt square was another square called the Burg, which held some attractive former government buildings and a church called the Holy Blood Basilica. This church has a relic vial of Christ’s blood (hence the church’s name) and another regulation against the taking of pictures.

Entering Burg Square
Entering Burg Square
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Nella and Bob and Town Hall
Nella and Bob and Town Hall
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Old Civil Registry Building
Old Civil Registry Building
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Nella and Holy Blood Basilica
Nella and Holy Blood Basilica
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Bob Embarrasses the Family

Bob Embarrasses the Family
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From the Burg we headed over to the Choco-Story Museum, which is a museum all about chocolate. There are exhibits describing the history of chocolate and showing some of the serving pieces that could be used in its consumption. There was also a chocolate-making demonstration (with samples) and some sculptures showing what could be done with massive amounts of chocolate.

Choco-Story

Choco-Story
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Teacups
Teacups
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Figures Made of Chocolate
Figures Made of Chocolate
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Figure Made of Chocolate
Figure Made of Chocolate
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Bob and Gigantic Chocolate Egg
Bob and Gigantic Chocolate Egg
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From the Choco-Story museum we headed back to the Markt square to take a closer look at the Belfry.

The Belfry was originally built in 1240. The upper octagonal portion was added in the 15th Century. There were some attempts at a wooden spire, but they kept getting struck by lightning, and eventually the city fathers gave up on this idea. But the Belfry is certainly tall enough, its height and central location making it visible throughout much of the city. It’s possible to buy tickets to walk up to the top of the tower, but time and fatigue convinced us to forgo this endeavor. There is, however, a courtyard inside the former market hall at the tower’s base, and we did go in there to see what there was to see. Not much as it turned out, but we found some benches where we rested our feet for a bit.


The Belfry
The Belfry
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Belfry from Courtyard
Belfry from Courtyard
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Belfry Courtyard

Belfry Courtyard
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The Belfry is famous for its bells, of which there are 47. The bells can be played with a carillon located in the tower, and a carilloneur who gives regular concerts is on the payroll. The courtyard is a prime location for listening to these performances, but we weren’t sure when these performances were scheduled. Sometime other than when we were there.

Refreshed form our break in the Belfry courtyard, we reemerged into the Markt square and headed south on foot toward the train station.


Markt Square

Markt Square
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On the way we passed through a square called the ‘t Zand square, where there was an interesting fountain which seemed to be nautically themed.

Connie and Fountain
Connie and Fountain (Stefaan Depuydt/Livia Canestraro, 1985)
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Fishermen
Fishermen
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Mermaid
Mermaid
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Connie and Fountain
Connie and Fountain
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Eventually we reached the train station and returned to Brussels. We found some dinner and some rest. We had ambitious plans for our last day in the city, which was to start with a visit to St. Michael’s Cathedral.

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