A few years ago we watched In Bruges in a theater and immediately added Bruges to the list of cities we wanted to visit. The movie is about a couple of contract killers who lie low in Bruges when they kill an innocent child. They explore the picturesque town while they wait for orders. It’s a dark comedy like that could have been made by the Coen brothers. So instead of spending the four days at the end of our Rhine River cruise in Amsterdam, we decided to spend two of them in Bruges. It was the right choice.
|The main square at night|
At least 1200 years old, Bruges was one of the most important trade centers in the world in the 12th – 15ht centuries. In 1309, the Bourse, probably the first stock exchange, opened and became the most sophisticated money market in the region. Bruges, this major trading center was not, however, located on the ocean. Ocean-going ships would anchor at Damme, six kilometers away, transfer their cargo to barges which would move the goods to Bruges. In Bruges, the barges would enter a covered warehouse where they would be unloaded and reloaded. This building is long gone, but it must have been an amazing structure since it was large enough to handle several barges on the water and inside the building.
|Heus Ter Beurze, the first stock exchange|
For the tourist Bruges is a great town to visit because it is small enough to easily walk and large enough to have a good variety of attractions. Our hotel was only a few blocks from the main square. The winding narrow, winding streets led us on several different routes as we made that short trip. We walked past shops, restaurants, coffee shops, churches, museums, and several statues in a matter of just a few blocks. On our last walk back to our hotel after dinner, we passed a building with a three story high ceiling beautifully lit inside. Curious, I asked a man leaving it. He told me that it was the site of the first stock exchange and was now used for private functions. What a surprise.
|While most of the paintings were of the wealthy or religious, I most enjoyed those of daily life|
|Premonition? This artist was killed in a concentration camp|
|The stern mother look|
For tourist activities, we visited one art museum which showcased Flemish art including some modern paintings with a very different look. We were especially interesting in the bright colors used by the early artists. We had expected something much darker. I think some of that may be because so many of the old masterworks have lost their luster as the covering varnish aged and the paintings succumbed to the air polluted by the coal fires.
We also visited a museum call the Historium, an interesting mix of artifact and multimedia. Visitors are led through a series of rooms outfitted as in the past. Each room has a video which tells the story of a young man apprenticed to Franz Hals, the painter. He is sent to pick up some items to be used as props. One of the items is a young girl with whom he falls in love. Through his adventures, we learn about the various markets and trade items and the stock exchange. At the end a couple of rooms showcase some of those items and offer quizzes to test your learning. It also offers a third floor balcony overlooking the main square and a second floor pub with its own balcony where you can enjoy one of the Belgian brews. It sounds a bit schlocky, but we did learn more about the history of Bruges in an entertaining way and enjoyed the process.
We also found a couple of pubs to sample the local brews and two very nice restaurants for dinner. We also had a good time just wandering the streets and enjoying the Christmas market. The evening fog enhanced the beauty of the buildings in the evening light. Among the things we missed on this trip were the chocolate museum, the diamond museum, the fries (yes, like French Fries) museum, several other art museums, and the tour of the belfry with a climb up the tower. It is always good to leave some things for the next trip. It makes us more anxious to return.
|Early morning at the Christmas market|