We started the day with our entry into port and we docked at 08:00AM. We were up and ready for the day by the time that we were secured in our berth
. It was to be a cool day in the mid 50's but not with rain clouds or strong winds. The port is commercial and not really set up for cruise ships. The ship made available shuttle buses to take us into the town of Blankenberg, the most popular beach resort in the country. But not today, with the temperature in the mid 50's, the beaches were deserted. There were wide sandy beaches that lead from the sea back for about a block to the rows of hotels and apartments that line the landward side of the beaches. Periodically along the beach were large piers that held restaurants and beach shops like those that populated most large beaches around the world. Today we will not stop at the beach; we are going into the center of the town of Blankenberg to the railway station. The shuttle bus has as a drop off and pickup point at a church parking lot just across the street from the train station. This worked out well for us as we were taking the train from Blankenberg into Bruges, a distance of time of twenty minutes. The train was a modern commuter train that welcomed tourist to come aboard for a quick enjoyable ride thru the countryside of Belgium to the city of Bruges. A good variety of livestock was visible from the train; we saw horses, cattle, goats and even reindeer. The little farms were picture postcards that made the train ride seem even quicker than the short time it actually was. We soon pulled into the city of Bruges.
I had gotten a walking tour from the internet and we would spend the rest of the day following the tour
. Our walk began just across the road from the train station in Bruges. There we crossed a canal and were at the entryway to the heart of the city of Bruges. While most of the train passengers continued straight on the path into Bruges, we turned right to begin our tour along the outer canals of the city. The canal that we were walking was actually the original moat and defensive mounds from the original city. But now with time and care, it showed no signs of being a defensive protection for the city, now it was just a beautiful quiet path by a tranquil canal decorated with flowers and large shade trees. It appears that this is one of the dichotomies of the city; parts of the city that were built for protection were now soften by nature and became a part of the unique beauty that makes this city so special. We are again reminded of the military past as we come up a large powder tower that was part of the original defenses of the city. Now it is an old round tower that stands by a canal bridge and shares the sky with large green shade trees. It is located on the edge of Minnewater Lake. Most towns have legends that describe holy or military acts that define the town. For Bruges, it is a romantic legend about a young couple in love. The girl Minna promised to wait for Stromberg while he was away fighting the Romans. Time passed and Minna remained faithful to her promise, but Minna's father arranged for her to be married to another. On the night before the wedding, Minna ran away and hid in the wood. When Stromberg returned he went to look for Minna
. He found her sick and she died in his arms. He built a dam across the canal that leads into the lake and let the water in the lake run out. When it was drained, he buried his love in the middle of the lake and released the dam so that the lake refilled and covered the grave of Minna. Minna still lies beneath her beautiful lake that has been renamed to Minnewater. It is a small lake that is surrounded by walks and tall shade trees creating a quiet lovely spot to contemplate the romantic story of the "Lake of Love" as it is called locals. We lingered here for a few minutes to take photographs and hold hands.
Here at Minnewater, we had an option to take the shorter path that was most traveled or another longer path that offer more sights for the traveler. We took the road not normally traveled and that made the difference. It took us down to a small wood bridge that crossed another small canal and onto an open field of grass and multicolored tulips. Near the bridge was one of the many old buildings that now seemed to blend in among the trees, flowers, grass, and small trails that made up this little park. It was a small park among the many parks of Bruges. We walked thru this park and headed to a small castle that was just beyond the park and next to another canal. This small castle is now a family owned restaurant. The restaurant is on the outskirts of Vineyard Square which was our first open square of the city of Bruges
. At one side of the square was a large canal that leads further into the center of the City. This was where we first saw a gaggle of white Swans. The swans have a long history of their own in Bruges. In the late 1400's, Emperor Maximillian of Austria became the ruler of Flanders which included Bruges. His taxation laws were so disliked by the residents of Bruges that they formed a band of armed citizens and murdered the Emperor's tax collector. The Emperor sent his army to quell the citizen rebellion and he made the citizens of Bruges maintain white swans in the canals of the city as a sign of repentance. Today the city of Bruges still keeps swans in the canals of the city. The reason for the swans has been obscured in history, but the tradition of maintaining the swans is still strong with the citizens of Bruges. We journeyed deeper into the city. A few minutes at the horse head fountain only temporarily delayed our inevitable movement deeper into the heart of the city. As we continued toward the City Center, we were surrounded by old buildings with art work and we were overwhelmed by the beauty and condition of the city. We walked past the lace shops of Wijngaardstraat with the local shops full of intricate lacework pieces of clothing and house hold items. We walked thru a narrow walkway between the buildings that lead to a larger street of shops and people all heading to another city square. Here in the next city square was the Church of Our Lady. St. Mary is the patron saint of the city of Bruges. The Church of Our Lady was a pristine medieval cathedral; that has survived the wars of man and the ravages of nature since the 13th century. It is the tallest brick church in the world. Here in the church is the world famous statue created in 1504 by Michelangelo called "Madonna with Child". The statue has been here since 1514, even though it was stolen twice; once by French Revolutionaries around 1794 and once by the Nazis in 1944. Art of this consequence is always a precious moment in our lives
. We lingered there among the crowd of admirers for several moments to fasten the image firmly in the cameras of our minds. Then we continued onwards. Constantly, we kept going deeper into the city center while exploring fascinating little areas of Bruges. The canals, museums, shops, and restaurants all added to the time of our journey thru this medieval time capsule of architecture, art, and elegance of a time long gone. At every turn was a new sight the beckoned us to stop and stay awhile.
We continued thru many of the famous areas until we were finally in the Grote Markt. It is an extremely large square and today it was full of people, especially teenagers. Today was a special day in which school age children in their teens were given free entry to most of the attractions of the city. Completely surrounding the square are large buildings with tall facades of a multitude of bright colors. In the center is a large statue that serves as the logical center of the city. On another side of the square is the belfry tower which is the tallest structure in town. Just 360 steps up a steep stairway will take a person to the tallest viewpoint of the city. From there you can see the whole of the city; we are told. Yes, we did not walk up the stairs as the activities of the day caused the belfry tower to not have the steps open. This tower was originally used for lookouts to keep guard over the city and to ring the bells in case of emergencies
. The town square was alive with teenagers on a holiday from school. With a large square full of teenagers, we felt the excitement of the crowds and heard the noise of hundreds teenagers being teenagers. So the city center of this city built in the 13th century was alive with the unrestrained energy of the youth of today. It was a blend of age and youth; and it worked.
We were getting close to the time to return to the ship, so we started walking from the central city square back toward the train station. Within a couple of blocks of the square we passed a large temporary stand selling hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, and soft drinks. Harriet stepped up and ordered some French Fries and a diet coke. The attendant stood back in comical surprised and said "French!" ; Harriet immediately understood and said, "Sorry, Belgium Fries". He laughed and proceeded to fill our order. Harriet must have made an impression as he gave us catsup instead of mayonnaise. Behind the stand was a small square park with one side of the park full of park benches all lined in a row down the one side of the park. Here we sat and enjoyed the Belgium Fries and a diet coke.
Refreshed we began our journey back to the train station in earnest.
The station was an easy walk with our new found energy and we began to meet more and more people that we knew from the ship. Back to track 8b and a short wait was all that was needed for us to board the train for the ride back to Blankenberg where the ship's shuttle bus was waiting to return us to the White Lady.
It was a great day that allowed us to enjoy this time capsule of the medieval ages thru the Renaissance
. Bruges was a special city for us. We really enjoyed our time there and believe that we will return one day to again visit this city.
Tonight we will be traveling north on the European Continent to Amsterdam, a city that both Harriet and I have visited before and have said that it was a city that we would return to. So tomorrow we will return.
********************************Where is Harriet? Hunt
Today she is in Brudges enjoying the city and waiting to be found.
Linda Ferguson on May 5, 2009 This one is a little on the fuzzy side. I would venture to guess that she is to the right of center in the picture in the back of the crowd of people. You can just see her head to the right of the tall man in black and between the men in the rear of the picture. They are in dark clothes and so is Harriet. There is a person with a white scarf in front of and to the right of Harriet. This is the best I can do.
Zeebrugge, Belgium was our port for today. It is an industrial seaport about one hundred years old. When the silt from the local river filled in the original seaport of Bruges, Belgium; the seaport was moved to the new site of Zeebrugge. Today we were again going out on our own and we would explore the city of Bruges, Belgium. Bruges is a time capsule of a bygone era, a medieval time of rule by Counts and Countess. It is affectionately called the "Venice of the North" and like Venice, it blossomed as a trading center during the Renaissance. Bruges is still the center of lace making, a skill that Flemish women have maintained and refined over many centuries. Harriet believes it may be one of the most beautiful cities we have visited. And I cannot disagree.