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Day 4: Bruges

Our plan for today was to visit Bruges. When we had told people that we were coming to Belgium for new year, several people had independently recommended Bruges to us and so we thought it must be worth a trip. Initially I thought it might be a bit too far away from Brussels for a one-day excursion, but once we had consulted maps and timetables we came to the conclusion that nowhere in Belgium is too far away from Brussels to be manageable as a day trip :) Even with a reduced timetable running on New Year's Day, there seemed to be at least one train per hour from Brussels Centrale in the direction of Bruges, either going directly or requiring a change in Ghent. The station seemed a lot calmer this morning, and in fact most of Brussels still seemed deserted at 10am, so we had a much more pleasant train journey than yesterday morning, with almost an entire train carriage to ourselves.

We arrived in Bruges some time after 11 and walked through a leafy park towards the town centre. The pathway led along the side of a canal, full of swans, until we emerged from the trees at the edge of the town.



First impressions were that Bruges was delightful, but also extremely popular with tourists. The guidebook had said that Bruges was the most popular tourist attraction in the whole of Belgium, and this didn't seem to be an exaggeration. Even on 1 January which I would imagine is one of the quieter days for the tourist industry, the main streets were thronged with columns of Japanese tourists following their flag-bearing leaders, and it was difficult to cross the road without being mown down by a horse and trap.

Happily the bulk of the tourists seemed to be sticking to a handful of streets in the centre of town. Bruges is actually quite a large town and so it was quite easy to turn onto side streets which were virtually deserted, despite being just as pretty as the main roads. It felt a lot like our experience of visiting Venice in this respect.

Like Ghent, Bruges has some beautiful churches. This enormous one with the turrets is the cathedral of Saint Salvator...


...while this one, whose spire is visible from all over town, is the Church of Our Lady. The tower is 122m high, which makes it the second largest brickwork tower in the world.


It wasn't just the tourists which made us think of Venice as we walked through Bruges; the beautiful canals did too.


Rather by chance than design, we soon found ourselves in the main square. The spectacular building behind me in this photo is the Provinciaal Hof, which used to be the meeting place of the provincial government of West Flanders.


It was hard to know which way to look, because adjacent to it was this medieval bell tower; the Belfry of Bruges.


The buildings on the opposite sides of the square were very pretty as well. With their bright colours they looked like gingerbread houses out of Hansel and Gretel :)



We turned off one of the streets leading out of the main square and found a peaceful canal to walk along.


Both sides of the water were lined with wonderful houses. We walked along one side for about twenty minutes before crossing over and walking back up the other side.

Bruges was really beautiful and we would definitely like to go back one day :)

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