Our 1 1/2 hour train trip from Gare de Nord in Paris to Brussels was easy and uneventful. We were on a long train that split into two in Brussels – one half continuing on to Amsterdam and the other terminating at Brussels. I measured our speed on an iPhone app and for most of the time, we were traveling at just under 300 kms per hour. The countryside was flat wth large fields and little villages dotted across the landscape. In the middle of the trip, we passed through the area of the Somme River and just east of the city of Arras in northern France. This was where my Grandfather fought in WW1. We could see one or two war cemeteries along the way.
At Brussels, we transferred to a local train for the final hour of our trip to Bruges. It left from Platform 11 and pulled in to the station just minutes after we had lugged our bags across from the platform on which our Thalys train had arrived. At Bruges, we had a taxi ride of just over a kilometre to our hotel in the middle of the old town.
The weather was fine although cool. Sunrise is currently at 8.50 am and sunset is at 4.43 pm. So, the days are quite short. We’ve just had the shortest day and there are an impressive eight hours less daylight than on the longest day in June.
After checking in at our hotel (Crowne Plaza) I went for a walk around the town to take some photos in the afternoon light. They turned out to have a much nicer gold tone than I expected. As I was taking them, I was much less confident about capturing the late afternoon light but I am very happy with them.
Bruges’ name probably comes from the Old Dutch for “bridge”: brugga. It was a location of coastal settlement during prehistory and early medieval habitation started in the 9th and 10th century, probably with a fortified settlement and church
Bruges became important due to a tidal inlet that provided access for local commerce. This inlet was then known as the “Golden Inlet”. Bruges received its city charter on 27 July 1128, and new walls and canals were built. In 1089 Bruges became the capital of the County of Flanders. Since about 1050, however, gradual silting had caused the city to lose its direct access to the sea. A storm in 1134, fortunately re-established this access, through the creation of a natural channel.
Bruges had a strategic location at the crossroads of the northern Hanseatic League trade and the southern trade routes. The city was already included in the circuit of the Flemish and French cloth fairs at the beginning of the 13th century, but when the old system of fairs broke down, the entrepreneurs of Bruges innovated. They developed, or borrowed from Italy, new forms of merchant capitalism, whereby several merchants would share the risks and profits and pool their knowledge of markets.
There was a reawakening of town life in the twelfth century, a wool market, a woollens weaving industry, and the market for cloth all profited from the shelter of city walls, where surpluses could be safely accumulated under the patronage of the counts of Flanders. This development opened not only the trade in spices from the Levant, but also advanced commercial and financial techniques and a flood of capital that soon took over the banking of Bruges.
When the Golden Inlet started silting, the Golden Era ended. The city soon fell behind Antwerp as the economic flagship of the Low Countries. During the 17th century, the lace industry took off, and various efforts to bring back the glorious past were made. In the last half of the 19th century, Bruges became one of the world’s first tourist destinations attracting wealthy British and French tourists. In World War I German forces occupied Bruges but the city suffered virtually no damage and was liberated on 19 October 1918 by the allies. It now attracts some 2 million tourists each year.
After dinner, I wandered through the streets to capture some night images. It took a lot longer than I planned as I got lost in the maze of narrow streets and canals. I was glad that I had my GPS with me on my phone and was able to find a route back to the hotel.
Today was wet with constant light rain. It felt very Christmas-like with the Carillon in the Belfry chiming carols across the old town. The clip-clop of horse’s hooves on the cobble stones as they pulled carriages through the town helped the atmosphere as well. The Christmas market stalls in the main square weren’t quite doing the same roaring trade as yesterday. I think some of the crowds had stayed away because of the weather but that made it easier for hardier folks like ourselves to walk around and take in the stalls. The mulled wine was rather nice and warming. We made a few purchase at the market and in some of the shops surrounding the city square.
It wasn’t much of a day for the cruise bloat operators on the canals and I suspect that the passengers saw very little of the sights along the way.
Each afternoon, Santa walks around the nearby streets ringing his bell and giving sweets away to the children. Here he is waving at Audrey and Violet in their second floor hotel window. He’s one of then best dressed Santas that we have ever seen! What a great beard!
Tomorrow, Christmas Eve, is forecast to be fine but cold. We’ll see if we can get further around the town in the better weather that may be on offer.