A full day in Bruges
We woke early – well that is not strictly true. To say you ‘wake’ implies you slept and neither of us did very well. No idea why. The beds were comfortable, the room was quiet (maybe too quiet) but we didn’t sleep well.
However, we are ‘up and at em’ tourists and always keen to get going. Breakfast was included and boy was it good value. There were cereals, fruits, meats and cheeses, every type of pastry and bread and a hot cooked selection too. Really good and again amazing staff who all spoke multiple languages.
Fed and watered we headed out and enjoyed snapping pictures in the bright morning sunshine. The Djiver looked superb in the morning light and we decided, as we were there, that we would do the boat trip first.
The down side was that we had to wait for a while until the boat filled and it was another of those Niagra moments where you see a view that looks so stunning you just keep on snapping just in case the camera didn't quite capture the beauty of the light or wasn't the right angle or wasn't perfect. result - a gazzilion pictures almost exactly the same, just portrait 'v' landscape to add a little variety!
Worry not - I am sharing just a few.
The only decent picture of us - stopped a passing non English speaking tourist and forgot to say could she take the picture when my eyes were OPEN!
and the poor selfie was not much better
It was just 7 Euros each and well worth it, but I am pleased we did it first thing as the waits get quite long and the clouds did come over periodically, whereas when we did the boat trip it was very bright and sunny.
It was a 30 minute trip with a good commentary and we really enjoyed it, seeing places we wanted to go on foot later in the day.
Some shots from the boat trip - believe me there were hundreds!
Back at the Djiver we headed off on foot towards our next destination – Lake Minnewater and the Begijnhof. We went past the hospital (good tip – great toilets) and headed to the Bruges’ delightful begijnhof originally dates from the 13th century. Although the last begijn has long since passed away, today residents of the pretty, whitewashed garden complex include a convent of Benedictine nuns. Despite the hoards of summer tourists, the begijnhof remains a remarkably tranquil haven. In spring a carpet of daffodils adds to the quaintness of the scene and although they had just about passed their best there were echoes of how beautiful it must have been a week or two earlier.
The Beguinage of Bruges was founded in 1245 by the Countess of Flanders, Margaretha of Constantinopel, daughter of Count Baldwin who conquered Constantinopel (now Istambul) during the crusades. In 1299, Philip the beautiful of France, placed the Beguinage under his own rule, thereby withdrawing it from the influence of the town magistrate. Visitors enter the place via a bridge over the canal. The entrance gate bears the date 1776. A lot of houses, however, are much older than that. Most date from the 17th and 18th century. Some houses were built in the 19th century in neo-gothic style. In the southern part is a little dead end street where still some houses of the 15th-16th century can be found. The largest and most impressive house is situated in the left corner behind the garden. It was here that the 'grootjuffrouw', or 'grand-dame' lived. It was she who ruled over the beguinage. The original church of the 13th century was destroyed by a fire in 1584. It was rebuild in 1609 and later again renovated in late baroque style. We went into the church and the nuns were singing mass. It was our wedding anniversary and we were both instantly swept back to the same time and date three years ago when we renewed our vows in Sacre Coeur to the sound of nuns singing high mass.
We wandered past the Lake of Love – seemed appropriate on our anniversary – and down to Minnewater, which was not as pretty as we thought it might be.
Weaving in and out of the narrow cobbled streets we fast learnt that cyclists in Belgium own the roads. Or at least they feel they do. They come from everywhere, are not namby pamby enough to feel the need to wear safety helmets and don’t stop. They are all on a mission and heaven help you if you are in the way. It was busy when we were on foot – in a car they take on a whole new dimension. I wonder whatever they think if they come to the UK and think they might like to cycle. Heaven help them. Add the countless horse drawn carriages that are everywhere and you take your life in your hands as a pedestrian at times.
We ambled round, stopping in chocolate shops that lined the streets. We didn’t ever succumb – how cool was that … I think we just knew if we started filling those little … well quite big actually … boxes with Belgian chocolates we would find it hard to stop and end up with a second mortgage to pay for the chocolate habit.
There were also lots of lace shops – but the really nice lace … rather than the stuff that looked factory made and quite tacky … was very expensive.
We also found several gorgeous Christmas shops where we were severely tempted but again managed to resist. 270 Euros for a nice scene was a little pricey even for Christmas-aholics like us!
We found a delightful square to sit and enjoy the sunshine. Sat outside watching the bicycles speed by and the horses trot by whilst soaking up the sunshine and eating Belgian waffles with cream ice cream and strawberries washed down with Belgian Beer was a lovely way to while away and hour.
Onwards and upwards we headed off to the Basilica of the Holy Blood. (Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed) It was something we had read about and were both very keen to see. The first historical record to mention the Holy Blood in Bruges dates from 1256. The real story seems to be that it came from Constantinople, which had an extensive collection of relics including one of the Holy Blood.
Constantinople was sacked by the Crusader army of Count of Flanders Baldwin IX in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade. Baldwin IX probably sent the Holy Blood, looted from the Byzantines, to Bruges shortly thereafter. The manner in which the rock-crystal vial is cut also suggests an origin in Constantinople. Legend has it that after the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea wiped blood from the body of Christ and preserved the cloth. The relic remained in the Holy Land until the Second Crusade, when the King of Jerusalem Baldwin III gave it to his brother-in-law, Count of Flanders Diederik van de Elzas. The count arrived with it in Bruges on April 7, 1150 and placed it in a chapel he had built on Burg Square. Snugly located in a back corner of Burg Square, the Basilica of the Holy Blood consists of a Romanesque lower chapel and a Gothic upper chapel. The two levels could not be more different: the Romanesque lower level is austere with very little decoration, while the Gothic upper level is alive with color and detail. The two chapels are connected by a monumental brick staircase, which runs behind the grand facade facing the square. The stairs and facade were built in 1533 in the Renaissance style, but demolished during the French occupation. They were rebuilt in the 19th century. The gilded statues on the facade represent Archduchess Isabelle, Mary of Burgundy, and Derrick and Philip of Alsace. The medallions depict the Archdukes Albert and Maximilian of Austria, Margaret of York and Sybil of Anjou, wife of Derrick and mother of Philip of Alsace.The upper chapel was originally Romanesque as well, but is now Gothic with mostly modern decoration. It is lit by stained glass windows and covered with murals, including a brightly painted altar backdrop depicting the Trinity and scenes relating to the Holy Blood relic.
This is the outside
and the beautiful inside
The Holy Blood relic is embedded in a rock-crystal vial, which is placed inside a small glass cylinder capped with a golden crown at each end. This picture is from the internet
The relic is kept in a magnificent silver tabernacle with a sculpture of the Lamb of God in the large side chapel of the upper church. The back wall of the side chapel displays ex-votos of those whose prayers before the Holy Blood have been answered.
We expected to be able to see the silver tabernacle but obviously not the relic itself.
This is the tabernacle
On climbing the stairs the chapel was stunningly beautiful and we sat and absorbed the atmosphere. We were then staggered to hear an announcement that we would have the opportunity to venerate the holy relic itself as it was put on display. We had no idea this would happen and were in awe of the whole thing. We waited quietly in line and I was quite overcome, feeling suddenly very ‘odd and faint and hot’. Together we went up to the altar and with the priest there we laid our hands on the relic case and offered our prayers. It was a truly special moment and one we will never forget.
This is a picture I found ont he internet that shows the altar where we went up to venerate the holy relic.
We came out and sat quietly for a moment before then going to the Stadhuis … Town Hall. Bruges’ City Hall (1376) is one of the oldest in the Netherlands. It is from here that the city has been governed for more than 600 years.
An absolute masterpiece is the Gothic Hall with its late 19th-century murals and polychrome vault. The adjoining historic hall calls up the city council’s history with a number of authentic documents and works of art. A multimedia exhibition on the ground floor illustrates the evolution of the Burg square. Nigel had spotted this in the guide book and said it was a must see – and it was. It was stunning. The ceiling was one of the most amazing I have ever seen with hanging vaults and the room as a whole was breath-taking.
We decided to see one more spot that the guidebooks said was pretty which was Jan Van Eyck Square. The map problem reared its head again – this time Nigel being the one who got it wrong. It actually proved one walk too far and when we did eventually find it, it wasn’t THAT great (as we had seen so many other lovely places)
And whilst this first day in Bruges is by no means done – this post is.
Another instalment tomorrow!
I have another Bruges page to share today - I guess you knew you could expect a fair few of them eh!
This is a page documenting how my map reading skills failed us.
Loads of journalling under the picture and also a map showing the route we took which is so bizarre as to be unbelievable but our feet can attest to the fact it is true.
Today I am thankful for
- sunshine - a good washing day
- Nigel fixing my sewing machine (It was bizarre - the foot pedal was jammed so the machine wouldn't stop.)
- a lovely garden with green fence panels.