This past weekend I went to Bruges, a city in northern Belgium, in the Flemish speaking section. I want to emphasize the difficulty of Flemish right away. I really do try to be a good tourist, always learning at least the simple phrases of politesse in the local language. In Bruges, I was a failure. I am not sure if it is because all the written text I looked at bore no semblance to the spoken word, or because all the words resembled Shlotzenpodrenstraatzerheligner, or maybe because the dialect flows in an impossibly hard to imitate lilting songlike pattern that sounds rather like yodelers singing Chinese, but whatever the case, I failed in the simplest attempt to not be a dumb tourist. My friend Jessie is visiting from the States, and she and I just surrendered at blending in, wore our cameras around our necks, and walked around gaping at that most lovely, enchanting, and delectable city that is Bruges.
When deciding where to travel I have a foolproof system. First, I make a list of cities in the distance radius I want to travel. Then I perform a google image search and pick the prettiest ones. After narrowing it down to the pretty ones, I wikipedia them to look for any final deciding characteristics. You may scoff, but this system is efficient and rewarding. Thus, Jessie and I boarded a train to Bruges Saturday morning with absolutely no idea what was there or what we wanted to do, beyond knowing that it would be lovely – the “Venice of the North.”
With the help of a hilarious map from our quirky and friendly hostel, we quickly decided to forego museums to take in what Bruges is really known for: chocolate, fries, Belgium waffles (which I know actually originated in France, but that does not preclude their deliciousness in Belgium) and winding streets bordered by tall colorful houses. The city is a visual feast of colors and shapes, geometric perfection against blue skies and along shimmering canals. It borders on surreal, as we encountered no trash, beggars, or seedy neighborhoods. Bruges even has the highest fine for public urination in Flanders, 152 euro, so you are spared that eyesore which interrupts so many shady corners of Paris. Bruges seems to be the perfect picturesque playground of Europe, a retreat from the realities that sometimes mar the other lovely cities. And we loved it. Our entire weekend consisted of walking, boating, or biking through Flemish postcards scenes with frequent punctuations for the edible delicacies of Bruges and long talks sitting in grassy parks or along quiet canals. I know that Bruges is as far from reality as cities come, but sometimes that is just what you want from vacation. Then Monday morning, you return to the real world, and try to recover from 2 days of consuming nothing but Belgium waffles, fries, and perfect chocolates.