Success. Today has been the best day since yesterday; something I’ve said pretty much every day of this trip. It’s not possible to see all the Bruges sights in a day, but we did see everything on our short list.
We started the day out with Belgian waffles in a Häagen-Dazs cafe, mine was topped with freshly amazing strawberries. After breakfast, we rented a couple of bikes and set off on an adventure around and out of town.
Bruges is a bit hectic of a town. There are people walking, bikes, cars, horse drawn carriages, and all on classically narrow European roads. Riding bikes through old town is harrowing enough with the traffic, the cobblestone bumpiness makes it even more unpleasant on the butt. Belgium does a really great job of providing bike paths outside and around the city, especially in new(er) town areas.
Our bike ride on the path along the canal and into the city of Damme was bliss. Other than a few close encounters with motorcycles on the cycling path, there wasn’t much other traffic to speak of. The bike path paralleled a branch off from the canal so that we were next to water and ducks on the left, and well kept farmland and cows on the right. Our majestic calm lasted the entire 8 kilometer ride. Damme was much more quiet and slower paced than Bruges, just what the doctor ordered.
Adrenalin made up for the fact that our legs weren’t in bike riding shape, a price we would pay in full after the rides were finished. The rental bikes came with a wheel lock & key below the seats, making it very easy for us to find a parking spot for the bike and wander as we wished. Damme had much for us to see: old wind mills, a classic church w/modern cemetery, and a nice little pub where we each had a beer and split some fish and chips.
Here’s a fun fact! Some European countries frown upon two people ordering a single dish and splitting it. Our waitress in Damme, for example, she did not approve. All of the food was placed in front of Brianna as if I wasn’t going to eat any of it. She practically barricaded it away from me with the salt and pepper shakers. Funny thing is, I’m the one who ordered the food, not Brianna! Much to their dismay, we did split the food. We left a sorrow filled 5 euro tip to mend the fence.
366 steps to the Belfry top. It’s a lot of steps to walk up if you’re not used to walking like we are. Also, it’s a lot of fucking steps, even if you’re used to walking as much as we are. Our fortitude in navigating the narrow staircase and the overcrowded nature of said narrow staircase was rewarded with a stunning view of the city. Worth it. Hundreds of years worth of history speak to you through to walls as if they were recently born. Appreciate how many people died
creating that magnificent structure. Appreciate how many people lived to ensure the creation of that magnificent structure. Appreciate how many people died in the power struggles in and around all of these structures. This is the power that properly old European cities intoxicate us with, history. History has a lot to teach us.
Have you ever heard of the Basilica of the Holy Blood? As a former Catholic, it was top of my list to see and Brianna was supportive. The trick to seeing the Holy Blood is making sure you arrive at the right times, 10:30am-11am or 2pm-4pm.
Brianna and I didn’t have to pay for entrance to the Basilica, as it’s a Catholic Church. I did take the opportunity to pay 2 euro for a .50 cent donation candle to light and say a prayer on in front of the throne of the holy blood. As a non-religious person, I still find value to prayer and reflection. The difference is probably that I’m not praying to a God. If God does exist, it either doesn’t care what I might pray for, already knows what I’m going to pray for, or some combination of the two.
Perhaps even more surprisingly than my own pseudo-religious experience was the one Brianna had. She made the comment that even though she knew nothing about any religions, the experience and atmosphere of the Church almost brought her to tears. She and I are often on or close to the same page, the emotional atmosphere was real.
The Holy Blood rests inside a display case on an alter. Just a few steps up the alter and you’re standing face-to-face with what appears to be a vial of blood and the priest praying behind it. Such a powerful moment. It’s not because the vial is the blood of Jesus Christ – I live in the age of the internet and have been trained to question EVERYTHING. The moment is powerful because of the energy surrounding the sacred object. A symbol only has the power which we grant it, be it a cross, a flag, or anything else. We visited the altar with the Holy Blood and stayed a while longer to admire the Basilica’s many pieces of stained glass, painted, and sculpted art.
A guided canal boat tour and some chocolate shopping capped the end of what was nothing short of a great day in Bruges. We even found a quick minute to try a flight of beers at the Flanders brewery. Tonight we watch the In Bruges movie until we pass out on the abnormally hard bed with disturbingly small pillows.