Friday, March 15, 2013

Bruges - Ghent or Bruges?

We had planned 3 days in Bruges. Geographically, well at least as the train tracks go, Brussels is the start of the line, next stop Ghent some 25 minutes away then Bruges a further 25 minutes away. The line ends at Ostend. So, Bruges was our next stop.

When we reached Bruges the weather had changed drastically. On our first day in Ghent some 3 days previously, it was a cool 17 C [63 F] and cloudy. By the time we reached Bruges it was a full on snowstorm. Snow, cold wind and rather Arctic conditions. Temperatures plummeting to – 3C [25F]. The wind forced both HRH the Queen and me to look for and buy Beanies to keep our ears warm. That done, we were set.

Bruges like Ghent is a city that grew to be of great commercial importance during medieval times, well between 1300 to about 1600 and the cities were rich and powerful. Lots of building took place then. The great beauty of both Ghent and Bruges is that the buildings from those times have been preserved. The level of preservation, legislation toward preservation and actual money spent on preservation is far higher in Bruges. In addition UNESCO has declared it as a world heritage site. Today the city is very well preserved and has a population of about 100,000 and depends heavily on tourism as its source of income. Ghent has a population of about 240,000 and a big university with an additional 60,000 students.

Bruges is remarkably pretty. The canals, trees and buildings, all perfectly preserved, give the city an unimaginably pretty beauty. The dusting of snow added to the prettiness. Once the sun came out the sky became impossibly blue, so blue it looks unreal. The beauty in Bruges is not so much its majestic buildings but, in my view, the picture perfect houses, all beautifully preserved. No high rises, the whole town has 3 storey houses. The roof lines and the tracery over the windows tell stories.

Bruges has a few nice majestic buildings. The Belfry Tower made famous in the excellent film `In Bruges’ which you must watch [it is a comic murder mystery set in Bruges], the Church of Our Lady, The Basilica of the Holy Blood, the City Hall and the Hospital are all imposing buildings. One of the oddities of buildings in Bruges is the fact that bricks were used in the construction and not the more usual stone. So many of the really old structures are brown with brick, it’s just the newer ones which have stone. The main city square is very beautiful and you can spend a lot of time going to it and walking from it to the streets that lead off it.

Every Wednesday there is a big market that sets up in the square. Trailers come in with all sorts of fruits, vegetables, dairy, preserved meat, fish, raw meat, cooked meat and breads. On Fridays the market sets up in another square nearby. Charming and interesting places to go.

You should take a boat ride thru the canals, though the commentary in the boat we had was incomprehensible. You can simply walk to all the monuments and spend a day or two walking thru the very charming streets. A visit to the only functioning brewery in Bruges is well worth a visit. It’s a short walk, 15-20 minutes maximum, from most hotels to get to the brewery. You get a great view of Bruges from the roof and you get a glass of beer to sample. You could have a meal there too, we did not eat, but the food looked really very good.

Now for the difficult part. Which did you like more, Ghent or Bruges? A most difficult choice. Bruges is impossibly pretty, magical and fairy tale like. However it’s fairly touristy, so you have sort of bland restaurants, bland bars and lots of chocolate shops. Bruges does not have as many or as imposing monument/buildings, its charm lies in the pretty streets. Bruges is substantially more expensive than Ghent almost 30% I would say. A similar portion of cheese in a bar in Ghent cost 2.5 Euro while in Bruges it cost 4 Euro. Ghent had magnificent buildings/monuments and in contrast lesser pretty houses. The canal in Bruges was much prettier. So all in all it’s difficult to make a choice.

But, I have a suggestion for you. Do not make a choice. Go to both. I suggest that over the Divali holidays plan a trip to Belgium. Take a Jet Airways flight direct to Brussels. Stay a couple of nights in Brussels, catch a train to Ghent and then onto Bruges for 3 nights each. From Bruges catch the train straight back to Brussels, get to the airport and get back home. I assure you that you will have a great holiday. The beauty is something you should not miss. Parts of Switzerland and Germany are like this but the architecture is sort of Alpine. Heidelberg is also very pretty, but these two places beat the socks off. The best part of it is that they are so accessible. If you like you could base your journey from London, Bruges is a mere 3 hour train ride away on the Eurostar to Brussels and and easy connection to Ghent and Bruges. Contrast this with the really god awful Mumbai Pune train ride, Deccan Queen or not, honestly, the ride sucks and at the end of it what do you reach? Pune. You need your head examined!!

Have a look at the photos by clicking here. Some may be, as the Ajit joke goes, Cate, Duplicate and Triplicate. But they are just as beautiful.       

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