Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Whirlwind Tour of Bruges. Part 1.

Posing in front of Provinciaal Hof (Province Court) in Grote Markt.

W

 e kicked off our afternoon in Bruges with a quick bite at a pasta bar called Bocca. It was a simple meal but enough to fill two bellies.

Once again, Z fired up the city app on his iPhone and led the way. The app is really useful. It uses GPS but does not require data which means it can track where Z is. The app not only provides a map but also indicates the tourist highlights. It also has a search feature so all I have to do is tell Z the name of the place or spell out the name and he'll find it!  It was very useful in Brussels. Hopefully, it will serve us well in Bruges.


From Bocca, Z led us down a side street, heading towards Grote Markt aka Market Square where the city's main historic landmarks are located in and around.   A right turn and another right turn and we were back on We ended up back on Zuidzandstraat and the sea of tourists.  When I say sea, it's short of a mob.  It was so crowded that I more than once found myself saying, "Excuse me" (by habit, not because I knew the person would understand) to make my way around people.

We passed by Sint-Salvatorskathedraal (Saint Saviour's Cathedral), the city's main church.  We didn't go inside.  I'll save that for another day - perhaps one morning when Z is still asleep, I sneak over here and take a peek.

Out front was a very unusual piece of art.  It's modern look was in extreme stark contrast to the architectural style of the church, to say the least.


Apparently, it's one of the many pieces of contemporary art that have been installed throughout the city as part of Bruges Triennale 2015, an art exhibition sponsored by the city that runs from May 20th to October 18, 2015 .  18 artists were invited to contribute works.

The artist responsible for the work displayed in front of the cathedral is Song Dong, from Beijing, China.  The pieces supposedly represent a bonsai tree and was constructed from windows that the artist salvaged from buildings that were about to be destroyed.

I'm afraid neither Z nor I are aficionados of contemporary art so we paused for a few seconds to look at the art installation and then continued our walk towards Grote Markt.  You can see just how crowded the streets are.  Truthfully, I can't blame peopled for coming here.  It's a beautiful old city - chock full of charming buildings!




Z and I were like salmon swimming along with a large school of fish.  Except he has no patience to swim so he was weaving his way and an out like a fish on steroids.  I had to keep pace, only stopping every now and again to take pictures.  Otherwise, I might have just stood still and taken pictures of every building - I loved them all!

Grote Markt.

Grote Markt.

Soon enough, we arrived into Grote Markt and of course, I had to take the obligatory tourist photo of Z standing before the most magnificent of the buildings here - Provinciaal Hof (Province Court), the former meeting place for the provincial government of West Flanders.  I would just call it Town Hall.


Grote Markt is far smaller in size but much lest *grand* in appearance than Grand Place in Brussels but it does have is charm.

Another of the notable landmarks here is the belfy, a medieval bell tower that is one of the city's most prominent symbols.

The belfry was added to the market square around 1240, when Bruges was prospering as an important center of the Flemish cloth industry.  It housed a treasury and the municipal archives and served as an observation post for spotting fires and other danger.  After a devastating fire in 1280, the tower was largely rebuilt but unfortunately, the municipal archives were lost in the fire.



I was hard to capture the feel of square with just photos so I just a quick video for a 360 degree view of the place.  Unfortunately, because it was such a heavily overcast day, many of the facades are hard to make out.  Perhaps, if it's nicer tomorrow, I'll come back and do another video.


We headed inside the Information Center to get a map and more information about the sights of Bruges.   Z is taking his navigation duties very seriously.   After getting the map, he crossed checked the highlighted landmarks against those in his app so he would be certain we would not miss out on anything that was identified as something we *must see*.


Back outside, I spent a few minutes taking photos before following Z into the Belfry.  In the square is another large art installation that's part of the Bruges Triennale.  The piece is by Vibeke Jensen, a  Norwegian artist.


The Belfry stands 83 meters (272 feet) high and was built in three sections.  The bottom two sections are square in shape and were built in brick during the 13th century.  The top section is a latern tower that is octagonal in shape and was built of Brabant limestone between 1482 and 1486.   The tower houses, among other things, a carillon with 47 bells.

Entrance to the Belfry.

On the other side of the entrance was a small courtyard.  I guess you could call it an art display of sorts but lighted words (Life, Land, Wealth, Mind) were tacked up on the facades.  I don't know what it was all about - perhaps it's for inspiration.


A narrow, steep staircase of 366 steps leads to the top of the Belfy.  I offered for Z to climb the tower and he was more than willing until he saw the long line of people waiting to enter.

Back out on the streets, we were off to our next destination which was I have no idea where.  I just follow the Navigator and take photos along the way.


We ended up in another square filled with more magnificent buildings.

The Burg is the second of Bruges’s vast squares.  Here, you can see a similar array of beautiful medieval buildings. It was on this site that Baldwin Iron Arm, Count of Flanders, built a fortified castle (or burg) in the late 9th century, around which a village developed into Bruges.  I think this is actually a pretty square than Grote Markt.

The first building that catches your eye as you enter The Burg is, undoubtedly, Stadhuis (City Hall).  The imposing building looks like it could have been part of a medieval castle.

Staduis was built in 1376 and the city has been ruled from here for over 600 years.

Carvings on the front facade of Stadhuis.

Stadhuis is also the building everyone stands in front of to have their picture taken.  Z is kindly taking photo of a fellow tourist with her iPad.

Nestled in a southern corner of the square is the Heilig Bloed Basiliek (Basilica of the Holy Blood) named after the holy relic that found its way here in the Middle Ages.



One of the holiest relics in medieval Europe, the phial of the Holy Blood purports to contain with blood of Jesus Christ. Local legend has it that it was brought to the city by Thierry of Alsace, a Flemish knight, after the 12th century Second Crusade. Historians believe that the relic was acquired during the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, when the Crusaders robbed and slaughtered the Byzantines instead. Whatever the true story is, the phial of the Holy Blood is still venerated today and every year, on Ascension Day (mid-May). it’s carried through the town center in a colorful but solemn procession.

Heilig Bloed Basiliek.

The most unassuming looking building in The Burg is what I've seen simply referred to as a manor.   The building was erected between 1722 and 1727 and initially served as a manor of the Franc of Bruges.  From 1794 to 1984, it functioned as the city's courthouse.  Today the city archives are stored here.

Former manor and courthouse, home today to the city's archives.
Some architectural details on the Old Civil Registry building (built between 1534-1537) which stands right next to Stadhuis.

Across the street from The Burg, we noticed a small group of tourists surrounding a sculpture.  Out of curiosity, we joined them.  The piece is called, "The Lovers" and as created by Stefaan De Puydt & Livia Canestraro.


From The Burg, our wandering continued and we would soon arrive at a place where we would have an opportunity to relax a bit all the while taking in more of this ever so charming city.

Onto the canals!