Commanding views of Bruges

Hello there!

Hanging on with me here? Good good. Been a bit of a stifling couple of weeks weather wise here. On a couple of occasions my father and I have remarked this has been the hottest period we have experienced since moving here. No wind either. I don’t mind a breeze when it’s warm. Last week, sailing was painful. There was no wind. I jest not…in some instances we were moving backwards with the tide. In sailing overalls, no wind and 20 odd degrees with no shade life is not funny. Hopefully the next session will be kinder, looks as such at this moment in time anyhow.

Anyway, on to the pics. Well, at this stage, I had just arrived at my central Bruges hotel, in the pouring rain, so I felt right at home. I can’t swear to the name of the hotel at this point in time but it was very central and a good choice by me as it was walking distance to…..everything. So, welcome to Bruges, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

As is tradition when I am on hols, the first day is pretty much a write off as I’m wandering, getting my bearings. However, as it was still chucking it down in the morning after my very pleasant continental breakfast (people watching trying to guess the nationality of those who enter the breakfast bar is a free bonus) I didn’t venture far and decided to take cover by visiting “The Belfry” or “Belfort” which was just over from my lodgings.

The Belfry or Belfort in the Markt, Bruges

The Belfry or Belfort in the Markt, Bruges

Not just a bell tower anymore, there is a large cobbled courtyard which plays host to amateur dramatics and the like…when it’s dry! In the past, the building held records and even treasure in the old days, hence to massive chests in the museum which I failed to get a decent image of. Pffft. In total The Belfry is 83 m (about 250 ft) tall and it is said that, due to its 13th century age and depending on conditions, it can lean as much as 1 m (3 ft) to the east. I didn’t know this at the time of climbing, I might add.

The cobbled courtyard below the Belfry, as I sheltered from the rain

The cobbled courtyard below the Belfry, as I sheltered from the rain

The most notable feature, save the view, of this massive building is that, at the top, there is a 47 bell carillon (or glockenspiel, if you understand German) which is a percussion instrument that is played via a keyboard connected to the bells by, in Bruges, a full-time paid carilloneur. Apparently, this gent gives free concerts quite regularly but I must have missed them, although there was the odd peal now and again. Maybe he was on holidays. In the days gone past, the bells were fewer in number and used for all sorts of things, such as fire alarms, marking working hours and notable religious occasions. Now they are mainly for entertainment.

The bells, the bells! Well, a few of the older worn ones.

The bells, the bells! Well, a few of the older worn ones.

It’s quite climb, I can tell you. All I could think as I went up was “this camera bag is big” and “man alive, these guys back then were tiny”. I’m quite slim and I had to duck and breathe in quite regularly. In total there are 366 of these type of steps to get to the top. Once I was three-quarters up, I realised why there was a sign at the bottom dissuading those of a weak constitution from going up!

I paid my 5 Euros so I was going to get there....puff puff

I paid my 5 Euros so I was going to get there….puff puff

Once at the top, I found out what a carillon looked like. You will excuse the reflection and such, I didn’t have my tripod so had to bounce the flash off this darn screen at an angle and space was pretty limited. Here you can see the drums attached to the keyboard mechanisms and that play automatic tunes on occasions. Apparently, the 47 bells atop the Belfry weigh a sobering 27 tonnes. Sobering because you look right up into them after the climb! That’d be a headache if copped one of those on the noggin!

Don't know what a carillon is? This is a carillon. Pretty impressive huh?

Don’t know what a carillon is? This is a carillon. Pretty impressive huh?

But, that aside, what a view! The rain had cleared but the visibility was still a bit rubbish. Apologies also for not noting which direction I am looking for those nerdy types, but I will point out some features in the pictures instead.

In this view, you can see Saint Salvators Cathedral, apparently one of the very few buildings in Bruges not to be damaged in fires and such; all renovations and changes were carried out as planned work. In the distance just past the cathedral, there are a few modern buildings and nearer the camera, a straight north/south cobbled street with old buildings, now mainly shops and small museums.

Got to the top! The view was pretty spectacular....

Got to the top! The view was pretty spectacular….

This next picture is centred mainly on the City Hall, in the Burg square. Hidden from view is a Basilica that I took more detailed pictures of later on in the holiday. To the right of the square, you can see the canal that lends Bruges the nickname “Venice of the North”. Yes, I did have a ride in a barge. Man, those guys got skills…you should have seen the gaps they got through!

Of course, many years ago, this route wasn’t a tourist trip in a barge, it was a serious port connected to the North Sea and the canals were buzzing with spice traders and such in the 12th to 15th centuries, known here as “The Golden Age”. However, this still exists today of sorts, in the form of the port of Zeebrugge some miles away (literally, in Flemish, Bruges on the sea) which is a major route in shipping since being revived by the German Navy in World War One. The canals are still there but too small for anything but tourist cruises.

A view down towards City Hall and the canals

A view down towards City Hall and the canals

Now a view of The Church of Our Lady, dating back to the 13th century. It’s a record breaker, this one, as it’s 122 m (400 ft) tall and made entirely of brick, making it the second tallest brick building in the world. I know that some aspects of medieval life were a bit grim but you have got to hand to them, they knew how to build an imposing structure! Respect.

In retrospect, Bruges is very lucky never to had earthquakes with all this brick around

In retrospect, Bruges is very lucky never to had earthquakes with all this brick around

Lastly, a view of the stones set on top of the octagon at the top of the Belfry showing distance to major cities around. Alas, the one where London was marked was hidden behind some screening, so Paris was as close as I could get. I can only presume the measurement is in kilometres like those weird foreigners seem to do everything. However, I don’t know if this takes into account the few feet of lean in the tower!!

Ah, gay Paris, 270 km...the other stop that trains on the line I came over on stop at

Ah, gay Paris, 270 km…the other stop that trains on the line I came over on stop at

Well, there’s the first instalment. More to come and more in-depth photos from the ground this time! There is much to be said for Europe in the way of history…who needs these all inclusive beach holidays in hot, sticky destinations where some urchin pinches your cash when you venture out of the resort? Culture, that’s what you want. And Flemish farmers stew with beer made by monks, which is gorgeous.

Well, it’ll be a couple of weeks until the next update, but keep tuned for more Flemish history, sights and landscapes. See you soon.

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