During World War II, cities all over England, France, Poland, Germany, Austria and more were injured. Many of these cities date back thousands of years and carry historical architecture, statues, and art. The damage harmed much of the perfection of these pieces of history, which is completely heart breaking for us history travel buffs. There is one particular city though (other than Canterbury, which I will explain in another post) who was spared. There is a little town in the northwest corner of Belgium in West Flanders, which was occupied by the Nazi’s during the war. This area, called Bruges, was very critical for any sort of transportation of supplies, food, or people because it is right on the sea and is bursting with all sorts of canals just as Amsterdam is. There was an underground network of people working against the Nazi’s at the time, but as far as the war was concerned it left Bruges untouched. Bruges’s earliest history dates back to the first century BC, and it has buildings and churches still standing from the earliest centuries of the world in AD. The true phenomenon and miracle of Bruges not being damaged by the war leaves it as one of the most preserved cities in all of Europe. The cobblestone streets, the Belfry, the restaurants and buildings in Grote Markt, and the horse drawn carriages all add to the whole Bruges experience.
It was the first week of April and so everything was defrosting and blooming up. My mom and I had taken our Euro passes and hopped on the train from Brussels to visit the quiet city of Bruges. We had an idea of what the city might be like, but there was no way we could have prepared for we came into on that chilled afternoon. This was the first city of our big backpacking trip, so we were still trying to figure out the logistics of everything. We did not have a map, for one thing, and we weren’t sure what times certain places opened or closed. So we just started to walk and wander around the beautiful streets of this peaceful town. My mom kept exclaiming that it was as if we stepped back in time, and that IS exactly what it felt like! The houses were all aligned together and many had bicycles with little baskets leaning up against every one. The first place we ran into was a church that my mother very much wanted to see (which later became the theme of our trip). It was the Church of Our Lady, and it was the home of one of the most cherishest and purest statues of all history. Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. I have seen numerous pictures of this statue in my lifetime, but nothing could compare to seeing the life it possesses in person. We stayed here and walked around for a while and decided to continue on. As soon as we walked outside, we had a “movie moment.” A moment so surreal that it would never happen anywhere BUT in a movie. There, in front of the church’s tree orchard, was a little old man in a bowler cap and wooden shoes with an organ grinder. No. I am not kidding.
He had a little white mustache that curled up and smiled at every person who walked by. As the proud tourists that my mother and I are, I strolled on over and put some Euros into is little money jar and took a picture. You see, it is OK to embrace being a tourist. If you fight it and try too hard to blend in too much, you will never fully enjoy yourself.
The rest of our day included lunch in the middle of Grote Markt, our first encounter with REAL Belgium beer (Leffe Blonde), climbing the stairs up the Belfry and seeing all of Bruges, visiting the Choco Museum to find out it was closed and listening to a live choir sing in the Basilica of the Holy Blood (which has a piece of cloth preserved from when Christ’s face was wiped clean during his crucifixion). It was wonderful. The whole day could not have been better (well actually, maybe if the Choco Museum had been open) and it is a place which I consistently suggest to people who are visiting Belgium. It is a small piece of historical treasure and should never be passed up.