Remembering Bruges

Remembering Bruge


Bruges, Brugges, Brugge – there are as many variations on the name as there are languages spoken in this medieval town.

I visited in late autumn, and found a magical town. Bruges is a delight for wandering, for eating, for museums (an exhibition of the Flemish Primitives was showing) – and for chocolate. I was lucky enough to see the famous Dog of Bruges before he died. The old town is criss-crossed with canals, and cars are few.

A delightful place to explore the past. This photo brings back the smell of damp leaves after a crisp autumn day.


The Dog of Bruges

 Dog of BrugesFinding The Dog of Bruges

My hotel window opened onto one of the many canals criss-crossing Bruges. I sat on the window seat, watching the tourist barges putter past. Under the autumn sun the water sparkled. Across the way, the occasional horse and carriage passed by. Willows graced the banks, and footbridges arched just high enough for the barges to pass. Some swans came to the window, looking for offerings from my afternoon tea.

The Groenerei (or Green Canal) is one of the old town’s major waterways, and was only two bridges away from our hotel. As I walked along it the next morning I was surprised to see a golden retriever pawing at a window of the Côté Canal Hotel. Unseen hands opened the latch and spread out a quilt, and the dog made himself quite comfortable lying across the window-sill, soaking up the sun as he watched the world go by. This was my first sighting of the famous Dog of Bruges. Every morning he gets into place as the tourist boats start up for the day. Apart from appearing in the photos of every tourist who passes, he has even starred in both TV commercials and movies (including a two second cameo for In Bruges).

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The Canals of Bruges

The canals of Bruges
The canals of Bruges

What struck me most was the way the sunlight danced across the water. It had been raining in Paris, and the rain had followed me as the train sped past windmills and back-roads lined with poplars decked in autumn finery. Old stone farmhouses sat in tilled fields of soft green.

Yet when I reached Bruges, in Belgium, the sun broke through the grey clouds. The whole city had emerged into the sunshine to promenade through this medieval city, or else pass by in horse and carriage.

To meander along the canals of Bruges is to step back into the Middle Ages. Willow branches tickle the water as swans drift grandly by. Stepped rooves zigzag against the sky in classic Flemish style. The canals, dressed by the fallen leaves of autumn, sparkle in the morning sun. Having a hotel room with a window opening onto a canal is delight. Continue Reading →

Sint-Janshospitaal: A Medieval Hospital in Bruges

The canals of Bruges (c) A. Harrison
The canals of Bruges (c) A. Harrison

“We were highly delighted by our visit to the Hospital of St. John’s. It is a Gothic edifice of ancient structure. The sick lie in a large apartment, which is supported by Norman arches and pillars. The Sisters of Charity attend upon the invalids; and everything appears in that state of order and excessive neatness, so admirably conspicuous in this town.”

Charles A. Stothar, English antiquarian, in a letter to his mother 20th Sept 1890

I first saw Sint-Janshospitaal while cruising along the canals of Bruges. The wall running along the The Groenerei (or Green Canal) is in classic Flemish style: ivy-covered stones, a roof stepping against the skyline. Tall gothic windows looked over the water. In medieval times this wing doubled as both a chapel and a ward (for since spiritual healing was considered more important than healing of the flesh, a chapel stood inside the open ward). The wash from our barge lapped against the weathered stones and landing stage, where a door opened onto the water.

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