April 16, 2008

The frosty morning sun rose on Thames Avenue where I met Fred and Agnes. We were all going to Bruges together. It was 6am. I watched them a lot throughout the day, and all I can say is – they enjoy each other. I hope that after 50 some years of marriage I can say the same. My husband enjoys me and I still very much enjoy him.  The tour guide and driver of the coach were really friendly, and particularly interested in why this Canadian girl was in Chelmsford of all places.  Many on the bus seemed to know each other or had toured previously together. We boarded, and Fred patted his friends’ bald head on his way by Good morning.

At one pick-up point I watched two doves fighting, or maybe mating, on a telephone wire. Fred said to his bald friend, “Bet you couldn’t do that on a wire!”, and they laughed.

We drove through the county of Kent, the Garden of England, and took the channel over to Calais, France. It only took about 30 minutes to cross over, but it was a stuffy and ear-popping half hour! We arrived on French land and I was amazed how flat it was. Belgium too is quite flat. I am even more biased now to the land of England!

All together it took just over five hours from Chelmsford and pick-ups to Bruges. They cautioned us of the possible horse poop on cobbled streets and the cyclists whose ding of the bell comes right after the bang of hitting you.

Bruges was founded in the 9th century by Vikings who settled here at the end of the little river ‘de Reie’. They same the name Bruges is probably derived from the old-Scandinavian word ‘Brygga‘, which means ‘harbor, or mooring place’. Because of the proximity of the North Sea, the settlement very quickly became an important international harbor.

My independent side won out; not wanting to be slowed down and just go hit the streets and see as much as I could, so I opted to wander alone, rather than impose on travelling couples.

I visited an old convent turned museum. I was welcomed by a nun who quickly ascertained I was English. She seemed very focused and not keen on idle chit chat. I wandered through.

Like in any new city I visit, if there’s a boat cruise I will be on it. I took loads of pictures of the 17-18th century houses and shops. Cafes line the river giving you what I believe to be one of the most idyllic dinner experiences one could ask for.

After a couple hours of wandering, and through Notre Dame to see Michelangelo’s Madonna, I found a spot at a sunny café near where the horse and buggy drivers load new passengers. I thought I’d stop and watch the world go by. One of the drivers as he drove by with his new passengers winked at me. He must’ve seen me watching! Blush.

What I observed of this city, gathering is the country’s tradition, is that tapestry and laces are almost as common as the chocolate and waffles! The people in the shops were very friendly, and I had a brief conversation with a Tibetan fellow who would like to visit Canada. Most people know Toronto and Vancouver, so I always persuade them to visit western Canada!

I stayed in the main town centre, not wanting to get lost. But this still allowed for much observation of the students on their bikes (who waved at us all as we crossed the bridge), the locals touring us newbies, and the waiters at the cafes clearing and setting their tables.  The swan nesting ever so brilliantly. The happy chap spinning his music wheel and singing outside the Notre Dome. 

Bruges is a gorgeous city and exactly what you would picture for a European town. They call it the “Venice of the north” for the canals that wind through the city. All the movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read have been merely a bait for what these treasures hold. Things I learned from this day tour?

Don’t run on cobbled streets. They will win.

Find a quaint café and stop for a coffee to watch people in every new place you visit.

The world is a magical place, waiting to be discovered. It really does exist.

Getting old doesn’t mean you stop having fun. Fred and Agnes, you are lovely.

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  • D'Arcy Kavanagh May 8, 2008 at 5:26 PM

    So, Lani, did you eat some of that brilliant chocolate you find in Bruges? Sit in the centrum and watch the world go by? eat more chocolate? I recall seeing an enormous chocolate log….not a cake log, a thick, creamy chocolate log……and wondering if I could package it in my handlebar bag for the next bit of riding. Sante!
    PS There was a recent dram-edy/cop thriller made there and starring Colin Farrell – In Bruges. Have you seen it?

  • lanilea May 9, 2008 at 10:47 PM

    I did sit and watch the world go by – as per your advice for when I came to France! It seems to be a must in these cities! Ate a waffle and some chocolate and left feeling so relaxed and like I’d been in a truly European city. I haven’t seen that movie yet – though I know I have to now!

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