A windmill stands proudly on the bank of the canal, overlooking one of the many gates into the city. As we pass through the gate we are greeted by a marching band. Not a bad first impression.
We were heading home now, back south towards Calais and the ferry back. The Netherlands had been good to us. Maybe the weather hadn’t been as kind as it could of, but we’d met some lovely people, eaten more cheese than science had thought was possible and visited some really diverse and interesting places.
Being able to get around so easily on a bike had been fantastic, with none of the traffic worries of riding in the UK. We’d discovered delicious Dutch baking along the way, like their German cousins, the dark breads are full of flavour and general yumminess.
We hadn’t got to all the places we’d wanted to visit. Our plan to visit the island of Texel was abandoned when a violent storm rolled in off the North Sea, trapping us in a beachside bar for a few hours before we finally braved the run back to a van that was rocking so much it almost brought on a bout of sea sickness. There was no way Rosana was getting on a boat.
We ran out of time to visit Amsterdam and the Hague and they, along with other vast areas of the map will have to wait for another time.
Breaking up the journey home we had crossed into Belgium and were now in Bruges, another city full of canals, another contender for the title of Venice of the North. We’d arrived at Camping Melming the previous evening in the most torrential rain and sat on our pitch for some time waiting for a break in the weather to get ourselves set up, as had our neighbours.
But the weather gods had smiled on us and we walked the short distance into the city under a mostly blue sky. The marching band welcome was nice enough, but there was better to come. Men and women dressed in stunning masquerade fashion paraded the streets, posing for photographs with passers by. Costumes were extravagant and colourful but contrasted with expressionless painted masks giving them a gothic aura.
The marching band seemed to follow us into the centre of the city, which was getting a little embarrassing. We dived into a coffee shop to try and lose our tail.
In the Martin McDonagh’s 2008 film ‘In Bruges’, Harry (the chief gangster) describes Bruges, in amongst a great deal of profanity, as a fairy tale city with fairy tale buildings and that’s a perfect description. Bruges is a beautiful city, old and incredibly well preserved. The narrow medieval streets, distinctive old buildings and a plethora of canals combine to create a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is, therefore, understandably quite busy with tourists, although not as busy as we’d feared it might have been.
Chocolate shops line the streets, their delicious looking treats dressing the windows and luring you in. The gaps between chocolatiers are filled with lace shops, Bruges other speciality. We stopped for lunch in the oldest Fritterie on the market square, one last chance for chips and mayo before we returned to a world of chips and ketchup. An afternoon snack of waffles kept our energy levels up, while suicidally strong Trappist beers took care of hydration.
We only had a day and it wasn’t nearly enough to see everything we wanted. We left the city long after darkness had fallen, agreeing that Bruges deserved a return visit to take in everything we had missed.
But our time was up, it was time to head home.