We stroll along the little colorful houses snugly jammed into one another, with carved effigies of saints over their doors. We wander through tiny back alleys and winding cobbled streets that abruptly end in one of the many canals. A fragrance of chocolate lingers in the air. But then, a stronger aroma of stagnant canal water overtakes the sweet smell. It is high summer. Not the best time to buy chocolate.
Bruges (or Brugge in Dutch), the capital of West Flanders, is deeply seeped in history. The town, sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North”, has preserved its many gothic churches, ornate medieval houses, ancient gateways, and bell towers.
The central market place, a huge square, is packed with tourists and cafés. But regardless of the crowd’s rumble, the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages and the belfry’s carillon can still take you back in time.
Quaint little shops selling lace and chocolate finally lead us to a stone bridge, inviting us to linger… To observe the canal life from the riverbanks, and the many yellow weeping willows dipping their branches in the water. At times, we mistake the swans gliding in pairs over the water for sparkling diamonds. Their graceful necks arched like the bridges that cross the canal. We sit there until dusk, watching the sunset and the colors getting less vivid and gently turning into pastel shades.
Although we have never been to Bruges before, the scenery strangely feels familiar. Somehow I have the impression that I know this town, this particular view, and this ambiance. As I walk down memory lane, I suddenly recognize these canal views from the Flemish paintings I saw as a kid. Paintings that my great-grandparents had imported from their motherland Belgium.
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