On Tuesday 16th January Susan and I went on our visit to Brugge, sent packing and paid for by our daughters and their partners as a Christmas present. They had booked us in to a Hotel just up the road/canal from Van Eyck square, a short walk to the Market Square.
Actually the whole of Brugge is not too far to walk and we had a wonderful couple of days exploring this beautiful city on a cold but sunny winter's day. The city is an architectural delight with much of it retaining its historic atmosphere, which in January, with the lack of crowds of tourists, we were able to delight in. There really are too many delightful spots to describe or illustrate in this short blog post and the humblest of back streets can produce 'domestic' gems to match the majesty of the public and ecclesiastical buildings.
One of the things that made Brugge so enjoyable was the way that sculpture is to be found in plentiful supply throughout the city, not only public monuments to the great and good but contemporary pieces in unexpected places both outside and in public buildings and churches. The fact that I saw no graffiti (of the mindless 'tagging' kind) to spoil the works or the environment of the city, made it all the more enjoyable. The enjoyment of a new city can be marred too often by the feeling of insecurity caused by seeming dereliction and violated spaces when explored for the first time.
Our first late morning and early afternoon was spent wandering the city spaces, discovering the beautiful squares, waterways, tucked away corners and grand squares. We ventured into churches and found contemporary art work, wonderful bridges over canals that seems as if they had not changed for 500 years! Sue and I already knew by then that we would return to this city - and we hadn't yet even sampled the beer.
Eventually we came to the periphery of the old city and found a restaurant for lunch and a drink of Zot. It was good to see local shop workers and local people in there with us - much nicer than eating in or close to the Market Square, where prices are extortionate and filled with visitors. It was a relaxed place and provided us with a rest for our feet before we set off toward the Cathedral and the Arentshuis museum to look at the Frank Brangwyn collection. It didn't disappoint. Brangwyn's work looked amazingly contemporary and for an artist who was very definitely from a privileged background he showed a great sense of compassion for the working class within his work. The social and political content of his work made it all the more contemporary - we don't seem to have learned a great deal in terms of equality of opportunity or a greater sense of compassion toward our fellow man!
Because the weather forecast was somewhat uncertain in terms of rain for the following day, we decided to leave the Groeninge Museum until then and took a wandering walk around the city took a few Zot beers in at a local bar and then headed back to the hotel to rest and change before dinner.
The evening meal was taken at a small Labanese Restaurant close to the hotel and despite there being few clients our meal was good and our host, the owner was delightful. He was extremely proud of his cultural heritage and of his home country, speaking freely of both and we engaged in conversations about our respective families and children. It was a lovely end to a wonderful day.
In the morning, after a night in the largest bed we had ever slept in, we took breakfast in the hotel and headed out toward the Groeninge Museum to look at the Flemish Art collection. Before going in I was able to take a look at the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse in the square outside. They were interesting pieces and enjoyed a great spot to be seen by the public.
Despite its relatively small size their are masterpieces in spades to be enjoyed. Quite how some of the works became known as Flemish Primitives I don't quite understand. I would recommend a visit by anyone who visits Brugge. Again the museum was quiet (though not quite as quiet as the Brangwyn collection) and this made the visit all the more enjoyable. The work is shown in spaces with beautiful coloured walls that served to enhance the jewel like quality of the colours in the works. The paIntings were sufficiently good for me not to worry about the lack of sculptural work within the collection.
As we only had a short time before having to leave we took the opportunity to visit a few more areas of the city around the Town Hall and came across the Absolute Gallery showing contemporary works of painting, mixed-media work and sculpture. A great little gallery who were very welcoming and were happy for visitors to take and share their photographs. Sue and I were both smitten by the work in rice paper and acrylic on canvas by Zhang Hong Yi. These were beautiful objects whose colour changed as they were passed. Whilst there were other works in the small show to enjoy, we both agreed that they stole the show.
Our experience from the moment we arrived was one of warmth in the people we met and a desire to be helpful and even on quiet streets at night we felt secure and were able to fully enjoy the ambiance of the city at night. Unfortunately though, we were not staying for another night so had to return to our hotel to collect our bag and meet our pre-booked taxi to take us to the station. Whilst the journey home was hassle free and quite relaxing, we were sad to be leaving.
Thanks to the J's and Adam and Jack for the wonderful present
UNTIL THE NEXT TIME!