Downpours Don't Dampen Bruges' Appeal


Crossroads' associate editor Judy Koutsky departed for a press tour of Belgium on June 4. Armed with a laptop and digital camera, she is chronicling her experiences for close-to-real-time publication on the Web site. Following is her second installment:

BRUGES, Belgium -- I had been told by trustworthy sources that if I saw nothing else in Belgium, I had to see Bruges, widely considered to be one of the most well-preserved medieval cities in Western Europe.

BrugesWant to make friends and relatives back home squirm with envy? A postcard from Bruges, with its cobblestone streets, canals and quaint outdoor cafes, is all it takes. Of course, postcards typically show how the city looks when the weather's good, not when it's pouring rain like it was during our visit.

Although I was able to enjoy its stunning architecture and appreciate its small-town appeal, a canal ride along the city's borders didn't seem so appealing when the sky was alive with lightning. Biking along the picturesque, winding roads (a favorite activity for both Belgians and tourists) was also nixed. Plan C -- simply walking the streets to peruse the markets I had heard so much about -- was scratched off when the rain saturated our shoes and socks.

But Bruges did not disappoint. I didn't get to take advantage of the many outdoor activities available throughout the city, but, as I discovered, there's much more to Bruges then its charming exteriors.

Grotemarkt Getting out of the torrential rain was our first order of business, so we stopped in the main market square, Grotemarkt, and ate at De Beurze for lunch. Here, a fireplace kept us warm and cozy while the waiters gave suggestions on how to spend our afternoon.

After warming up and drying off, we followed our waiter's suggestion and headed for the Gruuthuse Museum. This 15th century gothic mansion -- a medieval dwelling with all the fixings, including a torture chamber -- excites the imagination. The rooms are numbered, 1 through 22, and are festooned with Flemish paintings, antique furniture and pictorial tapestries dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.

We had hoped the rain would let up while we were immersed in our medieval history, but as we stepped out of the Gruuthuse, we once again were treated to damp clothes and shoes. Luckily, Bruges does not lack tea rooms and gourmet cafes. We settled into one and warmed up over cafÆ au lait and a giant waffle complete with ice cream, whipped cream and sprinkles. I was told that that although the tourists pile their waffles high with condiments, most Belgians eat their waffles plain. They're sold like cookies in stores, and Belgians eat them as snacks during the day.

After lingering over our coffee, we decided to head to the Arentshuis, the lace museum. There were beautiful displays of lace used throughout the centuries. My only complaint was that the descriptions and guidebooks did not come in English. But the samples were nicely displayed, and the small museum is a terrific way to spend a free hour or so.

Brave tourists On the whole, my rainy day in Bruges was not a loss. By day's end, the rain had eased enough that some groups could take a boat ride on the canals.

Bruges has been described as an open-air museum, referring to its picture-perfect outdoor appeal. But thanks to the admittedly disappointing weather, I was afforded an opportunity to discover that Bruges has much to offer indoors, as well. Visitors should not wait for it to rain to find that out.

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