Bruges, Belgium

One of the biggest attractions of travel around Europe is the medieval old towns across so much of the continent. Bruges is a stand out with some of the best preserved medieval architecture.

Bruges has an up-and-down history, going from one the most important trading posts and one of the richest cities on the continent to depression as other cities took over and involvement in wars took its toll. The fact that so much of the old city still stands is reminiscent of Tallinn: there simply wasn’t the money to tear down buildings and modernise.

Fast forward a few centuries and it’s happy days again. Tourists love old towns.

Bruges was my first stop on the continent on a long trip in 2016. Having blue skies and sunshine for the start of any trip, mixed with the buzz from not having to think about work and knowing I had several weeks of this ahead, well it all made for a very happy time. I arrived on the morning ferry from Hull, arriving into Zeebrugge, and seemed to be the only person choosing to walk form the ferry terminal to the train station a mile or so away.

Bruges is perhaps the nicest and most picturesque old town I had visited to date. Turning any corner brought about another stunning view along the old streets and it becomes tough to pick a single highlight of this. The scenery around Minnewaterpark is stunning. Markt is still a hot spot for visitors and it’s easy to imagine it as the centre of a busy Bruges a few centuries back. There’s the classic view of Bruges from Rozenhoedkaai. Or there’s any number of churches, side streets, chocolate shops and old bars to explore.

For someone who went straight from university to work (I had the weekend off, at least) and has remained in the same job for over a decade, it’s hard to describe the feeling of freedom from those first couple of days of such a long break. For fortnight holidays it’s almost tempting to not switch off too much in case it makes getting back to work even tougher. Being in a city as nice as Bruges with fantastic weather and my only care being what I fancied doing that day is perhaps the most switched off and relaxed I have ever been.

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