You can feel the old world charm in Bruges. That is because the city has been painstakingly restored to it's initial form; how it was a couple of centuries back. As a result, the exteriors of the buildings is preserved in time. The interiors are modern, replete with technological advances. Also, the cars lining the roads reminds you about not really being in the olden times. In order to transport the visitors to historical times, the city regulates the traffic in some sections. Only pedestrians and horse-ridden carriages are allowed in these sections.
The commerce in the city happens in the giant square shaped open space aptly called the Markt. This square is crowded with tourists who are either busy eating in the restaurants around or clicking pictures of the magnificent buildings lining the square. The most impressive building is the Belfort. Towering into the sky and higher than all the others, it is not only a jaw dropping sight but also an engineering blunder. Although not perceivable by naked eye, the tower leans to one side.
You can also climb up the spiral stairs to the top of Belfort for an aerial view of Bruges and also admire the 46 bells on top weighing over 20 tonnes. Being the busiest weekend in the year, there was a long regulated queue which could take me hours to reach the top. So I gave it a miss. The Markt also features the statue of two 14th century guildsmen who led a rebellion against the French. Yes, the Belgians were dependent on the British for the raw materials for their crafts and ran into problems with the French. If you are wondering the reason behind the affinity for British, check the map. They are very close to the British and the waterways allowed easy transport.
If you venture into the side streets that radiates out of the Markt, you enter into perfectly serene environment. The streets are quiet. You will hardly find anyone outside the restored buildings. While walking through these streets, you are more likely to meet a fellow tourist whose body is alternating between stooping to check the map and straightening to gaze at the buildings. I walked through the streets for around 2 hours.
One thing to say about Bruges is the abundance of churches. For such a small city, there are quite a lot of churches. For the same area in Kerala, I'm pretty sure of not finding as many churches in a city which has primarily Christians. We are more densely populated than this European city. Do residents visit these churches? Or does the city pay the maintenance charges to ensure a steady flow of tourists? These were the questions on my mind.
Another striking feature of Bruges is the canal system. This feature also give rise to comparisons with the original city of canals, Venice. I have not seen Venice. But I have another city of canals in India which is referred as Venice of the East namely Alleppey or Alapuzha. The similarities are many. Some of them evoke sadness.
Let me be clear. I'm not sad for the lost youth but for the negligent local governing body. Bruges allows certain sections of the canal to be green. By green, they allow the plants to go over the sides of the canal and the connecting bridges. They do this to give an earthly beauty to their manmade structures. The end result is amazing. Whereas in the case of Alleppey, the greenery is due to abandon and neglect.
The city offers also has a lot of museums highlighting the Flemish culture, lace industry etc. If you want to explore the city, there are many ways - walking, guided bus tours, guided boat tours, horse carriages etc. As a repartee, there are more photos of the quiet inner streets.