Saskia’s Adventures in Beautiful Bruges

If you can imagine a fairy tale town from one of the fairy tale books of your childhood, it would be Bruges. A medieval town in the Flemish region of Belgium, it is easy to get to from the UK, for a long weekend. We went in July, the weather was glorious and the beer cold.

Pic 1 the hotel.JPGWhere to stay

Our two-night stay for the weekend was at The Hotel Dukes Palace, a palace from the 15th century which was absolutely perfect. It is right in the centre but has secure parking in the underground car park, and as we drove, this was essential. This is a luxury hotel, so it’s a real treat, and it is comfortable and central, which is what we wanted. There are many hotels to choose from and, as we always book at the very last minute, we can safely say that this works for us. This way, you can get some great bargains too.

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What to do

Whenever we go anywhere, we wander around, because we feel that it is the best way to get to know a place. Bruges is a great place to do this as it is easy to walk around. The streets are cobbled, so comfortable footwear is essential. It was warm in July but it does get very cold in winter and you will definitely need to wrap up accordingly.

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The city is surrounded by canals and many of the streets are pedestrianised so it is safe and very clean. We headed for the historic centre called Burg Square which is very easy to find. The buildings that line the square are ridiculously pretty with tall, coloured walls and stepped roofs. There are lots of welcoming places to eat or sit and grab a ice cold Belgian beer. We decided to take an open-top bus as the teens don’t really enjoy sightseeing. This way we could still see some of the points of interest without dragging them around museums or churches!

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The bus leaves the square every 15 minutes, costs around 15 Euros per person and takes about 45 minutes. The commentary was easy to follow and, as a history nerd, I liked all the historical details that were provided. It’s good to learn something about the places that you visit. Bruges is known as the Venice of the North as it is surrounded by canals and has more than 80 bridges. Once it was one of the wealthiest places in Europe due to these waterways enabling trade.

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After the bus tour we wandered around the shops which were all enjoyable. There are about 50 chocolate shops in Bruges where the chocolates they display are like works of art. Many shops sell beautiful lace too.

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Now for the best part….the beer. Try the Dubbel Blonde which was definitely my favourite. Proost everyone!

*Did you enjoy it? This is a guest post from a fellow blogger, Sophie (Saskia is her daughter). Do head over to Sophie’s and experience with her a life in the shires, where the lovely lady lives in an old house with a wonderful family, two cats and her dog Dottie (we clearly have something in common).

 

Torcello

“Don’t look now,’ said John to his wife, ‘but there are two old girls two tables away, looking at me all the time. I don’t like it. There’s something very strange about their eyes.’

The wife, Laura, turned and saw what she saw and laughed as she commented that they were two men actually.

He said: ‘…You mustn’t laugh. Perhaps they’re dangerous. Murderers or something going around Europe, changing their clothes in each place. You know, sisters here in Torcello this morning; brothers tomorrow, or tonight, back in Venice.’

We walked past a trattoria where Daphne du Maurier’s John and Laura might have sat as they demurred about the identity of the two women in the supernatural thriller ‘Don’t Look Now’ . 

Cross the commercialism of Murano, get past the chirpiness of Burano , and you find yourself on this tiny, once-abandoned island (about six miles off Venice) where tranquility has taken up residence. Most people would skip Torcello of the shy personality. You have to look beneath the reserve and maybe, just maybe, you will fall for Torcello?

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The vaporetto from Burano dropped us at a small pier where a Madonna with a child is carved into a niche on the walls. A stone tablet above confirms that you are indeed in Torcello. Past a curiously stagnant and winding river, framed by droopy willows and scraggly trees, you walk into the island. Red and green colours pop up along the promenade that leads into the heart of it. A small bridge straddles it with no protection on its sides. If you wobble on it, you would be in the river surely. Though I would not risk those waters. They lie strangely still and the weeds in them look like the life has been sucked out of them.

Plus the bridge was built by the devil himself in one night to win a bet. Then you have tales of unlucky lovers, the heartbroken heroine of the tale consorting with a witch (who you know is hand in glove with the devil) to bring back her dead lover to life, and then, the devil being the devil claiming the souls of children as his gift. The witch, however, died midway. Did the devil get his fix of dead children’s souls? Who knows. I climbed gingerly up that bridge and stood looking either way, staring at the lonely campanile sticking out above the pastel coloured house fronts, and wondered about Torcello’s ‘haunted’ reputation.

A handful of people live on it – the maximum number is possibly 20. A deep irony given that it was the first island to be inhabited in the lagoon, by the Romans of Altino who were fleeing marauding Huns. It preceded Venice. At the height of its glory when 20,000 people are said to have lived on it, Torcello acquired a utopian renown through the words of a 6th century writer. This man, Cassiodorous, wrote: “There is no distinction between rich and poor. the same food for all ; the houses are all alike and so envy – that vice which rules the world – is absent here.” Possibly laying the roots of for the democratic Venetian Republic that came up by and by. Torcello was eventually abandoned because malaria struck along with other problems. Now there are just two churches, a museum and a handful of eateries.

At an unpretentious trattoria called Locondo Cipriani, Ernest Hemingway spent four months in the 1940s as he wrote his book Across the River and Into the Tree. It is easy even now to slip into that world of Hemingway. Little would have changed since on this desolate island of reeds and bracken, where time tends to float by as if in a dream.

Get Your Pert Behind to Torcello:
Hire a private water taxi (if you are willing to fork out the big notes) or better still just board a regular ACTV waterbus from Venice. If you are working your way through the various islands, Torcello is a short boat ride from Burano. Vaporetto line 9 makes half hour runs between the two.

Where to Stay:

If you want to brood and contemplate upon the vagaries of life on the island of Torcello, do it like Hemingway and stay at Loconda Cipriani (www.locandacipriani.com). A double room is priced at €110 per night.

What to do:

You do not have much to do on the island – which is the delicious beauty of it.

Torcello’s Byzantine-Gothic cathedral, Santa Maria Assunta. Climb the 11th century campanile for views across the marshy island.

Museum of Torcello. Look out for the Throne of Attila. Who knows if he sat on it or not, but the bishops of Torcello surely did.

Church of Santa Fosca which is said to home the remains of a 15-year-old martyr beneath its altar.