It’s 5.30am on a cold spring day and I arrive at the beautiful and elegantly designed railway station, Paris Gare du Nord. Paris Gare du Nord is one of my favourite stations in Europe. I could easily spend a day watching the high-speed trains arriving and departing the railway station. It is the busiest railway station in Europe. I developed my love for railways at a very young age, as I grew up in the steam era. My school was located next to a railway line and frequently saw trains going past. Every passenger train in India has a name and I used to write down the name of the train whenever I would come across a new passenger train I hadn’t spotted.
Paris Gare du Nord
My train wouldn’t leave for another 3 hours, and one needs to be at the train station 30 minutes before the train departs ,as the platform number is announced only 15 minutes before departure. I stand in place in front of a huge display board so I can spot the trains arriving and departing Gare du Nord. The next 3 hours go pretty quickly, and soon it was my turn, and I head to the platform to board my high-speed Thalys train to Brussels in Belgium. The train departs on time, and in less than 2 hours and 30 minutes I arrive in a new country, and thanks to one Europe, I didn’t have to show my passport. I had no plans to stay in Brussels but instead headed to a beautiful fairy land town, Brugge or Bruges located less than 2 hours by train from Brussels. Bruges is a UNESCO World heritage site and the slow train from Brussels pleasantly passes through the country side of Belgium and arrives in this modern railway station. I was bit confused when I saw the modern railway station. The Bruges I had been told about was different. The disappointment only lasted for few minutes when I realized that I had arrived at the new part of the town, and the hotel I had booked was located inside the old town which was surrounded by an old wall.
Once I entered the old town, my heart pounded, and I felt that I had actually travelled back in time as I walked into this wonderful medieval town. Nothing much has changed in Bruges since the 14th century and it has escaped the modernisation and globalisation. I lost the interest to locate my hotel but rather wandered around like a kid in a candy store. I walked through the cobble lanes through the idyllic canals and passed on the stone bridges and had no idea where I was heading as if I had no worries in the world. I had not seen such a beautiful town and only heard in fairy tales. I spent the next two hours wandering aimlessly on the cobblestones. I had no idea where I was in town, or where my hotel was. It had been more than 10 hours since I had checked out my hotel in Paris and since breakfast I hadn’t eaten anything. But the thought of eating didn’t even enter my mind. Instead, I enjoyed walking aimlessly around the winding streets of Bruges until the sun started to set, and the chilly wind started blowing through my jacket, reminding me to start looking for my hotel. I had planned to stay in Bruges for 3 days, and had enough time to explore this beautiful medieval fairly land. I went and located my hotel. Finally, I settled down for the night and fell asleep listening to the horse carriages going past my room and the noise from the horse shoes trotting on the cobblestone.
Bruges is often called Venice of the North due to its numerous and tranquil canals. It mentioned on the brochure of Bruges that this magical town will capture your heart, and definitely it did for me. It was indeed magical, and I had never stumbled across anything like this beautiful, peaceful, picturesque fairy land. Perhaps next you would ask me if I had spotted any fairies in this magical land, but of course not. It is the image of an ideal place, that was prefect in every way. If you are on a diet, I don’t recommend visiting Bruges as its famous for its hand-made exquisite chocolates and there was a chocolatier shop every few meters you walked. I did finish 250 grams of these exquisite chocolates in one sitting.
Bruges gets very busy during the day, with the tourist buses arriving in the morning around 10am from Brussels bringing loads of tourists. The streets are crowded with tourists and a peaceful stroll along the canals can be challenging. The tourists start to disappear around 4pm, and then the town’s quietness is finally restored. Only a handful of tourists stay in Bruges to explore the quietness of Bruges. As the night falls and the wind starts to get chilly, its time to once again explore the cobblestone streets and wander through the alleyways once again enjoying the tranquillity.
The next morning I decided to wake up just before sunrise, and so headed to the historic part of the town to explore more of Bruges before the tourists arrive. The churches were open for the morning service and was a perfect opportunity to sit in silence and gaze over the medieval building. The architecture in Bruges is beyond belief and they have a unique way of designing the buildings. You can easily spot Bruges if you happen to see a picture of the buildings in a brochure, or in a book, because of its uniqueness. I found an old cafe , and a perfect spot next to the window and gazed at the Markt (market square) and admired the architecture. I spent few hours at the cafe, ordering coffee, one after the other. Then the coffee order turned into glasses of wine. I had done most of the sightseeing for the day, and wanted to relax and watch the world go by.
The best time to take a boat around the canals is during lunch time, when most of the tourists are having lunch or have already completed the boat trips. The journey through the quiet canals, winding along the streets was very peaceful. There were only few people on the boat, and I could enjoy the quietness after a very busy morning at the public square. The boat drifted through the quiet waters of the canal, and white swans swam in pairs made it a perfect journey. I still remember this day and takes me back to this peaceful medieval town. Bruges is a place I would go back again and again and should be on one’s itinerary if you are in Paris or Brussels. I had the perfect 3 days and it gave me the chance to unwind after a hectic few days in Paris. It felt that I had taken a break from my 7 week-long holiday in France.
I left my heart in Bruges and as it was time to step away from this magical place. I walked past the walls of the old city and entered into a different world of chaos. I said goodbye to this fairyland while finishing my last box of exquisite hand-made chocolates as the train zipped past through the idyllic town and in few hours I was back in the chaotic Paris Gare du Nord.
If you would like to see Bruges through my eyes, click on this link In Bruges.
Now is the time to say Au-revoir (Good-bye until we meet again), I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this week’s blog. Your comments and feedback are highly appreciated. Have a great week, and warm thoughts for my friends in Perth who have been experiencing the coldest and wettest winter in decades.