Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas Markets - Bruges

As I pondered what else I needed to see before I leave France, it was without a doubt that I needed some more Christmas Market merriment.  I couldn't go without the oh so festive, carb laden, mulled wine fests celebrated throughout France and Europe.  Last year we visited the markets in Strasbourg and Colmar, which I think are still the gold standard, but we wanted to see some new ones this year so we tried a few in Northern France, and I also squeezed in a stop to Bruges.


Bruges has all the perfect markings of a fabulous European town.  In the beautiful village set on the water category they excelled with extra credit. The many arched, stone bridges were picture perfect.


Then there were historic buildings and squares on the water, along with birds enjoying the scenery.


The half timbered houses put them in an award winning category.


I almost imploded at the site of the rainbow, but it made the all day rain, much more palatable.


Bruges scored in the top percentile in the water category, but then they also scored high marks on their central square, complete with City Hall and Bell Tower.


I decided to climb the 350 steps up the Belfry for the city views.  Evidently Brugians have very small feet and large lungs as this was a pretty, decent challenge.


It was well worth the trek for the amazing city views from the top.


Every European town worthy of its own tour book needs to have some special local delicacies.  Bruges has many to brag about, but the most prominent were the Belgian chocolate shops on every corner.  And those were in between all the waffle shops where you could get any sugar product imaginable to top the battered treat.


Mussels are in season, so yes, I had to get moules frites.


I'm not quite sure I can explain the all-you-can-eat spare ribs, but they do go well with beer.


The bar we went to had over 300 kinds of beer, not including their special Christmas brews that I had to try.  Each and every beer has its own glass, which seems like a storage nightmare.  We may have come close to getting kicked out of here, but not for rowdy behavior, but rather for asking for strange beer combinations that we were flat out denied.  That said, the locals were all extremely nice, and nearly all spoke English, which they much prefer over French.  There's quite the rivalry there, so I was more than happy to help by speaking English.


All good European towns have at least one beautiful, old church, and Bruges beat the average again with 3 substantial structures all in the city center.


In addition to beautiful structures, they also had some memorable objects in their churches.  They had one of the few Michelangelo's outside of Italy, and they also had what they claim to be is the blood of Christ in the church above and below.  The story goes that one of the caretakers for Jesus in the tomb had gotten some of his blood before he died and it was brought to Bruges during the Second Crusade as a wartime gift.


You can imagine the speculation that this is indeed the blood of Christ, but I went into the chapel where it's on display.  You walk up about 10 stairs where a well decorated priest sits behind the lit box.  A vile of blood is chained to a red velvet pillow in a plexiglass container - king of like the Popemobile, but for bodily fluid.  Pictures weren't allowed, but people put their hands on it and the priest would wipe after each person.

So Bruges has legend as well.  Could this sweet little town be any better?  Yes.  It was all beautifully decorated for Christmas with lights everywhere and an ice rink in the center square.


They had the obligatory food and mulled wine stalls, which weren't exceptional, but it didn't matter because the rest of the city was so spectacular.


And of course the store windows were as festive as the surroundings.


I hear Bruges is even more lovely in the summer when you can sit outside near the water and drink your beer and eat your chocolate covered waffles. 


Next up:  Northern France's Christmas Markets.

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