Life is full of surprises and so is Bruges.
I’ve just returned from a four day sojourn in the city and its environs, and now feel hugely inspired to return and explore the area more thoroughly. I last visited Bruges about 25 years ago on a day trip and had a vaguely pleasant recollection of green canals and attractive coffee shops, but whilst the canals remain seductively tranquil and green, the coffee shops proved less of a draw on this visit than the architecture of the side streets and the suburbs.
Bruges is first and foremost a City of Brick. “Bricky Brugge” rolls pleasantly around the mind and off the tongue, but in fact the etymological origins of “Brugge” do not lie in brick. Nonetheless, what the Bruggans achieve in terms of brick building makes me think that Lego must have secret Flanders origins.
To begin with, no tower is too tall for a bricky statement. I find tall brick towers awe inspiring and scary in equal measure.
Awe at the achievement in keeping them so aligned and upright. Scared at how easy it is to knock over an old brick wall. Just one push, and surely it will topple?
Then there is the bricky sculpture. Curvilinear volutes to warm the cockles of a rococo heart. Elegantly protrusions over architraves and archways. Such planning, such precision, to form these constructed sculptures with such delicate clarity.
And then the range of brick-ness. An extensive palette of earthy reds, terracottas, ochres, oranges: dark and light, delicate and rough.
And not least was the variety of architecture and an astoundingly successful series of integrated modernist designs alongside and within traditional terraced housing. We cycled one day to Blankenberge on the coast (yes, the Blankenberge you have never heard of but clearly a hugely successful summer resort for Belgians) and peddling frantically both in the seaside town suburbs and into and out of Bruges, I was quite overcome by the inspiring range and variety of domestic architecture.
Here’s how badly it affected me. I am in our domestic partnership the navigator, the direction master, the one who pilots through life using the sun and seasons and The North Star. I pride myself on my ability to orientate myself in any town at any point after a cursory glance at a map.
Save in Bruges. With my face constantly swivelling in all directions in scary Exorcist fashion to take it all in and not miss a single brick, I failed to grasp our position and direction in any meaningful way. I was, to be blunt, totally useless and alarmingly confused about how to get anywhere. Himself however was transformed by my ineptitude into a master explorer and traveller.
Bruges. Architecture. Who’d have thought?