Lessons & Love, From Bruges

It’s Thursday morning and I’m sitting in my living room in Dublin sipping coffee, but would you believe I actually started my week off in Belgium? Because I did. I have pictures to prove it.

Last weekend my roomies and I embarked on our first international weekend trip out of Dublin. We rose bright and early on Friday morning (I’m talking 3am) and took a cab to the airport to catch our flights. Dearest Abbie was off to Edinburgh, Scotland with our friend Cynthia, while the rest of us 29ers were headed to Bruges, Belgium for three days.

And it was so pretty.

And it was so pretty.

You’re probably thinking, What the heck, Jess? All of this happened nearly a week ago and you’re just now telling us about it?  Yes. Yes, I am. My beautiful best friend is coming to town next week and after that, my sweetheart of a boyfriend arrives for our spring break trip to Italy. Suffice to say, I had things to do. Do you think I want to be bogged down writing papers when I could be spending time with two of my favorite people? No. So, Bruges, unfortunately, had to wait.

But after spending yesterday outlining a term paper, writing a midterm essay, and basically kicking schoolwork’s butt, I feel sufficiently prepared to take a few hours to myself and write what I want to write.

bruges architecture

It was the architecture of this old city that first struck me.

Now, keep in mind that three days in Bruges means a lot happened. I saw amazing sights that I cannot begin to describe to you, and if I were to relay every wonderful little detail to you, it would probably take me upwards of 9,000 words. I know because Sarah did just that. If you want the play-by-play, head on over to her blog and have a good laugh about all of our crazy Belgian shenanigans. Here, you’re getting the highlights.

in bruges

I mean, look at how happy these two were. You expect me to fit all of that joy into one blog post?

I think what I took away most from this experience was the idea that sometimes, you need to embrace the unexpected. Those of you who know me probably realize that I’m a planner. I get that from my momma, and I’m grateful for it. I’m not quite the extreme type that needs to have every detail of her day planned down to the minute, but I do like to have a general idea of what’s ahead of me.

bruges canal

Obviously, we had to take a boat tour on these canals. How could we not?

There were plenty of things in Bruges we wanted to see. At the top of our lists were the famed Belfort, the canals, and an exhibit of Northern Renaissance  art in the Groeninge Museum. And I’m pleased to say that we happily ticked off  all of the boxes on our list. But perhaps some of the most interesting stories come from the places and events we stumbled into accidentally.

To my surprise, the Groeninge also had a more modern exhibit called Making Connections, that I absolutely adored.

To my surprise, the Groeninge also had a more modern exhibit called Making Connections, that I absolutely adored.

After arriving in the city, we grabbed some food and dropped our things off at Snuffel Hostel, where we’d be staying during the duration of our trip. (Definitely check it out if you need a place to stay in Bruges. It was large, clean, and modern and we had a good experience there, with the exception of one incredibly rude roommate on our second night, and I don’t think we can really blame that all on the hostel itself. The staff were actually very accommodating when they found out what had happened and did their best to right the situation.)

Also this tower. One of my favorite sights for sure.

Also this tower. One of my favorite sights for sure.

I’ll admit that at this point, travel had me feeling a bit weary. We’d been up since 3 and had already traveled by taxi, plane, and train. I was in awe of the city though, and was doing my best to squash down the twinges of mild annoyance I could feel welling up in me. Luckily, Bruges was on my side. We had decided to wander down some side streets on our way to the main market square, and stumbled upon one of the many massive cathedrals scattered around the city.

Weary? With this view? Meh, what can I say? I'm an introvert at heart.

Weary? With this view? Meh, what can I say? I’m an introvert at heart.

Just as we were walking by, the doors opened. Divine timing? Maybe. Regardless, we watched another couple head inside and figured, why not? And it was the first of many very good decisions we made on our trip. The interior of the church was beautiful, covered in ornate carvings and stained glass. (I really love stained glass.) All of my worries melted away as I stared up at the sanctuary before me, trying to take everything in.  This was how much of Bruges would be for me — staring wide-eyed and taking as many pictures as possible, all the while knowing they’d never be as incredible as seeing the real thing.

stained glass

Really, really love it.

Sure, there were some ups and downs. (Did I mention the rude roommate from the hostel?) But overall, I can look back on our adventure and feel my heart swell. No amount of words I write in this blog post can accurately describe what traveling made me feel.

musea bruges

There was just so much my camera lens couldn’t capture, but I tried my hardest to do it anyway.

I can tell you that I saw a Michelangelo — yet another accidental feat. Madonna and Child had been on our list, but we hadn’t even realized we were in the famous Church of Our Lady until we had been standing in front of the altar for a few moments, and upon closer inspection thought to ourselves… Is that…? Yes it was.

We ended up walking into the middle of a parade as we exited the torture museum (because yes, they have that). We were promptly covered in confetti and bombarded by lollipops. We later learned that it was some kind of celebration before lent that was supposed to have taken place the week before, but for some reason had been postponed and timed perfectly for us to stumble straight into it.

bruges parade

Well hello there, confetti.

I heard the bells from the Belfort play their song just feet from my head as I looked out over the small city, its red orange rooftops and cobblestone streets stretching out toward the fields and mountains beyond. I found a massive fountain that I still can’t tell you the name of, all lit up at night. I bought chocolate from a man who thought we were Brits. None of these things were planned, at least not explicitly. But it was these unexpected moments that brought Bruges to life.

bruges belfort

Tolling bells and an incredible view? 366 steps is nothing.

I’m not saying you should jet off without planning anything. Having a valid train ticket is important, and looking up discount museum passes will save you quite a bit of cash. But when traveling, accept things as they come. I think this is something I’d always heard, but never fully understood until I’d gone off and done it myself.

So thank you Bruges, for the lesson, the memories, and the waffle.

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