As I wrote about yesterday, PJ and I were recently in Belgium. I had one day at the end of the trip to be just a tourist, so we took the train up to Bruges and spent most of a day walking around this historic city.

Bruges saw its heyday in the late Medieval and early Renaissance periods. By the fifteenth century it was one of the cultural centers for art in Europe. Amazingly, Bruges survived both world wars in tact, making it an almost pristine glimpse into the art and architecture of the early Renaissance.

Bruges is an incredibly beautiful city — it was cold but mostly clear while we visited. It must be heavenly in the summer! The architecture combined with the canals make it a uniquely beautiful place. Many of the streets are cobblestones, and the oldest houses and buildings are built so as to form continuous walls and fortifications. I could almost feel what it was like to have lived here hundreds of years ago. Cars and other signs of modernity seem so out of place in these streets.

After we left the train station, we made out way to the Market Square, which was being decorated for the holidays. After walking around it, we decided to climb the bell tower, which was built in 1300.

Unlike many other towers that attract tourists, this bell tower does not have an elevator. Instead, you have to walk up each and every one of the 366 steps yourself. But it’s definitely worth it.

As we walked up, we could see the instrument that plays the bells at certain times during the hour. On the way down, we even got to see the guy playing it.

But the real attraction, of course, is the views of the city:

Here’s a picture of one of the bells:

We spent most of our time in Bruges in the Groeninge Museum, which was only showing a special exhibit rather than their full collection. It’s being renovated, or something like that. But it was an interesting exhibit that I hope to write about later.

We also walked through the courtyard of the Begijnhof, which is a convent for Benedictine nuns. After visiting Amsterdam earlier this year, I’ve become vaguely interested in these kinds of convent spaces. Someday I’d like to learn more about them. All in all, we really enjoyed our brief visit to Bruges. It’s a beautiful, historic city. It was nice to visit in late fall; it would be great to see again sometime in summer.