It’s hard to sit still when you first arrive in Bruges. The Flemish guild buildings lining the Market Square, the towering 12th century belfry, the fairy tale horse and carriages, the canals circling the old centre and the sweet smell of waffles in the air, it’s all too beautiful.
After the initial foray in and around the main tourist quarter, one thing becomes very clear – the importance of the bicycle to city life.
The residential streets away from the central area are surprisingly quiet: walking around the black blocks, along narrow roads with low rise apartment buildings and alongside the canals is a breeze; the city is flat and the traffic is confined to one way streets. Older folk ride for their lunchtime shopping, groups of children whiz by on the way home from school, young and old ride with nonchalance – no helmets, no bike lanes and definitely no lycra!
The bike culture here is European, non competitive, and integral to the street scene. No one is racing: cyclists don’t display aggression towards pedestrians or motorists. They weave their way through pedestrianised streets or squares, passing parked cars without fear of being doored, without the need for self-righteousness. Common courtesy prevails on roads and walkways. Meanwhile, an excellent bus services the city, and the train station is only a brisk 30 minute walk away, with cheap fares to Ghent and Antwerp.