Bruges the Beautiful and Bicycles

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.

 

10 thoughts on “Bruges the Beautiful and Bicycles”

  1. Yes a different way of life there in Bruges. Very old, very medieval and very awe-inspiring. Great beer too. But at the moment it has a dark side – terrorism. Fortunately many of them have been cleaned out but it has been a hiding place. Life was great there once with all the freedom of bike-riding and easy canal travel. No doubt this period will go down in history too. I sat for ages in the market square taking in all the beauty and history but one now has to be careful.

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    1. It is still great there now and I imagine it will stay much the same. Bruge makes too much money from its medieval image, big square, restaurants pumping out bland moules e frites, and canal rides for tourists. . Bike riding in Bruges is not about to disappear either, given that the bicycle, like in neighbouring Ghent and Amsterdam, is part and parcel of the fabric of life there, given the nature of its streets and pedestrianised ways.
      The presence of terrorism in – France, Rome, USA, Brussels, Turkey, and who knows where else has not deterred tourism. Giving in to fear is not on the agenda.

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    1. When I wander the streets of Brunswick back at home, as a pedestrian, I fear cyclists. I’ve been abused by them when crossing a road, or when walking along the shared bike/walking road along the railway line. Bike aggro is a real problem in Melbourne.

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  2. What wondrous photos of one European city I have missed ! What atmospheric historical beauty!! Though I am passionate about cycling [well, the lycra-clad racing type 🙂 !] I am regarding the less hurried and harried Bruges A>B style with pleasure. Don’t quite know how I feel about the ‘no helmet’ custom, but if road courtesy prevails it must work . . .

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    1. We need helmets in Australia because of our roads and speed. The cycling style in Europe is more like walking really, no racing and no aggro. Bruges is a great little city, though the food leaves a lot to be desired. Even beyond the tourist traps of Moules e frites, Flemish stews and so on, the food is expensive and bland. Our walking circles got wider in search of good veggies on a plate, and as a consequence, got to see all the streets of the old city. The art galleries are also very fine- Jan Van Eyck, Bosch, and one Michelangelo sculpture.

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