Tag Archives: streets

A Bruges visit brought to you by the letter ‘B’

  

1. Belgian chocolate

All I’ve had are a couple of samples, and they were nice, but I hate to tell you I don’t actually really like chocolate. I know it’s shocking to admit, but I prefer the fruit fillings and other ingredient to the chocolate that surrounds them. However, for those who like chocolate, there is every possible product, many packaged like the attractive rows of Bruges houses. A novelty favorite are the chocolates made to look like rusty tools, bolts and locks. Although I haven’t indulged in a chocolate , I have eaten marzipan that was supposed to taste like lemon and nougat studded with ginger and apricot. 

  
2. Beer

Another Belgian favorite, but again I’m not really qualified to advise on the many types or their taste. I had my first beer in Belgiam tonight at a Pizza Hut and it was cherry flavored. I’m sure all serious beer aficionados are shuddering right at this moment.

  
3. Belfort

If you visit Bruges and you want to climb the Belfort tower to the very top of the belfry, get there as early as you can. They only let 70 people up at a time (which is a mercy considering the necessity of passing people on the increasingly narrow winding stairs). I was lucky enough to only have to wait for one person to exit. The relentless 366 stairs climb is nicely broken up by mini floors with information displays and samples of bells. After the long climb the breeze at the top and the view were much appreciated. However ear plugs are probably recommended for when the carillon starts playing while you are up there as the sound of 47 large bells is somewhat deafening!

  
4. Breeds of dogs

I don’t think I’ve seen any dog breed more than once, apart from the fact they are often in pairs of the same breed, but I have seen a lot of dogs, including sharing my visit to an art gallery with some sort of Afghan hound and his owners. Large dogs don’t tend to be very light on their feet on wooden floors. This may be the only time I get to appreciate Picasso in the company of a canine. Perhaps Picasso would have approved: he was certainly unconventional. The only cats I’ve seen in Bruges are the ones on the plentiful tapestry products in the shops. If cats inhabit the city, they must be safely tucked away in their residences. 

  
5. Break-neck speed

This is the speed of the many cars that hurtle around Bruges’ cobbled streets with seemingly little regard for the many cyclists and absent-minded tourists meandering the streets where ‘foot path’ is a matter of opinion.

  
6. Boats and birds

The open boat canal cruise is a popular option and even in the rain they seemed to get a good turnout. People also happily queued in the rain for the boats. The main on-water competition for the boats is the iconic white swans. They are beautiful to watch floating along in formation in a swan flotilla. Swans, ducks and other birds all enjoy the canals. 

  
7. Bicycles

Bike hirers seem to be doing a roaring trade and many tourists and locals traverse the flat streets. There are ample bike racks in a number of squares and many bikes can be photographed leaning against walls in picturesque locations. I’ve done on all my wandering on foot, but a few blisters later the bikes are looking like a good option. 

  
8. Bridges

As Bruges is a city encircled and criss-crossed by canals, there are many small stone bridges that enable canal crossing. Some have a single inverted half circle opening, while others have three. These openings allow the burgeoning canal boat ride business to prosper. Many of the bridges also seem to be home to various plant life. One bridge is even overlooked by the patron saint of bridges. 

 
9. Bewildering streets

It seems to be quite easy to get quite lost in the meandering streets of Bruges – or maybeIm just directionally challenged. There are certain landmarks, like Markt and the Burg or the various churches, but because all the streets are constrained within a large oval shape, most streets don’t just run north-south or east-west. However this is all part of the charm, as you never know what new experience you’ll come across, but try finding your way back to the same place twice, when you never saw the street name, and it can be a challenge. 

  
10. Bilingual

Bilingual was handy because it begins with the desired letter, however the truth seems to be that many who work locally are quad- or quin- lingual (is that a word?). I presume most locals speak Flemish, and they can also be heard conversing pretty fluently in Dutch, French, German and English. Most menus are also printed in 4 or 5 languages, making it a very easy place to travel. The range of visitors seem quite broad and I’ve interacted on a minor or more sizable level with people from USA, Spain, Poland, Japan, France and overheard people speaking English, German, Mandarin, Dutch and Eastern European languages. 

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Just passing through…

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Streets are a means of getting from one place to another, and sometimes our destination is a house or business on a particular street, but are streets destinations in themselves? I was looking back over some travel photos and trying to remember famous streets that I’ve visited, and work out why they were famous.

I once visited the extremely steep cobbled street in Shaftesbury, England, which is called Gold Hill, and was apparently made famous by a 1970’s TV commercial for a brand of bread I’ve never heard of. It is very photogenic, but I’m glad I don’t have to climb it every day – definitely not the street to learn to ride a bike on! Of course there are many other streets that have been made famous because of prominent TV shows or movies that featured them. In Melbourne you can go on a tour to the Ramsay St made famous by ‘Neighbours’ – but I have made a point of never going on that tour. When you travel, you often see special polished plaques that show where famous people were born, or died, or where historic events took place – I always feel ignorant when I’ve never heard of the person mentioned on the plaque. In Germany I saw ‘Hier war Goethe’ (Goethe was here) on a house – I believe there’s a bit of a joke that he was just about everywhere in Germany, perhaps the equivalent of claiming Queen Victoria spent a night in your town’s hotel. Streets are even famous because fictional characters lived there, like Baker St and Sherlock Holmes, or Lyme Regis and Louisa Musgrove’s fall from the steps of the harbour wall in Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Some cities are famous for all the streets, rather than just one, like Hanoi and the chaotic motorbike and other traffic and the constant din of horn honking, or San Francisco and the steep steets and iconic trams.

I visited Drosselgasse in Rüdesheim, a town on the Rhein in Germany. Originally a thoroughfare to the river in the 15th century, Drosselgasse is a very narrow laneway in the old part of town, which is full of elaborately decorated taverns and restaurants – apparently in the summer crowds of tourists flock to it and there is music playing along the street all day and night long – but we were there in May and I was able to get a photo with no people in it ( don’t remember hearing any music either). Other streets are known for a particular ethnic group that inhabited the street, like Singapore’s Arab Street and established shops or restaurants there, and like Chinatown in many cities. On a visit to Seoul we were looking for lunch and emerged out of a train station onto Seoul’s street of toilets and bathroom fittings. It was a long walk to find food…

The streets near your home or work often become the places where your own history is based. I remember certain streets because I lived there, or a friend did, or I once visited a shop there that has now closed down (like the chemist where I accidentally hooked my umbrella on the corner of a glass shelf and sent a whole row of bottles of calamine lotion cascading onto the ground where they broke and made a large puddle on the carpet – the people in the shop were very gracious, but I avoided that shop for a year afterwards and was sort of relieved when it closed down)… Sometimes I remember a street because I took a walk with someone and had a significant conversation. The subject of the conversation somehow becomes interwoven with the places you pass as you converse, or the fences and walls you stop and rest against.

Last year at a film festival I saw two French films that were filled with scenes of characters walking. One film, Tirez la langue, mademoiselle, translated into English as Miss and the Doctors featured the two male leads (brothers who are doctors) and the female lead walking separately through the 13th arrondissement of Paris at various times of the day and night, meeting up in a cafe, or going to or from work. The prevalence and extent of these scenes made me ponder why they were there. Was it a statement about French life? Did the individual walking styles of the characters reflect their personalities? Or was it just an opportunity to show the street scenery – the walking equivalent of a car chase film shot in narrow Italian streets?

Rohmer in Paris was another film that brought together numerous scenes of characters from the films of director Eric Rohmer walking through Paris. The director of this film, Rohmer in Paris, also weaves his own history of Paris and his intersections/obsession with Rohmer into the movie. The streets of Paris are very scenic, of course, and there is something dynamic about walking scenes. Something about the action of walking seems to help the mind to process things.

What do streets mean to you? Do you have a favourite street? On the one hand I liked experiencing the over-the-top lighting display of Singapore’s Orchard Road on a night near Christmas, while on the other hand holding fond memories of an unpaved avenue lined by elms half disappearing into early morning mist. Sometimes I do like to stop and ‘smell the roses’ on the street, but other times I’m just passing through…

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