After waking and breakfasting on the generous fare provided by the hotel we walk the half block to the station to catch our train to Bruges. I was told by several people prior to the trip to see this medevil city now before the charm is sucked out of it completely. We stop at the information kiosk to find out which track the train will depart from. We do this for two reasons, we need to know which track the train departs from, although we could have figured that our for ourselves if we had to, but also because the young man in the information kiosk is fucking adorable. On the train we sit opposite an elderly couple. She appears to us to wish her retired husband was dead, the husband appears to wish to be. To worsen matters she appears to have forgotten to put her teeth in that day. This seems odd as she did make certain her earrings and necklace matched. This couple is nowhere near as adorable as the young man in the kiosk.
The day is damp with occasional light showers. The first non perfect weather of the trip so far. After a 45 minute trip we get off the train. The first thing we notice are the scores of bicycles chained to the rack at the station. This mode of transport seems to be as popular here as it is in Amsterdam. we assume people bike to the station and then catch the train to jobs in Brussels.
A park stands between the station and the town. Bruges is famous for the canals which traverese the city. Our first stop is a pastry and chocolate shop. At this point the Belgian cusine is becoming addictive.
While there we ask for directions to the church housing the Michaelangelo sculpture of Mary and the Baby Jesus. We enter the church. Recorded choir music provides a wonderful backdrop to this small masterpiece. It is one of the few Michaelangelos housed outside of Italy. Mary is seated, Jesus is realized as a toddler at Mary's knee. It is a stunning work in spite of it's small size. Originally meant for a church in Italy it was purchased by a wealthy merchant shortly after it's completion and brought back to Bruges. Mary almost seems to breathe. You feel as if the beautifully draped folds of her dress would flutter in a breeze. Accompanied by the serene music the experience of seeing this exquiste piece almost brings me to tears.
Once back outside we make our way to the main square. Banners hang from the buildings as if to herald knights returning from a far off campain. Although the buildings appear venerable I have since been told that they have been largely reconstructed. The clouds and showers have not yet abaded giving a reflective sheen to the stone pavement of the square. We purchase lunch from a sidewalk cart, the only lackluster food we encounter in Belgium. The cart vendor refers us to the "Church of the Holy Blood" which contains a vial of the blood of Jesus (yeah right). We got to the church but discover that is is closed that day. We instead wander back along the canals into the residential portions of the city, an area seldom visited by tourists.
When traveling we enjoy seeking out the interesting by visiting the ordinary. The places where people who live in these world reknown cities make their homes and live their daily lives. When home I sometimes suggest, to those tourists who seem more adventuresome, visits to some of Chicago's hidden gems. For instance, the Tiffany domes at the cultural center and the State Street Macy's (nee Marshall Fields) store. Or the Lincoln Park Zoo, with it's lush, beautiful setting and free admission. But my love for Chicago makes me digress.
We pick up a Christmas ornament of Belgian lace. When hanging on our tree the lights shine through illuminating the flowers in it's center. Having fulfilled my desire to see Bruges, we meander through the park back to the train station. The clouds have begun to break and the brilliant blue skies we have become accustomed to on this trip begin to reveal themselves once again.
We return to Brussels. My partner insists that we verify at the information kiosk that the station we are returning to is also the one we will depeat from the next day for Paris. I point out the station name on the tickets but he is adamant and unwavering so to keep him quiet I comply. Upon inquiring the agent replies "Yes, this is the station but we cannot guarantee". Sensing our bewilderment at this reply, as this is the remarkably efficent European train system, he goes on to explain that there is a strike of all French railway workers planned for the next day. I ask if this will affect the Paris Metro as that is how we planned to get from the station to our hotel He says his understanding is that the Metro will not be affected and the trains From Brussels are staffed by Belgian crews so our train to Paris should also not be affected. He does advise is to arrive early just in case. This information in hand, we return to our hotel.