Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Chocolate, sun and carnival...a little slice of paradise!

So, continuing with the ‘5 days in…’ series….oh no, wait a minute. Not 5 days, just 48 hours! 48 hours to discover a new city…or two…, is it possible? Well, it all depends on how busy you want to be..

After an incredibly hectic period at work, it was time for a short break – just a weekend away somewhere close – the land of chocolate and beer - Belgium. I’d never been before, so was determined to combine some relaxing with a bit of discovery.

Although based in Brussels, we decided to spend Saturday in the nearby city of Bruges, famous for its beauty and relaxed atmosphere.

And it is beautiful. The canals winding their way through the city, sunlight gleaming off the calm water, the picture-perfect architecture everywhere, and…the crowds. Bruges is tourist heaven, particularly at the weekend, and you’re never far from couples getting away from it all, families and coach groups. However, they do tend to stick to the main areas, and wandering away from the centre, we discovered lovely parks next to the river, back streets with interesting little shops and cafes that were near deserted.

After wandering for a while (no need for a map – Bruges is tiny), we went to the Belfry and climbed up for sweeping views of the city. We were lucky to have a gorgeous, warm day with clear blue skies, and the view was lovely, even if the steep, tight steps really weren’t. After a carefully negotiated descent, balancing whilst people squeezed past us at regular intervals, it was time for a cold drink and some more exploring.

Coming back out of a maze of little alleys a while later, we were greeted with incredibly loud music in the distance, and shouted singing competing with the excited cries of children. Curious, we headed in the direction of the noise, emerging onto the main road in time to see the first floats of carnival going past.

Without even realising it, we had come to Bruges on carnival day, which, in a similar fashion to the more well-known German version, had a long parade of floats, each surrounded by dressed-up participants throwing sweets, bagful’s of confetti and singing at the top of their voices. The atmosphere is infectious – the crowd were dancing and hurriedly taking photos, we were covered in the thin, coloured paper thrown everywhere, and children were scrambling for the many sweets dropping from above. Combined with the warm weather and the lovely backdrop of the city, the parade was a real delight and we were thrilled to have stumbled upon it.

As an added bonus, as soon as we spied the final float, we disappeared into one of the chocolate shops, which had been freed of its queues owing to the excitement of the outside proceedings. Served and out again before the shop began to re-fill, we left with our prize, and after a quick stop for some ice-cream, jumped on the train back to Brussels.

A great experience, and I can’t recommend Bruges enough. Easily seen in a day, but no doubt a wonderful way to spend a whole weekend.

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