In search of Molly’s ancestry we instead found history and character galore in Bruges. The ship docked at Zeebrugge a small port area about 20 km from Bruges and 100 km to Brussels. Our time ashore is limited as we anchor up at 3:30 pm. We decide to grab a taxi and head into Bruges.
The port is a busy shipping terminal surrounded by warehouses and container yards. As such, the port authority collects all passengers at ship side for either an escorted excursion or shuttle to the terminal building. We shuttle to the terminal and hail the next can in the queue. It’s $55 Euros to travel from port to city centre. The drive is scenic and we search the farms for signs of Molly’s kin. No luck.
Our driver, a young immigrant from Gaza, drops us in the Market area and agreed to pick us up again at 1:30 pm giving us 4 hours to explore. The market area is a circular plaza of cobblestone and surrounded on two sides by large buildings (city hall) and restaurants and shops. There are horse drawn carriages, cyclists, cars and pedestrians swarming the area in organized chaos. We quickly exit the circle using one of the many side streets (spokes) leading away from the circle.
There are retail shops that would make the seasoned shopper swoon. A Mecca of designer stores and upscale boutiques as well as cafes and liberally sprinkled with chocolatiers. The aroma of fresh baking and chocolate and designer perfumes is wafting through the narrow streets. We meander our way through the main museum area which is a collection of beautifully maintained buildings including what appears to be the priory and perhaps convent. We notice the stations of the cross in pride of place in the tranquil gardens.
Throughout the city the narrow streets and interesting architecture there is a series of canals and bridges. (As an aside we note that the system is far cleaner and less pungent than Venice). There are ancient bridges and porticos everywhere. So we decide to take a canal tour by boat. Only approved boats are allowed on the inner city canals – no pleasure boats/crafts and swimmers. But they do allow swimmers in July and August. The water quality is ok! The canals were the main supply chain distribution method of old and the buildings abut directly into the water. Including the former jail where you can see the old prisoner loading dock. The oldest bridge dates back to the 1200’s and the newest is circa 1970’s when concrete was invented. Most of the buildings have retained their stunning heritage.
We pass university, brewery, hospital, churches and plenty of private homes. One of the canal side homes recently sold for $1.2M euros. Simply amazing.
At the end of the tour we back track to the brewery we passed on the water. We enjoy a tasting flat of local beers on the waterside patio. And then continue our stroll back to the market plaza via a chocolate store. We meet the owner who empathizes that we can’t schlep anything major back home and offers a shipping (pay with PayPal) solution. US or Canada. But US is half the price. Go figure.
We make our way to the plaza to where our taxi will collect us and we decide to relax with another beer and a snack. We have a pint of local beers complemented with olives, cheese and salami. It’s one of the many restos in the plaza and offers an outdoor patio perfect for people watching. The scenery is bar none. As our table neighbours get their lunch orders we are envious of the delicious looking salads and frites (served appropriately with mayonnaise).
Just as we finish our last sip, our taxi approaches. We wave at each other and make our way. He whisks us back to the port. We pass lots of farms and herds but there is no sight of Molly. I can’t wait to see her.
Back on board we watch the port activity from our balcony. Did I mention it’s sunny and 60’s?? Another day in paradise.