Last weekend I took a day trip with my program up to Bruges, which is located up North in the Dutch speaking region of Flanders. Although it was only about an hour long train ride from Brussels, it truly felt like I was in a different country. Brussels is bilingual by law, but it’s a de facto francophone city. And while the country of Belgium is officially bilingual, there is a distinct linguistic divide between Dutch speaking Flanders and French speaking Wallonia, and as far as foreign languages go, English is preferred in Flanders over French.
Bruges itself is very much a picture perfect old European city, with its canals, old churches, and cobblestones roads. That said, it’s also very much a tourist city. Everywhere you go, you’ll run into large groups of tourists (my program included) on a guided tour of the town. It was a beautiful, quaint city, but I couldn’t help but feel like all of the tourists took away from that quaintness. I think the true beauty of the region was found when we left the city.
We went on a three hour long bike tour from the heart of Bruges to a neighboring city, Damme. The bike ride itself was about three hours long, and although the weather was less than agreeable (rainy and windy, characteristic of Belgium as a whole), it was this ride that made the entire trip worth it. There was something about flying down country back roads on a bike that brought me right back to my childhood. I grew up an army brat, and one of the places I called home was Fort Riley, Kansas. For a year, I practically lived on my bike, passing by farms and fields with my brother. As the country landscape blurred by in Bruges, I was suddenly hit by an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for something I haven’t thought about in years. Be it the smell of country air or the feeling of flying on two wheels, I just wasn’t expecting to find something so familiar so far away.
Brussels is such a lively, fun city, but sometimes you just gotta get out :)