I’m sorry to say that Bruges and I did not get on at all well. In fact, we parted on bad terms and the next time we met each other, we simply ignored each other. That was totally fine with me. So how did it come to this? Why is Bruges, a place where most travellers rave about, became one of the worst destinations for me to visit this year?
Actually, I confess that I have already been to Bruges before about 15 years ago on a school trip to discover the WW1 Trenches in Belgium but I couldn’t quite remember it apart from buying far too many Belgian chocolates and a weird postcard for my parents. That’s it. Already, Bruges didn’t make a lasting impression on me. So why did I go again?
Peer Pressure and Convenience.
When I announced I would be going to Belgium, I took a gander on the travel blogs to find out where the best places to go in this country. Many travel bloggers simply adored Bruges and its wonderful canals as I read to my fascination such as The Travel Hack’s Weekend in Bruges, Need Another Holiday’s Belgium’s Bubble and As The Bird Flies’ Christmas in Bruges. However, many travel blogs did warn their readers that it’s definitely touristy. I didn’t mind, I rather like being a tourist sometimes and ‘baaaaa’ing when the opportunity felt like it in a group. I made my mind up to re-visit this charming looking city.
So what about convenience? Well, I knew I wanted to go to to Belgium but I wanted to take an opportunity to travel differently rather than flying over to the continent. Hence, that’s why I opted to take an overnight ferry with P&O Ferries from my hometown of Kingston Upon Hull to Zeebrugge (Bruges’ Port). So, it was just as well that I check out Bruges while I was in the area.
So on one fateful morning in June this year, I was dropped off by the transfer bus from the port to the welcoming sign of Bruges and In Bruges, I entered.
The Tourist Grand Infestation
As I shielded my eyes with my hand against the rising sun to look up at the Belfry that stood majestically over the Markt Square, I began to appreciate it when all of a sudden, I was pushed and jostled to one side by a glowering tour guide and his impatient hordes of tourists in his group. (It numbered at least 40 people). Grumbling to myself, I looked up once again and became immediately annoyed when the tour group surrounded me, invading my personal space. Tutting profusely, I had to inch my way round each tourist to get out of this ‘infestation’ as I mildly thought and walk away hoping for a better spot.
This would become a recurring theme throughout the rest of the day.
I would constantly be dodging around people as I walked, people would crowd me, any beauty spots would be crawling with tourists that at the end, I simply gave up taking pictures on my camera as I would be sick to death of seeing tour guides with their umbrellas or flag or weird items that they would hold aloft above their head to get the group following them photobombing any nice picture. Tourists were a pest here. I became more and more irritated throughout the day and I think my feelings were enshrined in a wedding party that I saw happened on the Love Bridge.
The Love Bridge is an extremely popular spot for tourists and after a futile 15 minutes of trying to take a decent picture, I gave up and went to cross it. However, I saw a wedding party come up the other way and simply wanted to get a nice picture of the happy couple on the bridge. So I simply stopped halfway and backed away to get out of shot as a courtesy to them. But to my utter amazement, many tourists simply ignored them and proceeded to walk in front of them and even stop in front to take selfies with them without the couple’s permission. In the end, after seeing flickers of extreme annoyance in their faces, I stopped the flow of tourist traffic onto the bridge. Well, that prompted an outrage for those who were stopped. I reasoned with them just to give two minutes for this happy couple so they can a memento of this happy day. Nope, I was angrily abused at but I still held my ground. Luckily, they got the picture they wanted and I let everyone go by but not without thanks from the locals.
By late afternoon, I was stressed, harassed and felt I couldn’t breathe. I’ll never forget the moment when I sat on the side of the canal to consider my options. Surrounding me, I could see tourists literally everywhere. On the many boats filled to the sides that crowded the canals, gaggling in crowds on the streets, overflowing on the riverside bar terraces and in the many windows of the beautiful Flemish architectural buildings.
Quite frankly, Bruges has become an annoying theme park.
So what did I do?
Rather than staying any longer in Bruges, I marched up to the train station and jumped aboard on only a 20 minute journey to a place where I would fall in love hard and profess to have this place as my Continent base of operations.
That place was called Ghent.
And do you know why one of the reasons I loved Ghent?
They were no tourist infestation. Finally, I could breathe.