To be subjected to the full fascination of Bruges, one should see it on a fair, still night, without a moon. In every direction gables mysteriously cut the sky. All is vast and dim around the funereal canals, out of which, one knows not how, gray towers, like the architecture of fairyland, spring through bouquets of colorless foliage. On the lustrous and vitreous waters, profoundly quiet, a few reflected lights are dancing.Edmund Gosse, “Impressions of Bruges,” The Independent, 28 June 1900.
At one time, the canals of Bruges bustled at night. The city’s wharves were crowded with ships. Sailors drank to oblivion. Hawkers sold their wares. Merchants guarded their warehouses packed to the rafters with English wool, Flemish linen, Persian silk. The city’s citizens were among the wealthiest in Europe.
Now, it’s still. And it’s beautiful.
The glassy water of the canals reflects the lights and fairy tale architecture. The wet cobblestones glisten under the street lights.
And the Belfry of Bruges, along with some of the other landmarks towering above the city, are brightly lit up with floodlights. The canal boats are wrapped up for the night. The horses are back at their stables. The streets are quiet aside from the occasional tourist wandering back to their hotels after a Belgian feast washed down with Trappist beer. They walk past the shop windows full of chocolate or Flemish lace. Or they stop by a takeout window for dessert of a Belgian waffle topped with very un-Belgian whipped cream.
And then it’s quiet and still again.