I have had the good fortune to visit Bruges six times in as many years, but never during the year end holidays, which I experienced last Dec. 28th. I far preferred the previous visits. There were such dense crowds of tourists drawn to the Bruges Christmas festivities, that they transformed one of the most appealing features of this remarkable town, its idyllic calm, into a carnival. That might be a plus if you like carnivals, but I hate them.
My first visit was in August, also a very busy period of the year, and much more agreeable, with incomparably fewer other visitors. This time I experienced something not seen before: service providers who were inattentive, indifferent and not particularly friendly. In previous visits they impressed by being so agreeable. Waiters, ticket vendors, hotel staff, and taxi drivers all seemed eager to share their pleasure in living and working in such an enchanting place with those who came to visit it.
Service at the restaurant we chose for lunch (Tom Pouce at the Burg Plaza) was slow. Items ordered were over-looked, and had to be re-ordered. Later, I over-heard a gruff and curt admonishment from one of the town’s ubiquitous coach drivers to his hapless passengers, as they clippety-clopped by, “Information and tips are not included in the price!” Talk about service with a smile!
The great numbers of visitors spilled into the streets, where local bicyclists give them no quarter, and tried to race through them, bells ringing furiously. One actually slapped a member of our group, as she whizzed past, when our companion did not step out of the cyclist’s path fast enough to suit her.
Previous visits to Bruges were almost spiritual experiences. The ensemble of harmonious and unblemished 14th, 15th and 16th century architecture contributed to that. The fabulous Flemish art collections added depth to the spiritual experience. This time that very same setting served as a foil and highlighted the churlish behavior of those who forgot that ‘tis the season to be jolly, and a time of Peace on earth and good will toward men.
Fa la la la la!