Bruges (pronounced BROO-zh) reminded us of Venice; a canal town with bridges linking the neighborhoods together. Like Venice, Bruges, Belgium made its fortune in the maritime trade of the middle ages. Many of the smaller streets are closed to all but walkers and motorbikes and feature outdoor cafes in the summer and small shops with local goods. The city was founded in 1128 as a major trade center and the town has been beautifully preserved. By the 14th century, Bruges’ population rivaled that of London with merchants seeking the cloth trade and imports from all over Europe. Today, visitors still flock to Bruges, but for its charm, chocolate and beer. With two town squares, fine Flemish art, food to die for, original and restored magnificent old buildings, skipping Bruges, Belgium would be a crime.
This is a place where you want to stay and explore the Flemish countryside. The citizens are rightly proud of their spotless community, the many churches and well preserved homes. They mostly speak French, but you will hear some German and most everyone easily converts to English. We were stopped by a teenager, asking if we were Americans. A crowd of her friends gathered as we were asked where we’d been and we got to inquire about their town and get advice on where to eat. Bruges is a very friendly place!
But what would it be like to live in Bruges, a town of just over 100,000 people? Here’s what we found from the locals.
Housing: A one bedroom apartment in the city center will run you about $1,200 per month. In the suburbs, you will pay about $800 USD. Most housing is in (what Americans call) condominiums. In the suburbs you can find modern single family homes.
We found this row-house 3 bedroom, 3 bath home for sale for $275,000 not too far from the city center.
Crime: Bruges has a very low crime rate and a recent survey found that 81.1% of its citizens felt safe walking alone during the day and 75% felt safe at night.
Health Care: Bruges has several modern medical facilities and doctors available. Medical care is not cheap in Belgium and it is best to purchase a medical insurance plan.
Money: Belgium is part of the European Union and the Euro is the currency.
Etiquette in Belgium: While the citizens are more laid back than the French, they dress smartly when going out to dinner and are very punctual. Men are greeted with a handshake and women friends greet with 3 “air kisses” on alternating cheeks. Bring wine or after dinner chocolates to dinner at a friend’s home.
One of the most memorable things we did in Bruges was take a horse drawn carriage tour through the city with our English speaking guide. We came to his sister’s café, tied up the horse, and went in through the kitchen to have lunch with the family. Their little boy came and sat at our table and, although he didn’t speak English, we spoke the language of the coloring book and learned words from each other. We were taken to little-known back streets and interesting historical sites. What a fascinating place!
Go back to Bruges? In a minute!