Thursday, 30 July 2015

Bringing back Bruges!

Chaar kadam bas chaa..aar kadam....

                     “Raahon main tumko jo dhoop sataye, chaav bichadenge hum…
                           Andheere daraayein to jakar falak pe, chaand sajaadenge hum..
                          Chaaye udaasi latifein sunaakar, tuzhko hasaadenge hum..
                          Haste hasate yuhin gun gunaate, chal denge chaa..aar kadam??”
These beautiful lyrics woven by Swanand Kirkire and composed by none other than Shantanu Moitra take me six and a half years back where I was precisely asked this! Shaan takes this melody to a new height and the wonder that is Bruges, comes back to life! In my memory, it never did fade away but the one thing that PK did was gift me this wonderful song and the reminiscence of a beautiful journey that was, Bruges. 

Bruges by dusk!
Taken straight out of a fairy tale, swung with colourful landscapes not by nature but by manmade architecture and parts of the city intersected with dwindling waterways is Bruges for you! One of the smaller towns of Western Europe also rightfully called ‘The Venice of the North’, this place is like a medieval movie set-up and you being its actors, playing all that you want, wherever and however that you like! The petites boutiques and the boat rides with ducks paddling their way away, as if to make way for you with triangular water ripples, make you wonder why you did not come here before! 

The Venice of the North!
Peek-a-boo from the water!

The cobbled walkways make you trot for they were rightfully paved for horses; Bruges was once a famous port with critical importance and connectivity between the west and the east, making it a destination not to be missed. The small bridges with wooden barricades take you over those canals with boats full of tourists waving goodbyes, passing underneath! 

The central square of the town also called the Market Square is a busy place for shopkeepers, restaurant owners and government workers, alike. Bruges’ nerve ticks here. Such open space bang in the middle of the town with horse-drawn carriages and open cafés tempted me to change my name to Alice. The Belfry stands tall and gauges everything day and night, an architecture hardly seen alike. We had no clue that this tower-like structure, although it looks more of a rocket, can be scaled even. Else, would have scurried for it!

The Market Square!
You can't get enough of them!

Winters of the year 2009 took us to this wonderland and we explored most of it on foot. My then-future-husband and self were on a backpacking tour of three weeks across Europe and good sense prevailed when we chose Bruges and Salzburg amongst other destinations. Having stayed put at the Herdersbrug Youth Hostel Bed and Breakfast, a little away from the city, a quick hop on bus on both the days to the city center by the friendly in-charge of a person, proved to be a good idea. He would tell us about the niceties of town, suggested that we explore on foot and stay till evening, although not very late. The chill of February was in some way a boon as all places we visited had almost an absence of tourists. It was so cold that I had to wrap myself in layers on all days and upon seeing these photographic memories today, I feel like I had carried very few clothes on me. This was actually not the case!
Anyway, the small pathway leading up to the Youth Hostel had chalets on one side of the road with lush green lawns. It had not yet snowed else they would be all draped in a white cover, we were told. Ducks, peacocks and poultry were a common sight and since we were almost on the countryside, the ocean wasn’t far away. We were soon to discover. The first day was a visit à pied (on foot) and he dropped us right at the city center. Exploring the by lanes, we soon reached the market square with bicycles all around the round-about, the tower staring down at us and the cardboard-type buildings built in a circle. I thought someone had just constructed them with a pack of cards and built so close to each other so that they won’t topple! Most of the roofs here looked like a flight of stairs and I wondered what it would be like to draw them! On our way there, we crossed buildings which I thought could be residential for their balconies all housed flower plants! A common sight there. The lampposts in the market square reminded me of Paris, Stockholm and it looked so picture perfect that I was not surprised to find artists sitting on pavements or on bridges and sketching. 

The friendly postman!
I had to coax him to give a pose! 

We met a fellow postman, so we were to discover five minutes into the conversation and he so excitedly told us a little bit about the history of the place. He was actually happy to see tourists from so far away picking this little town nestled away from the usual limelight and told us a few places we could go to. I was so busy noticing his interesting demeanor that I actually missed half the conversation but what the hell! He is one of the faces from this trip I will never forget! 

Hehe again...

A visit to the local museum, a two-storeyed Tintin shop (which by the way totally made my day) and the canal ride gave such variety in one day that I felt contentment deep within. 

Also needs mention is a Restaurant Dreveken. It looked like a Harry Potter set with a small wooden cart right outside, a stout entrance that would make you stoop to go inside and menus all hung outside. A small collapsible roof gave away dim lights inside and the big wooden door (which was closed then) would have made a lot of noise upon opening, I was sure. The day ended with a quick bite from a local mobile eatery and I took a walk in the smallest street of the town. Just about wide enough for me to let a second person pass though it was completely deserted. 

Restaurant Dreveken!
Day two proved to be more exciting for a different reason altogether. We had decided to explore the other part of the town where tourists cared little to venture. The foggy weather should have been a warning but we did not notice. We got off at bus depot which was the last stop and our feet met sand at ‘Indi Beach’. We started walking along the beach as it seemed fun at the beginning. We had thought of coming back to the same spot to take the return bus but we went far too ahead. 

The foggy misty weather!

There was a Buddha statue on our way at one of the restaurants I think…seemed interesting. As we scaled a good 6 to 7 kilometers stretch of sand, we took to road somewhere in between in the hope of finding the correct route. It proved to be hopeless as now, we were completely lost! The misty weather added suspense to the already terse us and we were now looking for signs of human civilization. 

Some sign of life..

There wasn’t a soul in sight and we finally reached a railway track with the sign ‘Duinbergen’ on it. It was a tram station and our last hope to get back to the Hostel as it would soon get dark. After about half an hour wait came along the tram, crowded as we assumed that this must be an hourly service or something. We showed him the return bus tickets which we had bought and he said “That’s like 3 stations extra but you can mount. Get off at …”, I do not recollect the station we got off at and how we finally reached the Hostel. But my legs gave away for the day! We were so busy chattering and enjoying the walk that we did not realize the distance we covered and the way we took. Longest walk and yet, one of the most enjoyable days on the trip. 

Bidding adieu to the canal city was tough. The people we met, the stories we heard, the songs we sang, the streets we crossed, the food and the great time we had was lived all over again when I first saw PK! And I would still maintain what I felt that time – 

                              “Tumsa mile jo koi reh gujar, duniya se kaun dare..
                                      Chaar kadam kya saari umar, chal dungi saath tere…”