Aviation legend Verne Jobst once said
Flexible is much too rigid. In aviation you have to be fluid
But honestly, it’s not enough to say that you have to be fluid in aviation. Flexible is much to rigid period. In life you have to be fluid. Something my friends and I learned the hard way when we made plans to go to Mont Saint-Michel one weekend.
I’m not saying that things didn’t go the way we planned, I’m just saying that this post isn’t titled “My trip Mont Saint-Michel.”
That would have been too easy.
One of the main things that travel in general–and especially study abroad trips–teach you is that all plans will eventually go awry in one way or another.
Gare Lille Flandres
It all began with plans to rent a car and drive to Mont Saint-Michel, spend the night in an Airbnb, then return via Omaha Beach the next day. We woke up in high spirits and began the early morning walk to one of the two main train stations in Lille to pick up our already rented car.
Life tip: to rent a car in France the credit card must have a name on it. Whoda thunk?
Rather than a quick in and out to pick up our car and be on the way, we ended up sitting in this train station listening to the SNCF Jingle for three hours ad infinitum.
Don’t get me wrong, that jingle is a work of art, but after 180 minutes it becomes almost torturous.
Once again we made the trip up (and slightly to the left) to Brugge, Belgium. Known for being a city that rivals Venice in beauty, canals, and abundance of tourists as well as a city that isn’t Venice whatsoever.
Brugge is a 2 hour train trip (or a one-hour bus ride) from Lille, and is a city well worth going to. We got to the city early in the morning, and immediately started blazing a preexisting trail towards the city center.
As we walked through one of the main city gates, we began to see the famous canals popping up on either side of us.
As we walked further into the main town, the area opened up into what–despite being essentially a tourist trap–was a gorgeous pedestrian-friendly street. On either side, people mingled and ambled and meandered and occasionally stopped to take a picture using their iPhone 6Ses with retina displays as the crowd around them parted like the ocean meeting an immutable rock on the coast of Newfoundland.
Eventually we wandered into the main square, where there was a civic event!
Underneath the belfry (which was built in 1240 then burned down as many medieval things tend to do before being re-erected in 1280 as many medieval things tended to be) the town had set up a stage for what seemed to be a festival. I say seemed to be because there wasn’t really any signage. Either way, it really brought Brugge to life with people bobbing their heads in tune to 40-year-old rock music in the shadow of a 735 year old bell tower.
Finally, we capped off the way walking away from the city center and towards the back part of town–closer to the locals. There, we found a little gem in the form of an old city gate.
Compared to the rest of the city, the gate was untouched: the only people there were locals and some swans (who have enough critical mass in the city to count as a few people. In relative loneliness, our group was able to explore a different side of Brugge: one that was more authentic.
We stumbled upon a bridge bearing an old city crest
And all of it was entirely ours to experience free of other people. In all honesty, it was like a completely separate experience. Which brings me to my point.
You can drop hundreds if not thousands of dollars on organized tours with the buses and the people in a reflective vest holding up an umbrella while they corral you like sheep across a meadow.
You can be those tourists getting a safe, prepackaged view of an area that’s designed not to be challenging.
Or you can break from that. Go on your own, pick your own path and stumble upon true surprises–surprises that will stick in your memory for longer than the trip itself will.
I know what I’m choosing.
A LIL city with a lot of bells
On the topic of belfries: If the sign in the city hall is to be believed Nord-Pas de Calais is the region in France with the most amount of bells.
Which means that its a region rich in belfries.
Which means that there has to be at least one that allows people up top.
The Beffroi du Hotel du Ville is just that belfry. Lille’s city hall is home to more than just local government officials, it’s home to this gorgeous clock tower and observation platform.
From the top, there’s nothing to do but stare in awe and bask in the view of this gorgeous city.
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