Mont Saint-Michel not included. Literally.

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.

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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.

20150919_085833So that didn’t work. Not that I’m salty or anything. Instead we stayed in Lille that day and made a snap decision to travel the next day. Our destination:

20150920_105525The Venice of the North

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.

20150920_110410Around us we were surrounded by Dutch-style architecture, whisking us away from France and into the Flemish part of Belgium.

As we walked through one of the main city gates, we began to see the famous canals popping up on either side of us.

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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.

20150920_111358Eventually 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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Erik says:

    Thanks for the tour, Raul – and Happy Birthday Weekend! You’re exactly right about making your own way. It’s really almost comical. Even on my own recent trip to the Bahamas, you can pay hundreds of dollars to go on a snorkeling tour; or you can just walk 100 feet down the beach with your own snorkel and mask, see the same fish – and pay nothing. What’s even funnier is that they do these tours under the guise of “safe zones” where people won’t rob you. Um … if I do my own thing and people happen to steal $100 from me, they’d STILL have taken less than the price of the “safe zone” tour! LOL

    Glad you’re having a grand time. You do a great job of transporting us to the sights, sounds and even smells you’re experiencing. Thanks again.

    1. raulrgonza says:

      And the irony is that by sticking to those large groups of people who are obviously foreigners, those people actually become larger targets than the smaller groups.

      It reminds me of a Canadian TV show called Departures: it’s about two men who leave their jobs for a year to travel the world–but moreover to integrate themselves into the culture they arrive in. So they have few destinations but each one lasts for a long time. It’s worth a watch: should be on Netflix!

      Thank you for the compliments, I try my hardest to convey the world.

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