I took the Belgian train from Brussel Centraal right into Bruges on Sunday. It takes about an hour. The first 15 minutes give you an elevated glimpse of Brussels’ buildings, kind of like legos they way they mount one another, their roofs creating a beautifully-crooked line against the sky.
In a blink, you’re coasting through the countryside. Vast farmland – green and dotted with sheep, cows, and birds – is neatly divided by old fences and lines of trees. The sky is so big – so big that you can see where one type of weather starts and another stops. I could tell when we’d enter the rain (I didn’t know it would turn to snow) and I could see sun on the other side even while we were still under the clouds. It was a day of and for walking around. The sky was blue like some sort of lollipop or popsicle. When you weren’t listening to the holiday music hanging in the air, or overhearing people gush about the chocolate shops (I heard one woman say “It’s like a Giant. Chocolate. Santa Claus.”), the clip-clop, clip-clop of horse drawn carriages taps pleasantly at your ears. The spirit puts a little pep in your step. You do join a parade of tourists as you get off the train and take the first steps into the city – but UNESCO said Bruges was beautiful. Something would be wrong if there weren’t tourists. That said, the amazement of everyone at the beauty of this town is palpable, even between strangers. It is proof that people’s physical surroundings affect them. All of us walking around, sharing carriage rides, chocolate truffle samples, we were all affected by this Bruges city. Bound together instantly by the atmosphere of a place. Natural endorphins born of the impromptu creation of Community. Places matter. Places make a difference. And places need protecting. (three cheers for Bruges)