I know. Its a song (by Brother Love). But the thought often comes to mind these days, when we are traveling the world. Probably because we don’t often go to “out-of-the-way” places. We go to known attractions. And world tourism – at least before the pandemic – was at an all-time high. In fact, some of the most sought after destinations (like Venice and Santorini) are (or were) actively seeking ways to limit tourism on their islands. Understandably. Cruise ships and masses of people are taxing the infrastructures and the shear beauty of places like this. I have read, anecdotally, that the canals of Venice have actually cleared up, with the lack of visitors during the pandemic. It is a bit of a dilemma for me. I see places and I want to go there and photograph. And as such, I am perhaps adding to the problem.
There are some places that are still crowded, but perhaps less so. One of them seemed to be Bruges, Belgium when we were there, although my shot of the tourboat might suggest otherwise 🙂 . After visiting busy places like Paris, London, Dublin and Amsterdam, it was a nice change to wonder the comparatively quiet streets of Bruges, and to sample some local beer, chocolate and wines.
We ancitipated Bruges, which our research touted to be “The beer capital of the world.” We had a 1/2 day tour scheduled at the beginning, which in addition to some historic sites and buildings, was to also include some chocolate and beer tasting. Belgium is know for its chocolate, its waffles, and its beer. Unfortunately, we recieved a call from our guide who was driving from Brussels, as we waited out by the cruise terminal. He was tied up in traffic from a major accident and it didn’t look good that he would be arriving any time soon. We ultimately cancelled and took a taxi into the city. Even though it doesn’t seem far on the map, it was a good 1/2 hour drive, and during that time our driver – whose English was excellent (though his native language is Dutch), gave us some historical context.
Bruges, was perhaps one of the earliest Belgian cities, rising in medieval times and becoming a major trade center at the Renaissance emerged. It was strategically located near the sea (our port of call was Zeebrugge, which means “Bruges by the Sea”).
There is a continuous canal from the port in to the center of the city. Its most prominent feature is the Markt, a large oval plaza, surrounded by colorful and impressive architecture; today mostly retail establishments catering largely to tourists. Our cab driver dropped us off on a quiet street directly behind the Markt and we made arrangement for him to pick us up and return us to the cruise port later that afternoon. As we walked into the open plaza, it became immediately obvious that this was a photogenic scene. Lining the plaza on one side are some very colorful buildings with Dutch Colonial architecture, belying strong Dutch influence. There are some pretty impressive historic buildings, including a belfry that dates back to 1240, once the center of the town on the other perimeters.
The Belfry is about 272 feet high and it towers over the surrounding buildings.
Bruges City Hall also faces the Markt and is an impressive building.
WWe arrived between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m., to a city that – surprisingly – had not seemed to have awoken yet. We walked around some of the surrounding streets where there were no vehicles, few people, and shops that had yet to open.
Bruges is also a city with numerous canals, and has been referred to as the Venice of the North. Having spent a fair amount of time in Venice, I can say that while the canals in Bruges (and Amsterdam) are impressive and lie in beautiful surroundings, they are very different from the canals of Venice. Notably, there are automobiles everywhere. Having said that, I will be among the first to agree that Bruges’ canals are photogenic.
Indeed, canal tours are among the most popular thing to do in Bruges, and certainly afford a great way to see the city.
In addition to tasting some of the local brew and chocolate, we did walk around the old city and saw a few other nice sights as we walked.
Ultimately, we found some beer, we found some chocolate, and we ended up a nice, rather relaxing day in Bruges at Cuvee Wine Bar, where we had a couple nice wines, and some cheeses and meats, before heading back to the cruise port. Back at the cruise port, as we sat on the back bar enjoying the late sun, a drink and the sail-away, I wasn’t sure whether to feel safe, or threatened, given that the ship moored directly behind us was most certainly not a pleasure cruiser. It appears that they make them a bit smaller than we do stateside. 🙂
Our recent Celebrity Cruise was entitled “The British Isles.” So why did I lead with the Eiffel Tower? The cruise “title” is mostly accurate. One would generally think of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and perhaps a couple smaller islands as the British Isles. Our cruise included ports of call in LaHavre, France, Bruges, Belgium, and Amsterdam, Netherlands. But who is complaining? 🙂 . As I often do, I made several hundred images over a 2 1/2 week period. In coming weeks, I will give a more detailed accounting of each of the many new places we visited. Today, I wanted to give just an overview of what a huge territory, and vast subjects we covered.
I have mentioned a few times here, that my wife and I like to cruise. When we can find like minded companions, that just makes it all the more fun. There were 4 of us this time, and I am pretty sure I can vouch that we all enjoyed our time in Europe. When we go to a new destination, we like to arrive in the departing port city a few days ahead, to explore, enjoy, and get to know the city. Though my wife and I had been to Dublin before, we found many new things to see and do during our 4 days there.
When we were in Ireland back in 2014, we made a very brief trip into Northern Ireland, to see the Church where King Brian Boru was buried. This time we had a full (very full) day from our port of call in Belfast. Our driver and guide, Mark, was as good as we have ever had, and he had some surprises in store for us. As an “outdoor” photographer, I love a pretty scenic image. Northern Ireland did not disappoint. Indeed, as I have been processing images, it is “sneaking up on me,” that Northern Ireland may have been my favorite stop of this trip. I would definitely return and explore further, if given the opportunity.
The following day, we arrived in Liverpool, England, across the Irish Sea. We were scheduled for a Beatles Tour (what else would one do in Liverpool? – well; stay tuned, it turns out: a lot). For my Michigan friends, my quick research lead me to (wrongfully) conclude that Liverpool would be like Flint (maybe we need to organize a Grand Funk Railroad tour in Flint?) :-). Look for my upcoming post on Liverpool. It was eye-opening for me.
Next, we were back across the Irish Sea, and in the south of Ireland, at the tiny, but beautiful little port of Cobh. Cobh possibly rivals Northern Ireland in my view, for photographic potential. I made some nice images there, though at least one of them was one of those (perhaps hackneyed) “must do” shots that has already been done thousands of times. Known locally as “The Deck of Cards,” maybe I was able to make a unique “take” on the famous row of houses with the cathedral in the background. I will let you be the judge: again, in the weeks ahead. We overnighted in Cobh, and spent a day there, and a day touring Blarney Castle (site of the famed, “Blarney Stone”), and Cork City.
By then, we had spent most of 8 days on our feet. Blessedly, the following day was an “at sea” day. It allowed for some much needed “R&R.” After our day of rest, we arrived in the British port of Dover. For reasons I will expound on when I get to Dover and London, a few weeks out, I might have planned this stop a little differently. But we took the train to London and had a day-long “Black Taxi” tour of London.
Our next port of call was LeHavre, France. We again overnighted there (this was unprecedented for my wife and me – two full overnight stops). We took advantage of an early arrival and a late departure 2 days later, and again rode the train to Paris, where we stayed overnight. A huge city, we spent 2 very full days there. That barely scratches the surface, but we saw a lot during our time there and I thought it was not only very worthwhile, but one of the highlights of the cruise. I will note in upcoming blogs, that both London and Paris really need multiple-day visits to do them justice. Unless a cruise ends or originates there, it probably they don’t really lend themselves to cruising.
Again, not really the “British Isles,” we ended our cruise with stops in Bruges, and Amsterdam. Known for its beer and chocolate, I sampled a little of both in Bruges. It is an impressive, historical, and very small city, which was well worth the visit. In Amsterdam, we rode the canals, did the obligatory walk through the “red light” and “cannabis” districts, and generally saw some impressive sites. Amsterdam is, again, a massive city. We only got a little taste of the more touristic (as they say in Europe) parts of the city.
In the end, we were exhausted, but the trip served up many new places, and added to our list of places to explore in more detail in the years to come. The only “gear” I carried was the Sony small camera (RX100iv) and my small tripod (which did not see any use). On cruises, it is rare to be on location in early morning, late afternoon, or at night. The only possible “night” shot might have been the Eiffel Tower, but the timing and place were just wrong. If I were to make a longer stay, land based trip, I might rethink the gear. I love the lightness and portability of the small camera. But I find myself missing the versatility of the DSLR on some occasions. The coming weeks will cover each of the above – with images – in more detail.