Bruges is a beautiful city. At first it hides many of its charms. On my first morning, with the sun shining, I set off towards the town centre along the main shopping street. It was about 9.30 and the Cathedral wasn't open yet so I pressed on to the Markt, the main square. I'd decided to have breakfast out somewhere, and so, like a lamb to the slaughter, I found myself slouching into a chair at one of the very expensive cafes in the Markt for a looong breakfast cappucino, roll with ham and cheese and croissant... and watched the world go by. It was market day and there were stalls selling all kinds of food and everything else too. When I eventually stirred myself - breakfast had sort of morphed into morning coffee - I wandered around, glancing up every so often to the enormous belfrey which towers over the square and over the whole of Bruges.At last I headed down the little street that leads to the next jewel in Bruges' crown, a smaller square called the Burg, named after the castle which used to be there. It's surrounded by beautiful buildings from different periods, and I found a bench to take it all in from. The horse-drawn carriages you see in the city were clip-clopping around in the sunshine. I soon spotted in the corner of the square the lovely facade of the Basilica of the Holy Blood (right).
Tradition says that after the Burial of Christ Joseph of Arimathea kept some cloth marked by the precious blood. It eventually found its way to Bruges via the Crusades and/or Byzantium. The cloth is in a small glass phial inside another one sealed with a gold crown at either end. It's kept in a shrine in the treasury, but brought out for veneration. A notice said this was happening that day in a short while. So I visited the very atmospheric lower chapel first, then made my way up the stone stairs to the medieval upper chapel. After a while a lady brought the relic to a side altar up a flight of steps, and, after some prayers you could go up and venerate the relic and spend a few moments in private prayer, which I did. Most of those present were ordinary tourists, but I could tell that the place and the simple ritual had a deep effect on many of them. You can see this in the comments made on the relevant page of TripAdvisor...After staying on for a little time of reflexion in this centuries old place of pilgrimage, and possibly in the presence of one of the most holy relics in the world - who knows? - I eventually went back out into the bright sunshine, feeling spiritually refreshed, and ready for Bruges' next delights. I didn't have long to wait, as I turned down a little lane under an arch, and found myself at the centre of the city's wonderful network of canals.