Paradise Found: How Expats Are Embracing Life in Medieval Bruges
Paradise Found: How Expats Are Embracing Life in Medieval Bruges - Cobblestone Streets and Storybook Architecture
With its winding cobblestone streets and storybook medieval architecture, Bruges offers expats an idyllic backdrop for daily life. Wandering the cobblestone lanes reveals Gothic buildings, bridges, and canals that seem lifted from the pages of a fairytale. It's easy to feel transported back to the Middle Ages while strolling down Breidelstraat past step-gabled houses or crossing the iconic Rozenhoedkaai bridge.
The entire historic city centre of Bruges has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its well-preserved Gothic architecture. The Belfry of Bruges, which houses a carillon of 47 bells, dominates the Markt square while the 13th century St. Salvator's Cathedral and its soaring spire add to the storybook aesthetic.
Beyond the postcard worthy central squares and buildings, meandering side streets lead to quiet courtyards and gardens that offer a reprieve from the crowds. Discovering secluded alleyways and crossing humpback stone bridges over the canal creates a feeling of intimacy with the city for residents.
Long-term visitors remark on the ease of imagining daily medieval life unfolding around them as they go about modern routines in such an evocative setting. Simple errands feel elevated, like a stroll to the bakery for fresh bread takes on fairytale notes while surrounded by stepped gables.
Even with the droves of tourists pouring in during high season, the overwhelming beauty of the architecture helps residents stay grounded in why they chose Bruges as home. The city's ornate buildings serve as visual inspiration and prompt connections to centuries past even during everyday moments.
Russell Shorto, an American writer living in Amsterdam, reflected on falling for Bruges after repeated visits, realizing that waking up to horse carriages clopping down cobbled lanes would keep life's magic alive even amidst quotidian tasks.
Of course the reality of maintaining ancient infrastructure poses challenges at times, from cobblestones precariously loosening to the constant need for preservation efforts. But most expats agree the old world ambiance imparted by the winding streets and medieval buildings outweighs any inconveniences of living in a "museum city".
What else is in this post?
- Paradise Found: How Expats Are Embracing Life in Medieval Bruges - Cobblestone Streets and Storybook Architecture
- Paradise Found: How Expats Are Embracing Life in Medieval Bruges - Becoming Part of a Welcoming Community
- Paradise Found: How Expats Are Embracing Life in Medieval Bruges - Indulging in Belgian Beer, Chocolate, and Frites
Paradise Found: How Expats Are Embracing Life in Medieval Bruges - Becoming Part of a Welcoming Community
Beyond the enchanting backdrop, many expats credit Bruges' welcoming community as a key factor in embracing life abroad. While language barriers and cultural differences can make assimilation intimidating, Bruges stands out for its inclusive environment that helps expats forge genuine connections.
Long-term expat residents enthusiastically describe local Bruggelingen as being patient, friendly, and curious about newcomers. Many report how conversing with neighbors, local shop owners, and fellow parents at school has allowed them to steadily pick up Flemish words and customs. Expats comment on displaying their sometimes clumsy attempts at the local language being met with encouragement, interest, and help.
This openness provides newcomers daily opportunities to gain cultural fluency, from understanding the enthusiasm for Belgian beers at the local pub to navigating the city by bike as locals do. Rather than being treated as outsiders, expats find Bruggelingen take an active interest in sharing their traditions and integrating visitors into the social fabric of the city.
Several American expats mention joining their local parish and feeling immediately welcomed into the church community. Attending services and events allowed them to form meaningful connections despite language barriers. This sense of belonging helped ease homesickness during the transition.
Expat parents also emphasize the inclusive environment cultivating fast friendships on the playground and at school events. Knowing their kids can make local friends helps put expat families at ease. Many also join family-focused organizations and clubs to further immerse themselves in the local parent culture.
Of course, cultural differences remain. The more reserved communication style of Flemish culture can seem aloof at first to some expats. But most find that giving it time allows for sincere relationships to develop at a measured pace.
Paradise Found: How Expats Are Embracing Life in Medieval Bruges - Indulging in Belgian Beer, Chocolate, and Frites
Belgium's reputation for indulgent food and drink draws many expats to embrace the culture of savoring life's pleasures. Belgian beer, chocolate, and twice-fried french fries (frites) tantalize taste buds and provide cozy comforts during long Nordic winters. Lucky expats in Bruges find these treats available in abundance.
Bruges offers over 300 varieties of Belgian beer, representing one of the widest selections globally. From potent Trappist ales brewed in nearby monasteries to sour lambics aged in oak barrels, beer enthusiasts can sample a dizzying range of styles. Locals take pride in their brewing traditions, with many families passing on favored recipes for generations.
Popping into one of Bruges' many estaminets (taverns), you’ll find cheerful chatter flowing as freely as the beer. Try a draft De Garre Tripel, Bruges' signature brew, and understand why beer ranks close to religion for Belgians. Or order a flight to compare Abbey dubbels and tripels side by side. Seasonal offerings ensure there's always something new to savor.
Pairing bold beers with hearty carbonnade flamande, a Flemish beef stew, or moules-frites makes for cozy nightsspent with new friends. Expats enjoy learning regional Pairings, like matching sour lambics with salty maritime cuisine. Those intimidated by beer's complexity find locals eager to guide them through the experience.
Savoring artisanal chocolates provides another sensory pleasure. Bruges’ long history of chocolate-making reaches back to the 17th century. Today, over 50 mom-and-pop chocolatiers produce confections using time-honored techniques. Centuries-old family recipes get passed down across generations.
Wandering Bruges’ compact city center, elaborate chocolate shop displays catch the eye. Pralines, truffles, and bonbons present tempting eye candy. Chatty shop owners happily describe the cocoa percentages, unique fillings, and cacao sourcing of each offering. They’ll help you assemble the perfect box to highlight signature flavors.
Opt for a chocolate workshop to dip your own confections and learn tips of the trade. Or time a visit to Bruges during the annual Choco-Laté chocolate festival each December, when events like the praline-stacking contest fuel a festive mood. Going to the source at the Choco-Story museum traces chocolate's evolution from ancient cultures to pioneering Belgian chocolatiers.
Finally, locals know where to find the best “frites” stands serving up piping hot, twice-fried fries with an array of sauces for dipping. Traditionally, frites accompany other street fare like savory waffles and meatballs in Brussels. But the snack became so beloved it’s now an iconic Belgian staple.
Frites fans on the hunt will discover best-kept secrets like 't Brugsch Friethuys, a tiny shack specializing in conefuls of crispy frites paired with curry ketchup. Or venture to local favorite 't Zwart Huis for frites smothered in rich cheese sauce. Trying frites with different toppings offers glimpses into regional tastes.