Bruges: a sensory experience, by Harriet Smith
I recently went on a short five-day holiday to Bruges with a company called Traveleyes who specialise in holidays for visually impaired people. The way the holidays work is that you travel with a group of both visually impaired and sighted people, where the sighted people act as guides. You are guided one-to-one, and are paired with a different guide every day in order to get to know different members of the group. This was my fourth Traveleyes holiday, but the first one abroad without my family.
Upon stepping off the train that had taken us from Brussels to Bruges, I was struck by how cold it was. A biting, raw wind ripped through my clothes. For a moment I worried I hadn’t got enough layers on, but luckily it didn’t stay as cold for the rest of the trip. Bruges is famous for its medieval cobbled streets and chocolate shops, both of which I experienced plenty of during my holiday. I found the cobbles easy to walk on, but they weren’t so pleasant when I was pulling my suitcase along them on the way to the hotel! One thing I was surprised to discover whilst in Bruges was that horses and carriages are still in regular use. Although I didn’t ride in one, I could hear the clip-clop of the horses hooves as I walked along the streets. This was a lovely sound, and I imagined being in an era long ago.
There are over 50 chocolate shops in Bruges, ranging from the cheap to more expensive top quality ones. The rich aroma of chocolate hit me as soon as I walked in each different shop. Being a huge chocolate fan, I breathed it in with delight. It’s certainly a smell that is incomparable to the English chocolate shops. There is an incredible amount of choice available, almost too much choice! Each shop is filled with every chocolate imaginable, from mixed boxes and bars to huge slabs that chunks could be broken off. It really is a chocoholic’s paradise!
One of my highlights of the holiday was a harp concert that I experienced on the Saturday evening. I absolutely love the sound of the harp, and having never been to a harp concert before I was particularly looking forward to it. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The musician Luc Vanlaere was extremely talented and played three types of harp including Celtic, Chinese and Japanese. He also played a couple of other instruments too, such as a drum and an instrument he’d made himself. The venue the concert was held in was beautiful and had fantastic acoustics. The concert exceeded my expectations because I hadn’t expected him to play other instruments as well as the harp and made the music sound even more amazing. I found the music very relaxing, and sat back and let the gorgeous sounds wash over me. When the concert was over we were allowed to feel the instruments on the stage which made it even more special. I loved touching all the harps, and even took the chance to have a go at playing some of them which I enjoyed. The instrument Luc had made was very big and at the back of the stage. Overall, the harp concert was wonderful, and I’ll remember it for many years to come.
Another highlight was visiting the Chocolate Story museum, yet again a brilliant experience for the senses. I learnt about the city’s famous history of chocolate, and also got to sample plenty too! I tasted some cocoa beans, but I didn’t like them much, they were very bitter. I was also able to feel a wide variety of moulds that are used to make different chocolate shapes which I found interesting. There were several representations on display along the wall, including truffle moulds, Easter egg moulds and seashell moulds. I loved exploring them all and it gave me an idea of the vast array of chocolates that are available to buy.
On the last day we visited a 3D museum where there were lots of tactile representations of paintings made of plaster on the walls done by three artists. There was also an audio guide which gave information about each painting. The paintings weren’t very pleasant though: they mainly showed people being tortured and killed. Despite this subject, I still really enjoyed going round the museum and examining the paintings. As they were made of plaster, this made my fingers very rough and dusty so I had to wash my hands thoroughly afterwards!
I thought Bruges was a lovely city and the people were very friendly. I would highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t been before, and hope I will get the chance to visit again in the future.