FARIT (Friends of the American Research Institute in Turkey) has been sponsoring guided tours to destinations near and far for years. Since we’ve lived in Turkey, Kay and I have subscribed to quite a few. Although organized touring is not our favorite way to travel, we make an exception for FARIT’s because a) the number of participants is not large, b) they attract an international group of well-travelled, well-educated participants, and c) they are led by exceptional guides. This last feature has special importance for us.
We had been told that Bruges was just like Ghent but with more tourists. The part about tourists was spot on; however, to us, Bruges felt very different. Bruges is a handsome city, to be sure.
There is probably more historic architecture there than in Ghent, and like Ghent, Bruges has its share of canals. Their difference is in their levels of liveliness. Ghent with its large student population and active locals seems like a real town, whereas the center of Bruges seems to have been given over almost entirely to tourists, many in large groups. The result is that the streets of Bruges have a museum-like feel. Of course, these opinions are based solely upon the impressions of only a few days and might change with longer acquaintance.
You might wonder how we arrived at our itinerary of the Benelux cities. Well, no rigorous thinking was involved, and there was no magic in the number 4. We simply read cursory descriptions of the towns and cities we had in mind and then relied on intuition guided by experience to determine how long to spend in each. Of course, we were somewhat constrained by the parameters of time, money, and physical endurance. Thus, we chose to spend an average of four days in each place. Our stay in Lisse was shorter since our only goal there was to experience the beauty of the seasonal flowers, while we spent an extra day in both Antwerp and Brussels because of their size and interest.