After the 45-minute boat ride we walked to the Burg Square. Our guide gave people the option of continuing the tour or striking out on their own to explore the short distance between the Burg and the Markt (Market Square). We would all meet in the Markt in about an hour for the walk back to the bus. About half the group wandered off to buy lace and chocolates, and the rest of us went into the Basilica of the Holy Blood with the guide. The church has 2 chapels with significantly different looks. The lower chapel is dark and solid and in the Romanesque style. The upper chapel is Gothic and ornate. Since we were there on a Friday, we joined the pilgrims who were in line to view the phial of blood reputed to be that of Christ. It was brought to Bruges in 1150 after the Second Crusade, and is only displayed on Fridays. An old priest was guarding the phial, and we all solemnly passed and stared. (Being somewhat skeptical, I couldn't help wonder exactly what I was looking at--was it real or just a symbolic tradition?)
We were only in the Basilica about 15 minutes, but that meant we had 30-45 minutes to explore on our own. We walked the 2-3 blocks to the Grote Markt, and purchased some delicious Belgian waffles. We found a stoop in the shade, sat down, and gobbled our chocolate and whipped cream-laden waffles before we got more on us than in us. Yummy! Then we rushed into a chocolate shop and pondered over which tidbits looked the best. I bought a couple of handfuls of chocolates, and went back to meet with our group. I would have loved to explore some of the many other shops, but there just wasn't time. If you're a mega-shopper and have only a half day in Bruges, you might want to skip the tour and absorb yourself in the stores!
While walking back to the bus, we ran into some of our fellow cruisers. Were they happy to see us! They were lost and walking the wrong direction. We all sympathized with them, because it would be very easy to get lost in the narrow winding streets. They joined our group for the walk back to the bus parking lot. On the way, we passed the old Begijnhof enclave. Single and widowed women lived in these places during the middle ages. The Begjins could live a life of piety and service without taking a nun's vow of poverty. The quiet peaceful atmosphere in the Beginjhof was a wonderful ending to our day in Bruges. I left Bruges with a great desire to return. Our half day there gave us an opportunity to see much of the city, but I would have loved to have climbed the Belfry, spent more time shopping, and gone inside some of the museums. Oh well, maybe next time.