This year, as every year, spring came to Bruges, but this year it did not bring the usual influx tourists with it. Winter is usually slow in Bruges, returning the city to its inhabitants for a few months. In winter you can drive your bike without having to watch out for straying tourists, you always find a parking spot when you come by car, and you do not have to make reservations for your favourite restaurant.
Once Easter comes along, the streets fill up with tourists following an umbrella, looking up to the beautiful façades of houses when crossing the streets, only having to worry about choosing the right chocolates to take home. But this year something is different. Spring has definitely arrived, the many flower beds and blooming trees stand witness, but the city feels less vibrant compared to previous years.
Last week, we took a Polish lady out for dinner on a Thursday evening and had made reservations at one of the popular restaurants in the centre of town. At 7 PM we were the first to enter the establishment. We thought we were just early. We had a great dinner and while having a coffee many tables had found guests, but the restaurant was still one third empty. On the way to the restaurant the streets had seemed eerily empty, so we asked the waitress if it was slow or not. She confirmed our suspicions that indeed it was very slow, and that normally the place would be completely full with more customers waiting at the bar for an empty table. She said they were still quite lucky because of the popularity of the place and therefore they were never really empty, but that indeed many tourists stayed away after the terrorist attacks in Brussels on March 22nd.
Walking back home I noticed that many restaurants were indeed quite empty, and many terraces only had a few people although the weather was really beautiful that day.
In Brussels things are even worse and about 600 businesses went bankrupt this last month only compared to 40 in a normal month. Tourists cancel or stay away, and when it rains in Brussels it trickles in Bruges. Many tourist make a day trip to Bruges during their stay in Brussels, so when they avoid coming to Brussels, we do not see them in Bruges either.
To al those who are undecided all I want to say is this; I walked through Bruges today under a blue sky and a smiling sun, and could only think: how lucky am I to live in such a beautiful place, where even now, after more than 15 years I still discover beautiful spots I did not know were there. So I post the pictures I made today, and hope you also want to discover the many beautiful corners of this very enchanting town!