I arrived in Bruges on a day when a furious late-winter storm was making headline news across Western Europe. The one-minute walk from the train station to the cabstand was sufficient to seal the fate of my umbrella. A short ride later I was delivered damp and chilled at the Romantik Pand Hotel. My spirits soared as I stepped into the foyer. The gracious home-like atmosphere and welcome had the warmth of a summer’s afternoon.
Bruges is a city where Europe’s medieval past lives on. Suspended in time centuries ago, its historic center is a mosaic of willow-shaded canals lazily wending their way around ancient homes and public buildings. Humpbacked stone bridges lead to narrow cobbled backstreets that open onto picturesque squares and rows of whitewashed almshouses. Roofscapes of high-stepped gables bristle with towers and steeples. With most of its medieval architecture intact, the 430 hectare (1.6 square mile) center of Bruges was designated a United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 2000.