Craig is an essential worker, and travelled to Bruges, Belgium for work in August/September. He works as a UAV Pilot, carrying out safety inspections on wind turbines, flare tips and electricity towers.
Had it not been for work, I wouldn’t have been venturing from UK shores at all in 2020.
I love travelling and it’s obviously a massive part of mine and Yvette’s lives, however, given the daily new developments and amount of false information going around (I don’t like the term ‘fake news’ – let’s call it what it is, lies) my priority is still to keep my family and friends as safe as possible.
I can take a year or so off travelling abroad for recreation if it means I don’t transmit a potentially lethal virus to those at-risk.
With that being said, I was required to complete some work in Bruges, Belgium during August and September. I thought I’d share my experience of visiting Bruges for those of you who cannot travel right now, and are interested in knowing what my experience was like.
I won’t judge those who do decide to go abroad for emergency travel or what I dare say is probably a much-needed break from what’s been an exceptionally confusing and stressful time. For the time being, travel from outside the EU and the Schengen zone to Belgium is not allowed, which makes it impossible for many to visit anyway. Just make sure you follow the guidance available at the time of your visit.
Before I travelled to Belgium I had to complete a Passenger Locator Form. This helps the authorities in their track and trace system if you do happen to encounter someone carrying the virus. Once I completed the form, I was sent an email of confirmation which contained a QR code that I needed to show to immigration when I departed the country.
I drove from Edinburgh to Bruges in a day and it was relatively uneventful. The largest portion of the journey for me was driving to the Euro Tunnel in Folkestone, England. I did make a few stops for food and fuel but made sure I had my mask on when entering buildings and wore disposable gloves when filling my vehicle up at the pumps. I also had plenty of sanitizer which I used frequently.
The Euro Tunnel is a massive underground rail tunnel which goes under the English channel and lands you in Calais. I purchased my ticket in advance and then drove my car straight onto the train. As part of their COVID mitigation, I had to have my temperature taken before I could reach the immigration desks. Once boarded, you aren’t allowed to leave your vehicle. The journey takes around half an hour.
It’s currently compulsory to wear a face mask in all public buildings and in the busiest areas and shopping streets of the city. I own a Respilon R-shield which looks a bit like a buff with a drawstring – it captures 99.9% of all dangerous airborne particles according to their website, and I recommend it as I find it comfier than a mask with material that goes over the ears. The reception desk hadn’t seen one before when I was checking in and they were a bit wary as they weren’t the traditional medical-style face covering which are common there.
The virus is taken seriously in Bruges which is comforting. Expect to see most people with a face covering and be ready to leave your details for track and trace purposes if you go to a sit-down restaurant or attractions. There is currently a curfew between midnight and 5am.
It’s worth noting that I have never been to Bruges before so it’s difficult for me to give direct comparisons in regard to tourism numbers, but it was definitely very quiet. There are a number of cafes, shops and restaurants that were closed but the ones that are open were mostly empty, and it was easy to get a table somewhere to eat. Certain parts of the city are quieter than others regarding footfall, so it’s pretty easy to keep a nice distance from other people.
From what I saw, most of the city’s attractions are open, including museums, bus and canal boat tours, and buildings of historical interest. I took a wander into the Sint Janshospitaal and would have been the only person there had it not been for a single elderly couple and a group of local school children. My top tip for visiting the Sint Janshospitaal is to take a pair of headphones with you. For obvious reasons they aren’t giving headphones out at the moment, but you can scan a QR code with your phone to get a free audio tour while you look at the exhibits. The names of the paintings and artefacts are printed in English, but the descriptions are in Dutch only.
The evenings seem to be particularly quiet in the city when most of the locals go home and there are mostly tourists strolling the streets, taking photographs, and sipping local beers in bars. In my opinion, Bruges is the most photogenic city I’ve been to and I’m lucky to have visited quite a few including Barcelona, Prague, Budapest and Amsterdam. Even my beloved Edinburgh comes a close second.
For any keen photographers having the empty city streets, it’s a gift.
I wouldn’t have visited Bruges unless it was for essential work. If you have to visit yourself make sure you do it safely and pay keen attention to the information and news available to you. There is the risk that where you decide to go may not be operating at full capacity, flights could get cancelled, you could have to quarantine when you get home, and god forbid you pass a potentially lethal virus onto your loved ones unknowingly. Since my visit in August/September, cases of COVID-19 have risen rapidly and are at an all-time high.
With all these obstacles in the way, I don’t recommend travelling to Bruges quite yet, but certainly, add it to your bucket list for when it is safe to travel.
For the latest tCOVID-19 travel information, there is information on the Visit Bruges website.