Wednesday 19 June 2019

Frank Coughlan: 'Tourism giving Bruges that sinking feeling'

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'Not showy or noisy, Bruges is proof again that less sometimes is more.' Photo: Deposit
'Not showy or noisy, Bruges is proof again that less sometimes is more.' Photo: Deposit
Frank Coughlan

Frank Coughlan

Chugging up a canal in Bruges on a warm May afternoon is about as good as a midweek day can get.

This beautifully preserved and restored medieval city is picture-postcard perfect and balm for tired eyes.

Its reputation precedes it, of course, and it can't be accused of telling any lies. Small and perfectly formed, it gives some of the continent's more illustrious treasures a run for their money.

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Not showy or noisy, Bruges is proof again that less sometimes is more.

The distinctive and elegant architecture in the old town towers over narrow and haphazard streets giving this Belgian treasure a very special ambience.

No wonder tourists gravitate towards it and do so in increasing numbers. But here's the rub.

Even though we are still a month or so away from the start of the high season, Bruges was swarming with day-tripping and stay-over holidaymakers.

As we negotiated the waterways, we were but one of a long convoy of boats without a spare seat between them.

The shops, cafés and bars lining the criss-cross of cobbled lanes were teeming with visitors, including many Americans who had unloaded from cruisers at Ostend, 20km down the motorway.

The place was heaving. Which means it was packed solid. A pretty place enjoying the benefits of adulation but in danger of being visited soon by some of the notorious downsides of tourism syndrome. It's a common ailment and, being so small and perfectly formed, Bruges is the sort of place that may suffer its effects most acutely.

But nothing new either. Everyone knows how Venice is literally sinking under the weight of tourist expectation and how Venetians have virtually deserted the city of their birth and heritage because it has become an unbearable place to live.

Queuing with the multitudes to visit the Duomo last year it struck me how exasperating it must be for Florentines to navigate their own city on any given day. Catalans have also taken to the streets of glorious Barcelona demanding that they wrest the city back from ceaseless swarms.

Much closer to home, Dublin has its tender spots too. Students in Trinity often complain that making their way across campus to lectures means wading through walls of tourists lining up to tick the 'Book of Kells' off their bucket list.

Tourism is wonderful, of course, and I loved being a tourist last week. It's often the lifeblood of local economies and it brings jobs to places that would struggle to survive, let alone thrive otherwise. But something is beginning to give, if it hasn't already.

We all want to be tourists a few times a year but none of us likes to think of ourselves as that one too many.

Gym'll fix it - but only if airheads don't put you off

I went to a gym last week. Not mine, because I'm not a member of one.

The truth is I don't care much for them.

The other truth is that I need to do something more than stroll a Yorkie to keep my motor ticking over.

So there I was. Testing.

I enjoyed a 10k ramble on a bike and then a gentle jog on a treadmill for 15 minutes.

Modest maybe, but still.

Then this guy made his entrance. Young, ripped, tattooed and so full of himself.

He proceeded to run an uphill marathon in about a quarter of an hour, all the while regularly admiring his irresistible reflection.

So is that what gyms are really like: preening parlours for airheads? I think I'll stay away until I get a definitive answer.

Irish Independent

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