Brugge is alive again: the tourists are back!

Part of me is happy the tourists are back, they bring a liveliness and wonder to Brugge. After the bombings, the stores and restaurants need the tourists to return to survive. The tables are once again spilling over the streets with boxes of yellow pansies or primroses to tempt the hungry visitors in for mussels and beer or Flemish stew or just a place to sit for Belgian Fries and waffles. Beguinage soup is offered at the corner restaurant just outside the Beguinage courtyard doors. Privately, I wonder what that could be, as our kitchen sister serves up a vast variety of soups at midday meal. It is good to see the streets full of people again.

Part of me is irritated the tourists are back. This is the same dichotomy that exists at my home convent in a very popular seaside town. The quiet of winter streets without the tables here in Brugge or without cars in my hometown is lovely and lulling. I had the cobblestones to myself. Now I have many opportunities to offer up my ill humor on the streets. Tourists are never watching their step, cameras are fastened to their faces or phones are stretched at arms length or the ubiquitous selfie camera is attached to a huge long pole for the ultimate photo op of which there are many arguably in Brugge. The narrowest street in Brugge is a nice shortcut for me, but it is also on every tour group’s list. If I am unlucky, I am stuck following meandering tourists behind tall numbered plaques high in the air or large closed umbrellas wielded by the guides gathering their sheep. If my bells ring for service, I try unceremoniously to pass grumbling, “Excuseer — excuse me” every 2 or 3 persons until I have snaked my way through to the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. “People actually live here,” I want to shout but instead I nudge, jostle and dodge my way home trying to smile. You, reader, think I am exaggerating — not true! The Bruggelings come out before 10 am to do their shopping, or after 5. I myself keep my eyes to the ground for two reasons: one I do not want to trip on the uneven cobblestones (which is a very real possibility), and two I have never quite gotten used to the fact that I am a tourist attraction. Tourists want to take pictures of sisters. Some respectfully ask; others simply lie in wait and never ask. I am not part of the scenery, playing a role in a medieval historical diorama. I am the real thing — a 21st century Bendictine nun!

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