My wife and I moved to Bruges in 1995. We are originally from California. I’m a pastor by profession and we moved to Bruges to begin Baptist churches. Both of our children, Drake and Brady, grew up in Belgium and both have a love for photography as well. They have transitioned back to America now.
Brady (@BradyLeavell) is also gifted in graphic arts. He helps companies and nonprofits to rebrand their logos, and has a YouTube channel (@TwoMinutes) that is designed to help people learn Adobe Illustrator. Brady and I started our Instagram channel (@PentaxDudes) in 2016 just as a way to go out and shoot pictures of Bruges together as a father and son.
Secretly, our goal is to get the allusive “K” behind our name. I mean who doesn’t want 10,000 followers, right? Drake (@DrakeLeavellProductions) does photography as well as video. He shoots with a Nikon but we still love him! For over 16 years we lived in the city center of Bruges (very close to Gentpoort) but we have recently moved outside of Bruges to Oostkamp.
When I graduated high school, my parents bought me a Pentax K-1000 35mm camera as a gift. I have continued shooting with Pentax ever since then. Pentax lagged in the digital market until about six years ago when they first launched their first full-frame digital camera. I took the plunge.
We shoot with Pentax as 1) it’s affordable compared to other cameras, 2) it’s built like a tank and 3) it’s waterproof, which is a must if you are shooting in Belgium since it rains over 200 days a year (lately it seems like 300 days). As my love for photography grew, my sons wanted to get involved. That thrilled this father’s heart. Even my wife, Laura, loves photography and has a great eye for angles, editing and cropping. So it’s a family hobby for sure.
Why Bruges is Such a Magical City
Bruges has the magic that you would expect from a medieval city. You are also going to pay for that ambiance. While some of the restaurants and hotels are great, you pay double than what you would in Germany or France. Bruges has an old moat that goes around the city, it’s more of an egg shape than round, but if you like walking it’s a cool way to see the city.
My favorite time of year is when the Christmas Market opens. It’s not huge by any stretch of the imagination, but the city does a great job of making it an inviting and safe place. Many people have already discovered this which means December, as well as July and August, is packed with many tourists.
Puddle Reflections in Burg Square
Our favorite place to take photos is Burg square. Part of the charm here are the cobblestone streets. If you pair that with the fact that it rains so much, and that the sand under the cobblestones continues to shift, it makes for pockets of low lying areas which create opportunities for reflection pics. Some have even said that we should change our name to PuddleDudes!
Capturing puddle reflections requires patience as well as technique, which often includes laying on our bellies and inserting the camera in an inch of water (hence our desire to use Pentax). We get some strange looks at times but when we show them the pic, it all magically makes sense to them. The Burg offers a few puddle spots that are just at the right distance to capture both the Belfort as well as the Archway that leads to Blind Donkey Street.
I have a funny memory from capturing puddle reflections that I would like to share with you. One day Brady and I were in Burg Square. Brady took the first puddle shot we saw and he began laying on the ground to start framing the pic. I saw another puddle about 20 steps further, so I went over and took my pic. When I got back to where Brady was, there was a sweet elderly lady trying to help Brady back up. She thought he had fallen down!
Top 10 Things To Do in Bruges
- Rent a bicycle and ride to Damme or Sluis
- Eat at Brasserie Cambrinus – a local cafe with great food
- The local open air markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays
- Visit every museum in Bruges – although that will take days
- See the Boniface Bridge behind the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw church
- Take a boat ride along the canals – it’s the fastest way to see the city
- Bohemian Burgers, Sint-Amandsstraat, for the best burgers in town
- Climb the 366 steps up the Belfry of Bruges to get panoramic views
- Visit the Historium – a visual tour of what Bruges looked like years ago
- Go visit our friends at De Proeverie Tea Room (@deproeverie) and order a cup of hot chocolate and a delicious slice of lemon meringue tart.
Need to Know Before you Go
To shoot the best puddle reflections, come to Bruges in the Spring or Fall. If you want to capture some stunning sunrise and sunset pictures, the months of June and July are perfect. With the longer, warmer days it’s enjoyable to stay up until 11pm to watch the sun go down. Everything in Bruges, with the exception of restaurants and cafes, closes around 6pm.
If you are looking for a place to stay then Hotel Dukes’ Palace is the nicest hotel in Bruges in my opinion. However, it’s a 5-star hotel and a night there isn’t cheap. There are also many B&B’s in the city that do an admirable job welcoming their guests. Budget travelers will find these more suitable.
As a courtesy to the residents of Bruges, please don’t park inside the moat unless you are using a parking garage. Nothing inside the city center is free anymore and everyone has to pay for parking. But when you park on residential streets, you are actually robbing the residents of a place to park their own vehicles. My recommendation is to park at the train station.
It’s only €5.50 for the day. If you take your parking ticket to the bus stop in front of the train station, they will give you a bus pass good for the entire day for free. You can’t beat that. I would personally avoid July and August. There are so many tourists during the peak of summer that some streets are almost impossible to walk down due to the vast amount of people.