In Bruges: Not the Movie

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There are two things I learned from our trip to Bruges, Belgium back in April:

1. The film In Bruges barely has anything to do with the town, and therefore should not be considered as good research material for your trip. In fact, the interiors are completely different than how the movie showed them to be. Especially if the Dub (as in Dublin) accent puts you off or you tend to have nightmares after such heavy films.

2. Spring, and summer for that matter, do not come to Europe, so putting away your coat before mid-May is considered to be a very silly idea.

Destination: Canaland, I mean, Bruges

The trip to Bruges, taken during Easter Saturday, just after I had finished attending classes for what I hope is a long, long time, was the first time I had been out of Maastricht since Berlin, and the first time I traveled with James.

First things first: this is the most visited city in Belgium, so getting lost should not be a problem. Just follow the hordes of tourists, and that’s exactly what we did once we arrived at the station about two and half hours since departing from Maastricht (and changing trains in Liege).

With buildings like this, it’s no wonder people flock to the town

Speaking of trains: it’s quite incredible in how many ways you can save money on travelling in Europe. In this case, we took out a 1 day Go Pass, which allowed us to travel to anywhere in Belgium and only pay 13 euros each for both ways.

Thanks to James’ quick thinking when he visited Brussels a few weeks before our trip, we had a map which was marked with all the places we wanted to see, so it was a mere matter of knowing how to get to them.

But since it’s James and I, there are always detours made and we found ourselves wandering around a street full with chocolate shops. Since it was Easter, the windows were decked out with bunnies and eggs, and it was utterly hard resisting buying something. Then again, when you have so many options, you really don’t know what to get.

Just an example of the shop windows on that day

Our walk along the cobbled almost pedestrian streets took us to a courtyard overlooking what used to be a hospital and is now a museum. I refused to go in because I did not want to see anything indicative of medieval medicine and making me question my educational path. Still, the courtyard was pretty, and so close to a canal, so you could see all the tourists taking the essential canal boat tour.

The old hospital, exterior

When you’re in Bruges, you can’t help but marvel at the architecture. I mean, essentially, it was built that way to take you back a couple of centuries. And yes, not all of these buildings were built during the time period they’re supposed to be from. But hey, if it gets the people to come en masse, something obviously went right along the way.

While we were looking for the Madonna with Child sculpture, we stumbled into another church that seemed to be under renovation. A quick look later, we were back on the main street, walking past the usual mix of shops you can see  anywhere.

I swear, it’s stalking me

From there on, finding the Grote Markt and the Belfry was a piece of cake. Following the winding streets and all those Canadian student tourists, we found ourselves at Bruges’ most iconic square, which the 83 meter structure overlooks.

There we go, 83 meters high

Now, I’m not a fan of heights, and there was a moment after seeing how long the line was, that I started protesting. But James convinced me that the view would be worth it in the end, and plus, I was trying to save all my energy to keep myself warm in the 7 degree weather.

Well, the long line can be justified seeing that the Belfry is something of a highlight of anyone’s trip

A long line, 366 steps, and an “ouh what does this button do” moment where James ended up setting off the bells and getting everyone to stare at us, we finally could feel the chilly breeze, and that’s when we knew we had done it.

That’s where you could press buttons and get the bells ringing

Everything anyone’s ever said about how incredible the view is was absolutely right. You get the full 360 view of Bruges and beyond, while you marvel at the intricate beauty of this town, and especially the roofs. I wonder what it would look like all covered in snow: probably something straight out of a postcard.

Do not be fooled by the almost blue sky, it was beyond cold

Also, if you’re careful, you’ll notice that the windowsills are engraved with names of towns and cities across Europe in Dutch, with an arrow pointing in their direction, and the distance it takes to get there. A very nice sight if you’re into history, geography, and travel.

Berlin!

Sidestepping and being very careful not to tumble down the stairs, we exited the Belfry in search of the Basilica of Holy Blood, where a vial of Christ’s blood can be found. It’s easily missed, but once you notice that it’s the only dark building in a square of pure white structures, you can’t unsee it.

Basilica, exterior

After that, we decided to go into the town hall, but it really wasn’t that exciting. The student discount did work here, and by paying 1 Euro, we did get access to all the museums for that day. All we got to see here with the Gothic Hall, which was impressive, but boring, and pieces of artwork. I’ll pass.

The same can be said for the department of Justice .While you could actually go into the chamber, it felt dry, and was decorated with some more art, some of which were featured in the movie, so we started comparing their interpretation with ours. You be the judge on how fun that was.

Quick Hagen Daaz break while we wandered aimlessly around the streets, finding a very interesting World War I memorial in one of the side-streets.

And also taking pictures with canals.

Canals, and doing the impossible to stay warm

That’s when James suggested we actually take one of those canal boat tours, so we dodged all the other tourists and go on one. The guide then proceeded to explain the history of Bruges, along with some significant elements, while I just snapped pictures, and tried to avoid them getting ruined by the redhead that was sitting across from me. We still call him “photobomb ginger.”

The tour was essential, in my opinion, because it’s always great to have a sense of orientation around the city, even if you’re being touristy- but not to the extremes.

Disembarking, we continued our search for the Michelangelo statue, while also drifting around, trying to find souvenirs. That’s when the unmistakable smell of freshly made waffles could not be denied any longer, so we gave in, and shared one with chocolate syrup. Yum! Those Belgians sure know how to keep you from starving.

But despite the delicious goodness, we walked and we walked and walked, and we still couldn’t find the statue, and it never occurred to us to ask anyone. Not to say that our “getting lost” was not enjoyable, it’s just something that you can’t do on a  very cold day like that.

Eventually, we settled in to have traditional Belgian food for lunch: fries with mayo. Before Europe, the combination never crossed my mind, then again, everyone gives me a huge stare when I say I love fries with hummus. The food was good, and it’s such a shame that people refuse to acknowledge that it was the Belgians who gave us this form of goodness, not the French. But moving on.

No matter how fancy the serving method gets, it’s always going to be fries and mayo

A pick ‘n mix store and a fountain later, we gave up on finding the statue, and decided to head for the train station, as it was getting late, shops were closing, and even colder. So we retraced our steps, or at least we thought we did.

With only half an hour until our train left, we found ourselves in an area that we had not seen earlier in the day, and when I finally found someone to ask for directions, it turned out that we were going in the wrong way.

This lead to one great memory that I will never let James live down, ever. As we continued to go straight, as the kind stranger told me, James felt that something was wrong and decided to stop another person, asking her “Ou est le train station?” Except he pronounced train station with the most French accent you’ve ever heard. And that Bruges is in the Flemish part of the country. And I’m near fluent in French should we have needed it.

I’m happy to report that we did make it onto the train, with only two minutes to spare! Let the cheers begin. Though it was the first time we’ve run to catch public transport, it ended up being a fixture in all of our trips, but more on that later.

Also, I’m happy to say we did find that statue, a few days later, while checking up on the trip plans. Apparently it was inside the church right across the street from the old hospital, one which we had passed by a million times, and even wondered why there were so many people crowding up the entrance.

Oh well, that’s an excuse to visit again. Well, maybe, if I run out of places to go- which is probably unlikely.

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