In Bruges

The movie In Bruges came out in 2008. It portrays Bruges as a fairy tale city used by two assassins ( Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) as a hide out after a botched hit. While I have a few things I remember about the movie after 10 years ( a body count of epic proportions and a record breaking frequency of use of the f-word) what I remember most is that the city of Bruges was gorgeous. Ever since then I’ve wanted to go see this magical city. On Sunday and Monday I did just that. I decided to take the fast Thayls train to Antwerp and change trains there because I read that the Antwerp train station is one of the prettiest in Europe. It is.

It is only a short train ride from there to Bruges and as I walk out of the train station the local bus to the city center is right there so I jump on. I somehow hit the jackpot in this two day trip as everything went perfectly– including two uncrowded blue skies days. A little research a few days before led me to the Grand Hotel Casselbergh, a beautiful hotel right on the canal. When I made the reservation, I also registered for their loyalty program and because of that I got a super duper upgrade to a great room in the historic wing.

I start with a boat ride along the canals and I fall in love immediately with this town. All along the canal are colorful medieval buildings and I feel I’ve been thrown back into the Middle Ages. The city is like one big breathtakingly beautiful postcard. It is in fact a UNESCO World Heritage City.

Leaving the boat, I do a walk about town with its amazing squares and markets. Right outside the Stadhuis, I see, and more importantly hear, this.

I realize I need to eat early because I booked a night tour of Bruges. The hotel recommends a place and makes me a reservation, but I go there and it is dark inside and a band is erratically tuning up for a show later. I politely tell the waiter, “I don’t think this is for me for tonight.” He nods knowingly. Off I go, when I remember I spied a place on the canal from my boat ride. I find my way there– Pergola is the name and here is the view from my table. Now this is more to my liking.

Here is my view AFTER I order! Even better.

The place is filed with locals and people talking about the Bruges Triennial 2018 that is in town. Fifteen contemporary artists have been invited to put up outdoor installations. The theme this year is Imagining the Liquid City. In the 14th century Bruges was known as the liquid city of Northern Europe, dependent on the seas and its economy driven by the tides. After dinner, I see about half the installations before it is time for my night tour.

My student led night tour goes outside the tourists area and I learn a lot about Bruges’ history. I learn that because of a window tax many of the frugal homeowners bricked their windows while the wealthy showed off by adding windows. Mostly I just drooled over how Bruges got even prettier with the setting of the sun.

The last stop was the beautiful Koeleweimolen windmill on the outskirts of town. It is a functioning grain- grinding mill built in 1760.

I am a bit thirsty when the tour is over around 11:00 pm so I head back to the cozy bar at my hotel. Julien, my bartender, recommends the locally brewed beer Brugse Zot. The name means “the fool of Bruges”. Julian says the name comes from a time in 1488 when after a revolt against their harsh king Maximilian, the people of Bruges made peace with a celebration honoring Maximilian. Afterwards they asked him for permission to build a new mental hospital and he advised them to simply close the gates of Bruges because the town was already filled with fools.

A funny story to end a lovely day.

Monday morning is another beautiful day. After breakfast I take a walk around town as I want to sample the Belgian chocolate and waffles at some point.

Many of you know I am a San Francisco City Guide and I do a tour of the “painted ladies” or “seven sisters”. I think I found Bruges’ equivalent of those beautiful row of houses.

One thing I definitely wanted to see in Bruges was the Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed ( Basilica of the Holy Blood). The beautiful 12th century chapel houses a revered vial containing cloth stained with the blood of Christ. We are told that following the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea wiped blood from the body of Christ and the cloth was preserved. The artifact was kept safe in the Holy Land until the Second Crusades when it was given to The Count of Flanders who took it to Bruges.

Across a bridge is the Begijnhof of Bruges, the most silent spot in Bruges. Founded in 1245 as a place for the religious Order of the sisters of St Benedict, only 8 nuns live there now. It is occupied by widows or single moms who, while not of a religious order, establish a community of women to live together and help their neighbors. A sort of commune-type living.

I walk to Depla the famous family run chocolate shop and sample and buy lots of Belgium chocolate.

Not satisfied with that gluttony, I find a Belgium waffle place that has been recommended and sink my teeth into the classic waffle.

Finally it is time to head back to Amsterdam. A taxi to the train station and a train which connects thru Brussels this time. I am very happy to have spent two days In Bruges. Tomorrow I’ll really have to eat only salads!

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