Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In Bruges

The black comedy In Bruges* somehow found its way to the top of our Netflix queue a couple of years ago, and Biscuit has been determined to visit the eponymous Belgian city** since we watched the opening credits. We had a free weekend during my recent conference trip to London, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. Bruges attracts huge numbers of tourists, and a couple of days seemed like about all we would need.

All photos courtesy of Biscuit. She had a new camera and more free time than I, so she was designated official trip photographer. This is part of the view from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

About an hour northwest of Brussels by train, Bruges is the capital of the Belgian province of West Flanders, which you may know from the WW I poem about its fields.

Bruges rose to prominence as a seaport. A half hour canal tour is one of the ''must do" tourist activities.

Bruges was a city of some significance during the Middle Ages, with its heyday in the first half of the last millennium. Much of the medieval architecture remains, and every stretch of the city center holds some new marvel. It is a perfect spot for a fantasy stroll, at least until around 9:00 AM when the buses start delivering day-trippers. By mid-afternoon the squares look like Disney World. Most of the gawkers are gone by 7:00 or so, which makes for nice evening strolls, too.

The Church of Our Lady was built primarily before 1500. The 400 ft. spire is still one of the tallest brick towers in the world. The carvings and sculptural details make it easy to believe it took three hundred years to build. Oh yeah, and there is a sculpture by Michelangelo inside, if you're into that sort of thing.
A courtyard below the church, and one of the city's ubiquitous horse drawn carriages. The horses seem to enjoy the tours quite a bit more than the drivers.

In the evenings and early mornings, it is hard to imagine a better place to sit and relax than beside one of Bruges' canals.
During the fat part of the day the canals are more loudspeakers and motorboats than oases of quiet contemplation.

One should also be ready to pay tourist prices for everything. It hurts a little less counting out Euros, but the € is not what it used to be, and it stings to pay eight or ten of them for a few bits of chocolate. I did, of course, because Belgian chocolate is delicious. I just didn't buy any for anyone else.

Some dufus standing in the way of a perfectly good picture of the Provincial Court. If you click through you will see some of the crazy detail on the building, which seemed to derive from the "proud grandmother's living room" school of architecture. An hour before this picture was taken, this square was so crowded you could hardly walk through it.
The Belfry of Bruges is the city's most famous landmark, and dominates the center of town. It also figures prominently in the movie. It has burned several times, though not while we were there.

This was the seaport during the middle ages.  With yet another bell tower. You can't swing a  German tourist in this town without hitting a cathedral or medieval church.

As usual, Biscuit did a wonderful job finding a hotel. The Grand Hotel Casselbergh is only a couple of blocks from the Provincial Court, but far enough off the square to lose most of the crowds. It wasn't cheap, but our room was huge by European standards, breakfast was free, and the service seemed first rate.

The view from our hotel window. Luckily, most of the noisy stuff was the other direction, so it was surprisingly quiet where we were. Not counting the tour boats on the canal, of course.

The view of our hotel window from the canal. Ours is the top window on the right, I think.
We found a small French restaurant for lunch one day, and it was marvelous. I never knew that I could like fennel so much, or that its licorice taste would go so well with fish. Other than that, we mostly ate in pubs. Mussels and fries doesn't really have the appeal for me that it seems to have for some people, even if you say it in French.

Le Buhne had seats for about a dozen people. The proprietor was a wonderful mature French lady, and everything we ate was wonderful.

This may be the most famous dog in Europe, or at least the most photographed. He apparently spends most of his time hanging out in this window, and every tour boat pauses for people to take pictures. He left for a few minutes around checkout time -- apparently he has duties at the front desk -- but returned promptly.

I doubt we will ever feel the need to go back, but we both had a wonderful time. It was a nice counterpoint to the week in London. And we got to ride the EuroStar through the Chunnel, so that's one I can check off the list.

We had a little time to kill before our train back to London, so we sat by the canal and relaxed. Actually, Biscuit watched the dog and I relaxed. That bridge is like 500 years old or something. After a while you get numb to the fact that this was a big city when Columbus was begging jewels from Queen Isabella.
I don't really have much else to say, but I promised Daisyfae I would post pictures.

If we ever go back, it will probably be so Biscuit can visit the swans and baby ducks. Biscuit likes animals.

* Think Grosse Point Blank with better scenery.

** The Belgians spell it "Brugge" but the movie uses the English spelling, so I'm sticking with it.


  1. Thanks Chris. Knowing nothing of Bruges today or its history, this was as much educational as it was fun. Cyber travel is still a long way from the real thing but it beats the heck out of nothing. Seeing it this way, in many ways, is a better than a travelogue. And you and Biscuit did an excellent job!

    1. I had never heard of the city either, at least until we saw the movie. Apparently the Europeans like to keep a few things to themselves. All of the Americans were headed to Paris.

  2. I "stumbled" on Bruges when I was a teenager hitching around Europe 30 years ago. I'd never heard of it, and thought I'd gone to heaven. I've never been back because the delight would be impossible to recapture and I don't want to overlay perfect memories with disillusioned comparisons. Don't know if I've made any sense there.

    But it's been lovely looking at Biscuit's photos.

    Bruges was the place where I learned that you could have cake for breakfast. Travel broadens the mind ;-)

    1. I have a few places like that. There are others to which I have returned and enjoyed reminiscing my earlier visits. Like vacation pictures, only more real.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, D. My photographer is quite talented in a number of areas.

  4. Ahhhhh! GLORIOUS Photos (Thanks, Biscuit!) and great commentary... Seems you travel a bit as i do - wanting to see the stuff that makes a place interesting, but trying to find a way to do it against the tourist tide. With the oft stated "wow. that's really f-ing old..." thrown in for good measure.

    Thank you so much for this. Just back from my latest trip, and in need of thinking about what's next or i'll go mad...