It all started when filmmaker Martin McDonagh went to Brugge on holiday. He thought the place was so beautiful that he decided to write his first movie and set it in Brugge. Released in 2008, it was called, a little obviously, “In Bruges” (Bruges is the English and French spelling, Brugge is the original Flemish). Maryanne and I had bought a copy of the movie in Ireland (the two main characters are Irish) out of the bargain bin for viewing on rainy days. It’s a pretty good movie, but what really stuck out for us was how beautiful Brugge is. The seed was planted within our heads. When we realized we had a few extra days on this vacation, we both decided to go.
I cannot possibly describe how perfectly picturesque the city is. In the movie, they keep saying it’s a fairy tale town. It really is. The entire city is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is made up of cobbled streets crossing a system of canals over stone bridges. Giant spires thrust majestically toward the heavens. Every single building is built with such painstaking detail that most of the higher work cannot be fully appreciated from ground level. It becomes something private that only roofers and restoration workers really get to see. Every thirty seconds or so a well kept horse pulling a gleaming carriage filled with tourists goes clop, clop, clopping by. The city is almost a thousand years old. At some point, every square meter of it was somebody’s special place on Earth. Every bridge and statue is placed so that it is complimented by the view behind. Around every single corner, another gem of a view opens up. The whole city is like a Zen garden that has been refined and refined over centuries. Narrow streets and hidden alleyways are everywhere. Every step walked feels like it is walked within a painting by one of the old masters.
Main Market Square
We started our trip to Brugge by flying into the Brussels airport and taking the one hour train journey. Once off the train, we walked about twenty minutes into the center of town to our hotel, which was so in the middle of things that we only had a few blocks to go to get to anything within the medieval part of the city. The Belfoir at the center of the city was across the street. Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived so we killed the time having a look around the town center and orienting ourselves. We were both so wiped out from the overnight flight that when our room became available at 2pm, we immediately went for a nap.
We both must’ve been more tired than we thought, because we both slept until just before dawn. We went out and found a place that was open early where we had a breakfast of juice, coffee and croissants. We walked around for a bit more and found another place that smelled wonderful. The croissants hadn’t been too filling so we found ourselves having a second breakfast of (Belgian) waffles and coffee. Yummy. While drinking my coffee in the middle of breakfast, I noticed that we were the only ones in the restaurant that weren’t having a beer. Belgium has 780 varieties of beer, some apparently perfect with breakfast.
All stocked up on energy for the day, we climbed up to the top of the magnificent Belfoir that forms the centrepiece of the city. 388 steps up increasingly narrow spiral staircases took us up into the bell room. The tower has 47 bells and the city employs a carilloneur to play melodies. Also within the tower is a giant music box style wheel that also plays melodies automatically. We were lucky enough to get there just before 11 o’clock. Five minutes of music were followed by eleven chimes of the big bell with us standing only a few feet away. Even though I knew the first one was coming, I still jumped when the hammer struck. The coolest thing was after the last chime struck. The bell resonated for what seemed like forever, its rich tone getting softer and softer and smoother and smoother.
We climbed down and then proceeded to crisscross the town like we were tracing out a bowl of spaghetti. We saw squares and canals and steeples, statues, parks and art galore. At an appropriately late hour (for us), we stopped in and tasted a couple of the local brews while overlooking a particularly pretty bend in one of the canals. Later, we went for an early dinner at a restaurant off the main square. We sat at a table right out on the cobbled street. It seems most of the restaurants in Brugge have the majority of their tables outside.
We had intended to do a lot more walking but we were full and tired. We passed by a booth selling tickets for a canal tour and decided a sunset boat ride sounded pretty good. Brugge is also amazing by boat. Our guide wasn’t that interesting but to his credit, he did the whole thing in at least four languages, one leading right into the other.
Bruge at night
By then, it was dark. We took the long way home along some of the canals. Most of the bridges, canal walls and bigger buildings are lit up with lights of various colors. It makes the whole city seem like something out of a dream. We walked home along quiet streets admiring the whole beauty of it. We bought some chocolate from a store around the corner just before they closed and took it back to the room for dessert.
We got up the next morning and went a little further afield to some of the lesser known spots. The highlight was seeing the many windmills along the canals. Each one sat atop a steep hill and was slightly different from its neighbours. The autumn leaves fell off ancient trees and speckled the green grass with red and yellow leaves. This whole town is a postcard.
We followed up our walk with a pint in Brugge’s oldest Tavern, the Cafe Vlissinghe, opened in 1515. We then went to the excellent chocolate museum for an education and a bit of dessert. Again, crisscrossing the town, we meandered through one park after another until it got late. After another delicious meal accompanied by some local beer, we couldn’t resist saying goodbye to Brugge with a dessert of chocolate covered waffles from a nearby take-out stand. They do both of those pretty well here, too.