Back in Bruges

1st July 2010 – 5.24 pm

I find myself on the Eurostar train again, heading to Bruges. My previous visit to Bruges was very pleasant and enough to convince me to return. I go with family again, and with the same travel company. Indeed, it is the same package trip as before, because the cost is better value than trying to book as individuals, although we won't take advantage of some of the scheduled trips available. The journey is smooth and we book in to the hotel easily, with plenty of time left in the afternoon to re-acquaint ourselves with the city.

It is like I never went away. I remember the streets and sights and quickly manage to navigate my way to familiar places. Bruges is quite small and relatively compact, which eases remembering directions, although its narrow and occasionally labyrinthine streets can be disorientating. I have my camera with me and take a lot of photos of all the same sights as last time I was here, but this time in bright summer sunshine, the weather being remarkably bright and hot. The sunlight picks out a lot of details in the old brickwork and adds some natural contrast, whilst also creating some excellent reflections in the canals. And coming to Bruges at the height of summer, when the day is longest, offers a new perspective on Bruges at night. Previously, at the end of Autumn, the boat tours only ended and the canals settled down when it was dark, but now the canals are empty when there are still several hours of sunlight. Still canal waters can be enjoyed and photographed in sunlight rather than only when it is dark.

Despite mostly ignoring the package tour activities we tag along with the visit to the local brewery. It is interesting to see behind the scenes, particularly in old buildings, and the roof of the brewery offers some fabulous views of the surrounding city. We also get a complimentary beer at the end of the tour, which I am adamant I'll drink this time, despite being ostensibly teetotal. The beer is apparently unfiltered and much fuller in flavour than other beers, but I don't taste the difference. Never the less, I finish the drink, which is probably more alcohol in one sitting than I've tasted in at least a year.

A better view of the city can be found at the top of the city's belfry, once a few hundred spiral, mostly worn, and vertigo-inducing stairs are climbed. I battle my fear of heights again to visit the belfry and I think I do quite well, getting to the top without too much fuss. The belfry is undergoing renovations and so views at the top are restricted, but what can be seen is still stunning. I snap a few photographs and head back down. Going down the stairs is more worrying than climbing them, if only because the occasional window seems much to offer much more opportunity to fall through when descending. But I make it down to earth again safely. And the tickets to the belfry come with a couple of vouchers to a choice of other Bruggemuseum sites, which is unexpected and offers good value for visiting the bell tower.

Many of Bruges's museums close on Mondays, including the lace museum that we take time to walk to. But at least we find it, as well as Jerusalem Church, a church that I only later find out is featured in the film In Bruges as the church that holds the vial of Christ's blood, although it is actually the Basilica of the Holy Blood that holds the vial and the film was merely denied permission to shoot in there. From the closed lace museum we head further away from the city centre and find three old windmills sitting just inside the outer canal, making the walking journey worthwhile. We walk back along an inner canal, seeing a couple more sights on the way, including Jan Van Eyckplein, before getting back to the centre.

We visit the Basilica of the Hold Blood, as well as the Church of Our Lady, where Michelangelo's Madonna with Child sculpture is on display. The Bruggemuseum vouchers are used to gain access to the Gruuthuse museum the following day, and we also visit the Groeningemuseum and a Salvador Dali exhibition. Buying tickets to the Groeningemuseum is lovely, as the lady asks if I am under 26 and thus eligible for a discount. Along with museums we also indulge our tourist natures and take a boat ride around the canals, where we see all of the sights from a different perspective and are reminded of some of the history of the city from the multi-lingual guide, and then see the sights from yet another perspective with a horse-drawn carriage ride around the streets. Being a tourist is fun.

I mention In Bruges above and it is a favourite film of mine. The trailer, poster, and tag-line all do the film injustice, as it is an interesting thriller with realistically motivated characters and excellent dialogue. I only watch the film after returning from Bruges the previous time, and now that I am back in Bruges and with some time to spare I take care to find as many of the locations used in the film as I can. Visiting the location of the opening establishing shot is easy, as it is on the road of the hotel we stay at, and other locations are equally easy to find. Wandering around lets me see the bandstand in the park and I've already visited Markt, the belfry, and the Vismarkt along my normal travels.

I use the hotel's internet connection to locate a couple of other places of interest, which is a bit fannish but I don't mind. I even find the name of the restaurant used in the film and that it is supposed to be really rather good. And on our last night we push the boat out and pay it a visit, finding the food to be excellent. I also get a surprise. The main menu has a version available in English, letting us know exactly what we're getting, but the dessert menu is only in Flemish. I order a 'Kolonel' expecting a tasty lemon sorbet infused with vodka, but my guess at the translation turns out to be awry. What I am served is a lemon sorbet and fruit served in a glass that contains a generous measure of neat vodka. I think I mentioned that I am normally teetotal. Even so, I finish the whole dessert, finding myself a little unsteady when the time comes to head back to the hotel.

The last day in Bruges is short, having to catch an early-afternoon train back through the Eurotunnel. There is time for another stroll through the city centre, one more indulgent coffee with whipped real cream and hand-made chocolates, and to enjoy the general atmosphere of the city whilst watching local swans. The journey home is just as smooth as the journey to Bruges, although I have to wait quite a few hours after getting home before my cats realise that I am here again. It has been another wonderful break, Bruges being a beautiful and relaxing city and the weather being fabulous the entire time. And, naturally, I have brought home some chocolates so I can continue to enjoy the city for a little longer.

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