Last week my ‘other half’ and I spent a couple of memorable days on a city break to Bruges. I’d never been before, though I’d seen the pictures and always wanted to, and Other Half had only spent a few hours in the place and always longed to go back.
Sometimes, achieving a dream can be rather a let-down, but not in this case. The city is quite simply magical. We stayed in a hotel on one of the two main squares, about two minutes’ walk from the most famous building (the Belfry) and well within earshot of its charming carillon, plinking out the hours and quarters with a selection of tunes. This, memorably, is the staircase Brendan Gleeson’s character Ken advises an overweight tourist not to go up because “it’s really narrow”, in one of my favourite films ‘In Bruges’. I don’t really do heights so we didn’t clamber up the 360+ steps ourselves, but I can easily believe the climb is challenging, even for those of us who aren’t fucking elephants.
Instead we spent a happy couple of days following walking tours around the city – first the well known, touristy bit, full of stunning medieval houses and pretty canals; and then the slightly less-well known parts, still full of medieval houses and canals but with fewer tourists milling about. And you know what? Everywhere is lovely. Everywhere there’s a new and equally scenic view. Every bridge over every canal, every corner on every street. Even the back alleys are beautiful. I took photo after photo – over 80 in all – and almost all are amazing.
On the second day, when we’d just about walked the soles off our feet and needed a bit of a rest, we sought out the Groeningemuseum, the city’s main art gallery, and spent a happy couple of hours pottering around in there. They have an amazing collection of Flemish ‘primitive’ art (from the likes of Jan Van Eyck and Hans Memling) as well as a Hieronymous Bosch, a Brueghel or two, and even work by Magritte. It was well worth the 8 euro entrance fee.
So, would we go back? Sure, like any World Heritage site it’s packed to the last edges of the sardine tin with tourists. There are tour parties following raised umbrellas, tour boats churning up the canals, tour coaches roaring round the ring road. Some of the museums and attractions are decidedly cynical – museums of beer, fries, chocolate, diamonds, all seemingly there to part tourists with their money and give as little back as possible. And every now and then we came across some distinctly unwelcoming attitudes from the locals. But overall, we loved it, and can’t wait to go back. Especially to seek out some of the other locations from the filming of ‘In Bruges’.