Thursday, July 11, 2013

Day 16 In Which We Are In Bruges, Which is Less like the Movie and More Like a Fairytale.

I have always wanted to go to Bruges. Well, always since I saw the movie In Bruges at least. It looked so much like a movie set (which it was, I guess), that I didn’t believe it was really like that. How could one place be so ridiculously picturesque? If there were a ‘Ridiculously Picturesque Village’ meme, Bruges would be in it. Did they plan it that way back in 13whatever or did it just sort of come together? They obviously planned the town as it follows your standard issue medieval village layout with the central square in the middle, and then a palace, huge cathedral, fort, and market all nearby, with skinny little streets radiating out from the centre. There’s a million of these towns across Europe but somehow Bruges is a bit different, but it is hard to figure out why. I think it is the scale of the place. There are huge cathedrals and towers, but most of the houses and buildings are miniature. It has an extensive canal network similar to many other European towns, but here they are narrow and full of ducklings and swans. All the streets are cobbled, and the place is hanging with roses and shrines to the Virgin Mary. There is even a priory that is still inhabited by 20 Sisters of the Benedictine Order who still wear the black and white robes. It’s like something out of The Sound of Music. Or Sister Act.

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We walked into town and the place got cuter by the second until we could hardly stand it, at which point we arrived at an ancient cathedral and wandered in to escape the heat. Even with all the restoration scaffolding that was up inside, we could see this was no ordinary cathedral. We paid our 1 Euro to enter, walked down to an appealing little side chapel where there was a statue by none other than Michaelangelo. It’s hard to find his work outside of Italy or places like the Louvre, but here it was in Bruges.

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The Virgin Mary was looking a bit disinterested I thought. Maybe she was just tired with the baby and all…bit of a handful really.

There were also a couple of very impressive tombs for some king or another…

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but was really impressive were the 12century tombs that had been discovered underneath these tombs during restoration work in the 70s

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This is taken looking down at the tombs, were they have placed a mirror strategically so you can see the old murals on the walls of the tomb. Looks pretty ancient to me…

We marveled at it all for a while and then went back out into the streets which were lined with chocolate, lace and beer shops. We wandered the alleys and streets, periodically dashing out of the way for a horse drawn buggy that would zip by.

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We later took one of these tours and it was really good as the horses practically gallop down the streets. The driver good-naturedly yells at pedestrians and they usually move, and if not, the driver pulls the horse up short and you get thrown around a little in your seat. Much better than the slow-boat-to-China horses we have in Victoria which are practically sleep-walking their way around.

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The square here is also fabulous. If you’ve seen In Bruges, you can’t help but look at it a little differently, especially the tower with 362 steps. Which we did not go up. I don’t do heights very well and would likely spend the whole time on all fours trying to get back down while waiting, terrified, to see my kids plunging past me as they leapt to their death. Which of course they wouldn’t do but it always feels like that’s what will happen.

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Hans photo-bombed my shot of the Jupiler brewery. He was obviously enjoying himself too.

Around the corner was another surprise – an 11th century Roman church that was so ornate as to be almost ridiculous.

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This is the pulpit (where the priest stands to conduct his sermon). It hangs off the wall like a huge baseball.

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It was our day as they were having a rare showing of a relic, which they claimed to be the blood of Jesus Christ. It looked like a glass tube about 6 inches long with ornate silver and gold decorations on either end. Inside, in some kind of liquid (formaldehyde? Vodka? Beer?) was what looked to be a chunk of bone marrow. We filed through up the stairs and past the relic, where a priest was solemnly sitting on watch, in case anyone tried to make off with it I guess. Actually, they didn’t come right out and *say* it was the blood of Christ. They were a bit vague really about the whole thing, but everyone was crossing themselves and looking very serious so I didn’t say a word. From across the church, the priest could be seen with his head bowed, looking down while everyone walked past. Jacob mentioned that it looked like he was texting. This struck me as so funny that it quickly became time to leave. I could at this point launch into an exchange of texts between the priest and his buddy but I will RESIST.

We were about to reach maximum capacity for old amazing buildings, so we went for ice cream, did a spot more shopping, and then wandered back to the train station. On the way we passed another huge cathedral that had this tiny red door…

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Spot the door…

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Last interesting fact – Bruges used to be on the ocean until the late 1800s, when the Belgians reclaimed 18 km of land. The ocean is now 18 km away and there is a town there called ZeeBrugge (Bruges on the Sea).

That actually may be my last interesting fact for this blog as we went back to the hotel, had dinner, packed, and went to bed in preparation for our long day of travel from Brussels to Montreal, where we get to wait for five hours, and then fly another six hours to Vancouver. They also changed the flight times just enough that we couldn’t take the last ferry home, so we will be staying in Vancouver for one night.

Stay tuned for one more blog (my Top Ten list for this trip) and then that’s a wrap for this trip.

Thanks for reading,



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