When in Bruges...
When in Bruges, do as Colin Farrell Brendan Gleeson does? If there's a look of confusion on your face right now, then stop reading and immediately go watch In Bruges. Or at the very least, Google "In Bruges" and familiarize yourself with what is one of my favorite destination movies. But "Spencer," you may say, "Isn't In Bruges just a blood bath?" Actually no, and for those who haven't seen it, nothing has been given away about the movie. It's a fairytale story about love, among other things, that may or may not include violence, drugs, a movie within a movie, and small people.
But I'm not here to talk about the movie, but rather the destination that drew me into the movie like it did, Brugge, Belgium. And no, I didn't misspell Bruges, but rather you'll find multiple different spellings, including Brugge, Bruges, and Brügge, which seems about right when you consider how many different languages are represented in the small country of Belgium.
"It's a fairytale town, isn't it?" That was one of the many lines from In Bruges that paints the city as a fairytale-like place. From its medieval bell tower, Belfort, to its open marketplace, to the winding canals, to the Church of Our Lady, Bruges is a quintessential charming European town. I often found myself walking around like Buddy the Elf when he arrives in New York City, constantly mesmerized by my surroundings. Similarly to Buddy, I even almost got run over a time or two or ten. But is Bruges really such a fairytale town? Because if you remember correctly, while some of the main characters of In Bruges extolled the virtues of Bruges, Ray, played by Colin Farrell, compared Bruges to that of hell.
First things first, when you arrive in Bruges, walk, everywhere. It's not that big and can easily be walked. I only rode the bus to and from the train station. Plus, aren't fairytale cities meant to be walked? Consider renting a bicycle for a couple hours, as the city is very flat and easy for bicycle riding, especially along the canals that make for a picturesque scene. But, if you are in fact dressed to the nines and going out for a lovely dinner one night, there are cabs, and even buses, but you probably aren't taking the bus on date night. Bruges is one of those romantic towns that you'd want to have a date night and romantic weekend.
That brings us to beer, because we are talking about Belgium and its one of the things that Belgium is most famous for. Belgium is in fact home to over 1,000 different varieties of beer, as well as home to Anheuser-Busch InBev, which is the world's largest brewer. In Bruges you'll find De Halve Maan, translated "the half moon", which is the only active family-owned brewery in Bruges. It was here that I encountered one of the most entertaining and passionate tour guides I've ever had. The tour introduces guests to the old brewing methods, taking visitors through the history of the brewery, which dates back to the mid-1800s. The tour also takes visitors to the roof of the brewery, which offers one of the best views of the city. This Bruges brewery tour ends with a tasting in their bar, of which Brugse Zot, is one of the best beers I've ever tasted.
You'll quickly notice that the main part of Bruges is located around Belfort, in what's referred to at the Markt, or Market Square. This is the central part of the town and probably what most people will recognize from In Bruges. It's here that you'll find numerous restaurants, museums, and the Provincial Court. You'll also find open-air markets taking place here on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until lunch time. An iconic Bruges experience is to sit outside at one of the cafes that sit along the Markt. The peak travel season will find these cafes bustling with tourists, so if you want cheaper prices and something that's a little more local, then you'll have to venture a few blocks beyond Market Square.
But just how historic is Bruges? It's pretty legit. The Church of our Lady, which is several hundred years old, is the second tallest brickwork tower in the world. But that's not even the best part. The Church of our Lady is home to the lady, that is the Madonna and Child. Yes, that Madonna and Child, the white marble sculpture by Michelangelo from the early 1500s. Other notable attractions include the Belfry of Bruges, Belfort, which I mentioned earlier, which dates back to the 1200s, but is open to the public to wind up the 360+ stairs to the top. The Basilica of the Holy Blood, dating back to the 12th Century, is another prominent landmark that Brendan Gleeson visits In Bruges. It's important because it is one of a few places in Europe that is said to contain a relic of Jesus' blood.
So back to the original question, is Bruges really such a fairytale town? There's no definitive answer to that. However, for me, I've found places in Europe, and even Belgium, that charmed me more then Bruges. With its small size, I found it more difficult then other cities to duck away for respite from the more touristy parts of the town. As mesmerized as I was with the architecture and as satisfied as I was with the beer, I just couldn't help feeling a little underwhelmed as I cringed every time someone holding a guidebook would run into me or I would see boat after boat cruise through the canal packed to the brim with tourists standing up and leaning over the side to take photos. I don't have anything against tourists and it doesn't take away from the beauty of the city, but I simply found that my expectations weren't matched by the experience. Yet go visit Bruges, Belgium. Have lunch in an outdoor cafe, drink a abbey beer, walk along the canals, and take in the beauty of Bruges, Belgium. Because when in Bruges....
What places have you visited that felt most like a fairytale?