Wednesday, May 30, 2012

In Bruges. (It's in Belgium)

On Sunday morning we checked out of our hotel and bade farewell to Paris. I was rather heartbroken as we drove through the streets and our awesome taxi driver pointed out so many things we hadn’t had time to see. It’s such a beautiful city, so full of things to see and do, and I shall have to return many more times in the future!

We got to Gare du Nord a bit too early – Mads kept occupied watching this really weird sculpture contraption that was all white with lights and music and a ball thing inside it that smoked and rose up when the music reached its crescendo. It was very odd. I kept occupied watching the cool departures board which has those flippy letters. Unfortunately, waiting for our train was the most enjoyable part of the journey to Bruges. The trains from Brussels were all delayed due to an accident between Paris and Brussels, so the bright fellows at Thalys decided to condense three trains into one and terminate the train at Brussels instead of sending it right through to Bruges. This meant that Mads and I didn’t have a seat, so for three hours we were perched on these little fold down stools next to the doors of a carriage in the baggage section. I was absolutely livid. When you pay 30 euros for a seat you kind of expect a bloody seat! We found the next train that was to take us on to Bruges, just a standard intercity train. Finding a seat with our giant suitcases we were informed by the ticket dude that we’d stumbled into first class and would have to either move or pay the difference. So we lugged our bags into the next carriage and found another seat, and I managed to cool down a bit reading Confederacy of Dunces (really, really funny and horrifying book – a pretty good read that had me laughing out loud quite a lot. Ignatius J. Reilly sure knows how to insult a person).

Cool flippy departures board at Gare du Nord

Gare du Nord

Waiting for the train!

So we got a taxi to our hotel and stayed in for the afternoon relaxing, straying out only to get dinner. We found a nice restaurant with a very begrudging waiter, and were pleased to find that people in Bruges speak excellent English. I feel terribly rude speaking English to them, but I do not know a word of Dutch. The hotel is very nice, apparently part of a building built in the 15th Century, with a canal running along the back of it.

Home for the next few days

A canal

A horse-drawn wagon! I could hear horse hooves on the cobblestones from my hotel window, and thought I must have been going crazy. Thankfully I still have a little of my sanity left.

Swans with their fluffy babies, so cute!

A cool building by the canal that runs along the back of our hotel

Yesterday we slept in, of course (we’re here for five days, partly to recuperate after the busyness of Paris sightseeing and driving around the UK before heading off for more madness in Italy, Austria and Germany), before emerging in the afternoon to wander around the city. It really is a very beautiful city – the buildings are gorgeous, and it has a very chilled-out, holiday vibe (helped by the fact that it was a public holiday in Bruges). The weather has been perfect: warm and sunny with a nice cool breeze so you don’t get too hot. AND being here I’m constantly reminded of In Bruges, one of my favourite all time films. ‘Oh look, there’s Belfort where Colin Farrell insulted those fat American tourists and Brendan Gleeson met his untimely and rather gruesome end.’ ‘It’s like a fairytale, wif the cobblestones and all the churches and the canals.’ Ahhh, if you haven’t seen it, rent it out now. It’s brilliant! We had lunch at a cafe near the Markt (the main square in Bruges), Mads was very excited to find Schnitzel on the menu, but all her hopes were dashed when it came out drowning in salsa. I thought the salsa was the best part of the meal, personally, but if you know Mads you’ll know she’s a supertaster and can’t handle too much flavour. Naturally she was quite devestated.

More horses! They really are quite loud on the cobbles, can't imagine how loud it must have been back in the day when there were horses and carts everywhere...

Belfort, Bruges' famous bell tower.

Bikes at Markt, the main town square. There are even more bikes here than at Cambridge!

Most of the museums seem to be closed on a Monday here, so we decided to check out the Basilica of the Holy Blood (like Colin and Brendan did!), a fairly out of the way church famous for possessing a phial of Christ’s blood. The church itself is rather beautiful, with the wall behind the altar painted with a mural, a beautiful, high ceiling and stained glass windows. We happened to be there when the Relic of the Holy Blood was out for veneration, so we went to have a look-see. It’s in a chapel off to the side, and it was a bit intimidating because you have to climb stairs up onto a dais, and there is a priest(?) sitting behind it, and people were crossing themselves and kissing the glass case in which it lives. But we went up anyway and it was pretty gross – a rather large glass phial with gold and jewels at the end, with rather a lot of this congealed, scabby-looking old blood in it. I felt a bit queasy afterward, actually. We had a sit in the church for a little bit, taking in the cool, peaceful atmosphere, then had a look in the little one-room museum they have which has a few triptychs of the Crucifixion, and the reliquary in which the blood is transported during a procession that takes place every ascension day, covered in gold and precious stones.

Heading in to the Basilica of the Holy Blood

We got some delicious ice cream in the square outside the Basilica, before having another explore in which we came upon a castle gatey sort of thing and a couple of windmills. We then happened upon a street that led to our hotel, which I was glad about because I needed the loo. We stopped in for a while, reading and just generally chilling out which was nice, before heading out again in search of Belgian waffles. We found nowhere that was reasonably priced and open, so we just got some Chinese takeaway and went back to the hotel again. Interesting note: MasterChef Australia was on the tellie! The last one that Kate won... that was nice to see! Actually most shows here seem to be English-speaking shows with subtitles, except for the cartoons which are dubbed – Spongebob Squarepants in Dutch, rather humorous!

Ice cream outside the Basilica

Some castle-gatey thing. I don't think it's particularly old but it looks cool

The discovery of a windmill in our wanderings.

Another cool building. It's hard to tell which ones are actually old and which ones just look old... 

A nice tree by a canal. 

The canal from our hotel window

Mads collapsed from exhaustion in the hotel room.

Today was another very nice, relaxed day. We got up early to have breakfast in the hotel, but once we got back to the room fell asleep again for another couple of hours. Oops. (Give us a break, okay, we are totally buggered after Paris!). We decided to head down to Djiver to take a boat ride along the canals, and on our way there saw a chocolate shop (there are SOOO many chocolate shops here. Deadly for a confessed chocoholic like yours truly) that had chocolates in the shape of sheep! I love sheep! So in we went and I got a sheep and Mads got a duck because she loves ducks. We decided to save them up to eat later, so off we went for our boat cruise. It was so nice! Bruges is just so dang pretty! With the beautiful buildings along the canals, the sun shining, the overhanging willows and bright flowers in window boxes, the pretty bridges, and the fact that we were on a boat (I love boats!) all combined for a very nice way to spend the middle of the day. Also there were heaps of fluffy little ducklings and baby swans on the water, sooo cute!! One major disappointment was that the dog in the window was not there! We have heard so much about this famous dog, so when we saw his window and cushion empty we were very sad. So once the boat ride was over we decided to have a stake-out for the dog, finding ourselves a nice spot across the canal from where the dog lives to eat our chocolates. But oh dear, even more disastrous was the state of our animal shaped chocolates. My sheep was all melty and squashed against the side of its plastic packet, while Mads’ duck was nothing but a chocolatey puddle with pink spots in her bag. Still the doggy did not come, so we went to the Groeningemuseum, an art gallery which houses a few famous works of art and many more by Flemish artists. A very nice surprise was that it cost us only 1 Euro each because we are both under 26!

Belgian chocolate in the form of a duck and a sheep! Super cute!

Boating on the canals. I really love boating.

One of the very pretty bridges - I think this is one of the smallest bridges in Bruges, something to do with love or romance or whatevs.

More nice canal scenery

Got her! Mads on the boat

The window sans dog.

I have to say I find the works by the Flemish masters, including Provoost and Van Eyk to be a little too morbid for my taste. There’s so much death and torture: The Judgement of Cambyses in which he is flayed alive (this is a very famous painting); the torture of Saint George, including being boiled, dragged behind a horse and decapitated; others being stabbed and having molten gold poured down their throat; not to mention all the pictures of the Birth of Mary, Mary’s death and ascension, and of course the Crucifixion. Ouch. We also saw Provoost’s famous Death and the Miser painting. But there were also some absolutely stunning chalk drawings, landscapes and old portraits displayed, as well as some exceptionally weird modern art.

Heading in to Groeningemuseum

My favourite piece in the gallery, Portrait of a Girl by Albert Jakob Frans Gregorius.

My close second-favourite, Self Portrait by Edmond van Hove. Incredible!! It feels like he's staring at you out of the darkness.

Outside Groeningemuseum

We finally got our Belgian Waffles in a cafe near Djiver after we left the museum. They were pretty yummy, with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Then we went to stalk the doggy in the window one last time – nothing. I’m starting to doubt the existence of this dog...

Yum yum Belgian Wafels

Back to the hotel and Mads had a snooze before we played a board game she got back in Bath called Dick Turpin, in which you are a highwayman trying to rob a stagecoach called the Silver Flyer between London and Edinburgh and back, demanding ‘Stand and Deliver’ when you’re attempting to rob it. It was pretty fun, but it really needs more than two players, so we played my right hand, my left hand, Mads’ right hand and Mads’ left hand. Mads’ right hand won by a landslide. 

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