In Bruges with Colin Farrell

Back in 2008, a movie named In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, was released to the theaters. As I watched it I found myself smitten by the scenery of the locale. It looked completely authentic; I was certain it wasn’t filmed on a sound stage. I left the theater hoping that some day I’d be able to see the town in person.

Like so many actors, Colin’s not that tall, but I still have a bit of a man crush on him. He is a hoot to watch on screen.

So when we ended up in Paris for the third time, I noticed that Bruges was only a three hour drive away. Since my friend Colin Farrell had been bugging me for a meet-up anyway, I decided to give him a call and we agreed to meet in Bruges. He said he’s always felt bad that one of his first lines in the movie was, “What a shithole.”

Because of course Bruges is anything but.

If you haven’t seen In Bruges, and can deal with a bit of violence and a lot of cursing (it’s about a couple of hitmen after all, and as we all know hitmen are always swearing up a blue streak; it’s why I never invite them over to dinner with my parents), then you’ll find yourself enjoying a delightful and droll comedy/thriller. The bonus is that the setting is so charming, even after over a dozen years its siren song was still calling out to me. I watched it again when we returned home, and sure enough, we had wandered through virtually every outdoor scene in the movie. Much of it was filmed right in the main town square. Additionally, the movie’s charm held up for me all these many years later, so it was a win all the way around.

Colin couldn’t spend all day with us because I’d already told him numerous times that no one wants to spend all day with an actor, but he did ask us for some photos because he understands that most people wouldn’t believe we are friends without the photographic evidence. We assured him that the evidence wasn’t really necessary, and that we’d be happy to confirm to any of his friends that we all knew each other. He seemed satisfied with that. We don’t only associate with royalty, after all; we can slum it with the best of them.

Colin poses with Carolyn after calling after us across the square. We didn’t recognize him at first, but fortunately this blog has made us world famous so he recognized us right away. Crisis averted!

Of course we had to get a shot in front of The Belfry of Bruges, a medieval bell tower in the center of old town, originally built around 1240. We didn’t see any bats in the belfry. But here’s a funny little anecdote: we decided not to walk up all the stairs to get to the top because, well, Colin’s a smoker and we didn’t think he could make it without hacking up a lung. The good news is some of the scenes in the movie were filmed right in the tower, so when I rewatched the movie I could see all the scenery we missed! There wasn’t as much shooting in real life, however.

Like just about every town in the universe with canals, Bruges is often called “the Venice of…” in this case, the North.” I suppose there must be a “Venice of Mars.” I call my inner ear “The Venice of my Skull.” The rest is alimentary, my dear Watson.

Here Colin is just being Colin, he simply had to take his shirt off to show off a little, joking that he was going to dive into the canal. Carolyn suggested he put his shirt back on, but only after tossing his shirt in the water so she could ogle his trim physique for a while longer. Oh behave Carolyn!

After drying off and making yet another wardrobe change, one of the horse & buggy drivers recognized him and stopped her carriage. Colin did what Colin has done for us numerous times over the years and bought us a ride. I mean, even I would have stopped for that hunk of roasted man meat if I were driving the carriage, so I can’t blame a pretty blonde!

He wanted so badly to ride with us, but we told him we really preferred a romantic ride on our own, and it was probably best that he be on his way anyway. I mean, you can only play with a Colin for so long before things get, you know, irritated. He begged to buy us lunch, but we demurred and I gave him a big hug and thanked him for the ride and sent him on his way. What a special treat to see such a charming city and at the same time catch up with our good friend! Good luck to you Colin! I hope your next movie is better than Alexander!

We finished off the ride with a nice tour of the town. It was not only romantic, but also helped us make sure that we’d seen all there was to see… although it’s not a very big town so it wasn’t a very long ride. But now that Colin was out of our hair (well, Carolyn’s anyway, but maybe my beard hair?), we were free to explore without any more interruptions. I mean, he’s a nice guy and all, but just a little clingy.

Swans live up to 20 years in the wild, and mate for life. Here’s some other swan trivia for you: the term “swan song” came to be because swans supposedly sing the most beautifully before they die. The term originated in ancient Greek culture, with the first written reference in 458 BC. That’s a couple thousand years of swan song hits!

Way down upon the Swanee River, far, far away.
That’s where my heart is yearning ever, home where the old folks stay

If you were to base your understanding of Belgian cuisine solely by using Bruges as your guide, you might come away with the idea that the three main Belgian food groups are waffles, chocolate, and beer (in fact, Belgium used to serve light beer to kids in grade school).

I’d never really given a lot of consideration to the thought that Belgian waffles were any more of a thing than, say, French toast or English muffins. But it appears the Belgians either take their Belgian waffles very seriously or simply got tired of answering tourists’ questions about where they could score some Belgian waffles. Also, it seemed as if every other store was a chocolate shop. We also saw plenty of macarons, which make for pretty pictures.

Here’s some true chocolate trivia for you: Belgium produces more than 220,000 tons of chocolate per year, and Belgium’s Zaventem airport has the highest number of chocolate sales in the world.

As you can see, Bruges is charming beyond words, it really is the quintessential medieval tourist town. In fact, Bruges became one of the world’s first tourist destinations back in the second half of the 19th century, so this town is old hat at putting out the tourist shingle.

In Dutch, the name is spelled Brugg, and is pronounced Brooj. The name probably derives from the Old Dutch for ‘bridge’: brugga. Why it was turned into “Bruges” in English is beyond me, other than maybe someone was confused about the two g’s and called it, you know, “Bru with the g’s,” and so eventually just became Bruges. But it’s still pronounced Brooj.

Bruges is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. While it was occupied by the Germans during the war, no significant damage was done either time it changed hands, even to the waffles.

A fitting picture for all the people who skimmed over all my words while only thinking, “Blah blah blah.” Yeah, well they named a hotel just for you buddy!

Third Time’s the French Charm!

For some reason it took three visits, but after our third visit to Paris I came away realizing that you know what? The French are actually a very nice and friendly people!

I have no idea if my belief that they were rude, snooty, and snobbish was instilled by the ever-competitive Brits or the Americana belief system whereby everyone who’s not American must have something wrong with them, but for pretty much all my life I have felt some degree of disdain over the haughtiness of the French. Indeed, if you were to go back into this blog, I’m sure I poked fun at that more than once.

We’d definitely rather deal with pickpockets than mass shooters.

But after some very enjoyable restaurant meals with animated and friendly servers, as well as interacting with helpful guides at the Louvre and elsewhere, engaging in friendly banter when buying anything, or saying, “Bonjour” to strangers as we passed by and actually getting the same in response, it dawned on me that we’d been giving the French, and especially Parisians, the short shrift all this time. Obviously, in any big city there are going to be people in a hurry, or who are abrupt, or who want to pickpocket you, but overall this visit completely changed my outlook on the French. I’m sure they can all rest comfortably now.

The funny thing about Paris for us is that only the very first visit was planned. We went there again a few years ago when our flight from Crete to Athens was delayed, so we ended up booking a flight to Paris because the next flight to Lisbon was god-awful expensive for some reason, and decided to stay there most of another week (one of the benefits of being retired!). This time, we only went because my son and his family were coming to visit so we thought we’d show them one of the world’s most beautiful cities, but alas, major surgery scuttled those plans and they couldn’t make it this time. But we had non-cancellable tickets we didn’t want to let go to waste, so here we go again!

Obviously, once in Paris, the first thing you enjoy seeing is the Eiffel Tower, even if you’ve already seen it multiple times. As we drove in from the airport, I couldn’t help but wonder why it looked so skinny as compared to my memory of it. It really flummoxed me until Carolyn gently pointed out that what I was gawking at wasn’t the Eiffel Tower. “Oh, of course I knew that!” I said haughtily while quickly pocketing my iPhone.

One thing we did experience in Paris this trip was a lot of crazy traffic. Traffic jams were everywhere. We saw more car accidents in five days in Paris than we have the previous five years in Portugal. And we thought the Portuguese were crazy drivers! I have no idea if what we experienced was the norm or if everyone in Paris was upset that there was an American couple using their roads, but I was just glad that we didn’t have our own accident, especially since many car rental companies in Europe pull out a magnifying glass and try to charge you for even the smallest scratch when you return the car. We used Sixt this time, but never again. I think it may be their business model to rent cars with the tiniest of dings on them and then charge the customers 300 euros for a ten cent repair that isn’t even needed especially because no one would have noticed it in the first place. But now, with the power of the BaldSasquatch blog, we’ll bring them to their knees! Take that you Sixt bastards!

During our first foray into Paris we turned a corner and unexpectedly directly up ahead was that iconic structure. Despite the fact that we’ve seen it now a number of times, it still looks impressive. There’s little doubt you’re in Paris when you see the Eiffel Tower! Unless you’re in Las Vegas.

In the wild, cranes flock together for safety.

The architecture throughout Paris is so striking and beautiful. This visit reminded us that the center of Paris, with its gorgeous buildings, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the gardens, the museums, the River Seine, and so much more, makes it one of the most beguiling cities in the world. Even UNESCO is headquartered in Paris. I’m surprised they have the time to investigate any heritage sites outside of the city!

Everywhere you look, there are flowers, expansive gardens, magnificent old buildings, old farts posing, and even Doors of the Day.

As if that weren’t enough, they even have one of the world’s longest urban motorway tunnels. Once you’re in, you’re committed to a 10.1 km (6.3 mi) journey underground, claustrophobia or no. The ceiling is low because it’s only for cars… and truckers who have been pining away for a convertible.

I suppose this is appropriate time for a segue to show pictures of the Catacombs, because, you know, it’s underground, potential death lurks around every corner, and no one’s driving an AMC Pacer.

First, they make you walk down 3 or 4 or 50 flights of stairs (we lost count when thinking about walking back up) and then about a hundred miles (lots of kms in old people parlance) through this tunnel.

Once you survive that, you come face-to-face, er, skull-to-skull, with thousands of remnants of people who used to breathe, fight, make love, kick their dog… but never drove an AMC Pacer. And yet died anyway.

It’s estimated that there are over 200 miles of tunnels underneath Paris. The Catacombs were originally created due to overcrowding in the cemeteries. By the 18th century, they had grown so overcrowded those who lived close to them complained of strong odors and even started to get sick themselves. Kind of like living next to Steve Jobs in his fruitarian heyday.

This is called The Barrel. I always wanted to be a bone artist. I wonder if the Portuguese would mind if I dug up a few graves?

I swear I didn’t notice anything amiss until after we got home and I saw it on my laptop and photoshopped it.

My final analysis is that if you are really itching to see human bones, the Catacombs will do the trick, although the Chapel of Bones in in Evora, Portugal will scratch the same itch for a lot less money and a lot less walking underground. Since we are veterans of the Chapel of the Bones, it didn’t do as much for us as it might have. But who knows, we might feel different to-marrow.

We’ll finish off this chapter with something much more pleasant, and one of the things that no one can argue with: French food. We ate too many pastries, but you know, when in Rome, er- Paris…