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.
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!