“It’s in Belgium”

I spent an entire day cursing up a storm in my head as I traversed Bruges.

When writing a blog about a city you decided to visit based on a movie that drops an “F bomb” every two seconds, it’s hard to curtail the droppings of “F bombs.”  But I shall endeavor to try my hardest.  (I almost succeeded.)

Some time in 2010, someone recommended that I watch In Bruges.  In Bruges is the story of two hitmen, Ray and Ken, who are ordered by their boss to go hide out in Bruges after a hit goes wrong.  While Ken appreciates the medieval architecture and the quaintness of the city, Bruges is the absolute last place that Ray wants to be.

Going into my Belgium trip, I knew that a trip to Bruges would be necessary, despite the fact that there were larger (and arguably, more famous) locations to consider (Antwerp…Ghent…).  After all, I plan my vacations around filming locations.  We all know this, yes?  Okay, moving on!

I hopped onto my train to Bruges (I’d learned from my trip to Segovia.  I arrived VERY early for my train…) and made it to the city without hassle.  The city itself is incredibly small, so though I arrived on the outskirts, it only took me about 30 minutes to find the heart of the city.

Wandering through the streets was idyllic.  The general atmosphere was relaxed and quiet.  You could literally hear a car coming for a good-long while before you saw physical evidence of the car; that’s how quiet it was.

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I walked this street for 10 minutes and only one car passed.
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Many houses had boarded up windows. I found out later on that residents pay taxes on every window they have…so owners board them up so they won’t have to pay.

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Love the red!!!
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Walking ever-closer towards the center of the city.
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But first!

The night prior, I’d spoken to some guys at the hostel I was staying at in Brussels and they had casually reminded me that Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child was in Brussels.  For those of you living under rocks, it was the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime.

Additionally, it was smuggled out of Bruges by German soldiers during World War II.  It was discovered a year later in Austria and returned. It now sits in the Church of Our Lady.  This story is told in the book/film, The Monuments Men.  

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Church of Our Lady.  I initially took this picture because I loved the bow/arrow nooks beside the doors…like “Don’t knock unless you’re supposed to be there; we’ll shoot you.” Later, when I took a tour, it was explained that each column used to be topped by statues that were either stolen or destroyed, so now they’re just empty…which I found hilarious.
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Madonna and Child from 15 feet away
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Altarpiece within church

From here, I wandered the edge of the canal heading closer to the center of the city.

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Did I mention the city was quiet?  At this point it was 10:30 and there was no one around…
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The tall building is the back of the Church of Our Lady.

I made my way into the Markt where, imagine my surprise, I found a Christmas Market.

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Right smack dab in the middle of the Markt was the infamous 13th-century Belfry, for which Bruges is known.

For those of you who have seen In Bruges, you’ll recall that a critical scene in the film is when Ray confronts some overweight tourists to impolitely inform them that there are too many stairs to get up to the top of the belfry and that the stairs are too narrow.  When the tourists are offended, they make the attempt anyway, only to result in one of them having a heart attack and getting the belfry closed for several days as a result.

Well, let’s just say…I get it now.

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Before shot. 366 steps to go.
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Steep stairs.  This picture taken at eye level for reference.  Those who are claustrophobic need not attempt the climb.
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There was just barely enough room to pass someone (going either up OR down…)

At about step 200, I started cheering on everyone that I saw.  It was necessary.  I continued this on my way down as well.

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The bells of the tower. (Made it to the top!)
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The view from the top.
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At this point, I actually looked up where Willy Wonka was filmed because I thought the view looked a LOT like the one Charlie and Wonka see from the glass elevator.
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Spoiler alert: Willy Wonka was filmed in Munich.
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Each window had fencing over it…which did little to protect visitors from the wind (!)

As previously stated, on the way down, I played typical American tourist and became personal cheerleader to anyone heading up.

P.S. Going DOWN the steps was 100% harder than going up.  When walking up stairs, you use your toes to guide you.  When heading downstairs, it’s more natural to use the entirety of your foot…but LOL! There’s no room for that.  I ended up walking down in an awkward sideways grapevine manner, especially at the points where I was walking past people going up.

Oy.  Glad I did it.  Wouldn’t do it again.

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After shot!

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From here, I wandered around the Christmas Market and Markt a bit (because why not…)

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And then I decided to meander aimlessly a bit.

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Burg Square with City Hall from halfway up the Belfry.
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City Hall
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Basilica of the Holy Blood, mentioned in In Bruges, though not used for filming.

I wandered East for 40 minutes to find the bridge over the canal.

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And then I turned around and wandered right back to the center of the city, stopping to take in some of the sights on the way.

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The side of this building looked like fish scales.
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A simple winding street off the main road.
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View of the Belfry from 15 minutes away.

After this, I caught an hour of a tour and re-walked the entire city I’d already explored.  I left halfway through and made my way back to the train station to head back to Brussels.

OH!  But before I got back to the train, I did, in fact, find “the fucking swans,” and they were, in fact, “my fucking thing.”

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Four or five hours in Bruges was just the right amount of time.  I’d imagine if it were warmer, I could have spent longer wandering around…but when you are having a hard time operating your fingers, it’s time to call it quits.

Bruges was lovely.  Like a fairy tale.

I’d love to go back once it’s even a smidge warmer.

Author: alisonlcohn

Graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Communications Advertising. Traveled a bit. Taught for two years. Administered aptitude tests for a while. Worked as a Training Associate for Guardian Mortgage and a Quiz Master for Geeks Who Drink. Now studying to get my Master's in Film in London, England. Nice to meet you!

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