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Sunday, October 5, 2014

In Bruges (Part 1)

Unlike the main protagonists of In Bruges, we did not travel there from Leuven to hide out while awaiting orders. No, we went there because we were in Belgium and, well, it's Bruges. One of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe, it would've been a shame to have spent time in Flanders and yet avoid its most famous attraction. So with our hosts Barbara and Jeff leading the way, we took the train from Leuven one Thursday for a three-day, two-night visit to Belgium's most popular tourist spot:

Upon arriving in Bruges around lunchtime, we dropped our bags off at our hotel, then went off in search of food and beer:

Bruges' central focus, the Markt, isn't hard to find - look for the Belfort, the soaring belfry (83 meters/272 feet) where the conclusion to In Bruges takes place:

The Belfort is just one of the historic structures surrounding the Markt. The market square is watched over by Pieter De Coninck and Jan Breydel, a weaver and a butcher, respectively, who led the Bruges Matins massacre in 1302: 

The Markt is surrounded on three sides by medieval-style gabled buildings which are home to cafes and restaurants. Horse-drawn carriages ferry tourists around town:

While Barbara and Jeff went off to do some shopping, the three of us decided to check out the Belfort:

It's 366 steps to the top of the belfry. On the way up, we passed by the Treasury Room, showing where the town money chest was locked away for safe keeping in times of crisis:

The long iron trumpet on the right was used by watchmen to warn of fire:

Making our way to the top. The staircase becomes progressively narrower the higher up you go:

In the Carillon Chamber, a large spiked drum controls the 47 bells of the municipal carillon:

The views from the top were sublime:

The 13th-century Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk church, which we would visit on Saturday:

Some of those 47 carillon bells:

Coming down from the belfry, facing the inner courtyard:

From the Belfort, we walked east over to the Burg, home to Bruges' Stadhuis:

Near the town hall building is the Heilig-Bloedbasiliek church, the Basilica of the Holy Blood:

The church is so named because it houses a phial of the Holy Blood, which supposedly contains a few drops of blood and water washed from Jesus' body by Joseph of Arimathea, and made its way to Bruges during the time of the Crusades. The phial sits inside an elaborate tabernacle. It's brought out for viewing daily at 2 pm, but it was already too late by the time we got there:

I did, however, go into the Schatkamer treasury museum to see the jewel-studded reliquary (1617) in which the phial is paraded around Bruges every Ascension Day:

Also impressive is the large 17th-century tapestry showing the funeral of St Augustine:

When my wife is with us, time can always be found for shopping. I can think of no better way to honor the 16 million souls who perished in the First World War than with a box of commemorative chocolates: 

Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder:

We eventually met up with Barbara and Jeff, and had one of the local beers in the Markt:

The great thing about spending the night (or two) in Bruges is that once the day-trippers have left, you have the town more or less to yourself (it's still busy, but nothing like it is in the daytime). Seeing the evening floodlights, it's easy to understand why Ralph Fiennes wanted to give Colin Farrell one last beautiful memory:

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