I watched a movie called In Bruges nearly 10 years ago, and other than thinking it quite brilliantly dark, I had this opinion that Bruges was a shit hole. So, after hearing praise after praise about this town, I thought that we should at least pop by for a visit – Belgium is that tiny, we can just pop in to a town for a visit. The timing worked out well, too, as we were going to meet our friend Gilles (again) tomorrow in Ghent.

The official car park was a fixed rate 24hr park – though we had plans to only stay for a few hours. Instead, we found a un-official park on the other side of town – though still within an easy walk to the centre. Christoph, our friend in Val d’Isere told us about an application called park4night, which had a lot more unofficial overnight parking areas, which we’ll test our luck with.

The short walk into town was pleasant, with rows of modern versions of the terrace houses we’d been living in London for the past two years – minus the garbage blowing down the streets.

Our first views of the city came as we crossed through the gate of a bridge, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Sure, it was another commercial high street, but ignoring the bottom level, it was beautiful – and so different to any other cities we’d visited before (OK, maybe Brussels was similar).

All it took was a turn from the main street, and we were surrounded by beautiful vintage buildings, with their unique facades that were like low resolution representations of triangles – I can’t think of a better way to explain the shape.

The main street took us into the main square, and our hearts were now truly aflutter. It was undeniably beautiful, and I was well and truly confused. Why had I thought that this town was terrible all this time? I need to watch the movie again. We sat in the sunshine on one of the benches, eating some Florentines and absorbing this view. It felt like such a soothing town, and we were falling in love with its charms.

We set off to find more hidden charms, and while the back streets were all charming, they didn’t compare to the grandeur of the main square. Rather than beat our feet into a pulp, we walked with purpose, and decided to have a look at the City Hall, as well as the attached Basilica of the Holy Blood.

The interior of the basilica was unlike any we’d visited before – which is proving to be quite a unique achievement. The photos are terrible, and really don’t show any of the detail, but the roof was like an overturned boat. The wooden panelling was painted with decorative vines and flowers. There was a curious pulpit that featured an approximation of Australia, still listed as Terra Incognitæ – at least it didn’t say ‘here be dragons’.

But, the main chapel piece was the highlight, adorned with an incredible amount of detail. Again, the photos are terrible, and truly fail to give it justice.

As I turned around to leave, I caught sight of the rear stained glass windows, which further wowed me, stopping me in my tracks to attempt to absorb some of the ridiculous amounts of detail.

And, it wasn’t just inside that was overloaded with fineries – the exterior of both buildings had more than their fair share of gothic flair.

All this walking had built an appetite, and rather than eating more of the sugary Florentines, I searched for the best chip shop in town. The consensus seemed to be The Potato Bar, so that’s where we head. It was a bit more upscale than the chips we had last night (understatement). I went all gourmet, with the triple fried chips covered with bacon, parmesan and some forest/grass. Risa outdid my gourmet attempts, and got a €7 croquet with some scampi inside – we didn’t realise it was only going to be one 100g croquet. Verdict – chips were great. As was the recommended local Zot beer, which surprised me as I’ve not been much of a dark beer drinker.

We kept walking around, and kept finding more details, and seeing the buildings in different lights – literally, as the sun kept hiding behind clouds.

We were going to leave, but the one memory I had of Bruges from the movie were canals – and we’d yet to see any canals. So, we walked with direction, aiming to see some of the canals on the outskirts of the old town.

And, while they were not as grand as the ones in Venice (a lofty goal), they were serene, and worth the small effort it took to walk here. It actually felt like a different town.

“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s fucking thing?”
I was still confused about the movie. Luckily I had a copy saved, and we had enough time to watch it after returning to the van. Firstly, the movie is brilliant, and probably the favourite role I’ve seen Colin Farrell play – as well as Ralph Fiennes. It’s a dark comedy, so not to everyone’s taste. Secondly, the town is beautiful in the movie – it’s just Colin Farrell’s character that complains about it being shit. Clearly I remembered his opinion more than I remember the actual scenery. “Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn’t so it doesn’t.”

In summary. Beautiful, beautiful town, if a little characterless and populated with tourists. Equally fantastic movie, filled with incredible quotes.