Last night, I learned from my American friends that I have been pronouncing Brugges like a hick. I guess that’s what I get for being from Missouri, the state with a city pronounced “vur-sales” but spelled Versailles. I thought I’d left that all behind me, but apparently not. I’m just glad I figured it out before I mentioned it to anyone from Belgium.
Brugges was actually the city I really wanted to see in Belgium, not Brussels. The reason I ended up in the latter is because the Eurostar to London departs from it. As unlikely as it would be for something to go so wrong with the trains on the day of my departure that I couldn’t get from Brugges to Brussels, I am taking no chances. I don’t have the time or money to mess around, now.
All this being said, it occurred to me last night when I read my aunt Tatie’s comment on my blog, (“I hope you’re going to Brugges!”) that I still had that option. It’s only an hour away by train, which is nothing. So I made a day of it.
I woke up at what I considered to be the very reasonable hour of 8:45, considering my sleepless journey from Athens and the fact that I then didn’t even make it home from dinner until after midnight. I was on a train by 10 and in Brugge by 11. I stopped somewhere on the way for breakfast, and I’m 90% sure that the cappuccino I ordered was actually instant coffee with whipped cream on top. No complaints here, I love whipped cream. It’s just not what you expect when you order an unsweetened drink made with espresso and foamy milk.
The journey was uneventful. The train was packed, but the stop after I scored a seat an old lady with a cane got on. I gave my place to her, and spent most of the rest of the journey between cars with some very nice Belgians who had never learned to use deodorant.
It had been so warm and lovely and sunny all day yesterday, in Cologne and Brussels, that I decided to bring my new sun hat. I considered bringing a scarf, for protection from the sun rather than the cold, but decided against it. I didn’t want to have to carry it around all day if I wasn’t going to need it. This turned out to be a rather ironic decision, because I was freezing all day and couldn’t keep my hat on in the wind.
I knew that Brugge was the right decision before the train even pulled into the station. Not only were we leaving the big city further and further behind us, but we passed several fields of grazing horses. It was delightful. Some things never change.
When we did arrive, I decided not to consult a map or guide. It was a small enough place I wasn’t worried about getting lost. I explored the back streets for a little while, and then when I wanted to find the town center I just looked for the bell tower or cathedral spire. That’s the lovely thing about small places like this. There’s almost always a landmark that you can see from anywhere in the town by which to orient yourself.
The whole place feels like a fairy tale. If Prague had the enchanted castles of epic adventures, Brugge has the forests and cottages of fables. I think it is one of the most quaint and pretty places I have ever seen.
I don’t see why it’s called “The Venice of the North.” Sure it has canals, but not so many. it’s small and authentic. If there is to be a “Venice of the North,” it should be that dreadful tourist trap Amsterdam. Lots of canals and hiked up prices. They could be sister cities.
I first found my way to a church and passed some interesting looking museums. The church was closed for renovations to the interior. Across the street was a Picasso exhibit, which was selling double tickets for it and a Dali museum. There was also a hospital museum. I took a mental note of these and continued to explore.
I eventually found my way, past the cathedral, to the famous Markt Square. It was so beautiful and picturesque, I had to stop and admire it for a while. There was located the Salvador Dali museum, which I started to consider. I wasn’t initially sure I I wanted to spend my day in Bruges in museums, but it was starting to pique my interest.
It was about time for lunch, and I knew exactly what I wanted: Belgian waffles. It took me forever to find an ATM, and then to find a place with both waffles and wifi, but I eventually succeeded. It was… honestly a little disappointing. The waffle was crunchy and only had powdered sugar on it. I don’t understand why waffles here aren’t made to order. You see them sitting in piles in windows of all these cafes and vendors, but I just can’t see why that’s necessary. They take a couple minutes to make, at the most. I expected more, Belgium.
At this point I felt like I had seen enough of the town that I could take some time for art and museums. I headed to the Dali museum first to buy a joint ticket for them and Picasso. The Picasso closed an hour earlier, so I thought I’d head there first just to be safe. It was an interesting exhibit. It was mostly drawings, and as an artist, I really like to see drawings from painters. It offers an insight to process and concept. My favorites were Picasso’s drawings of dancers, which before then I hadn’t known existed. There were some other artists as well, like Rodin, Matisse, and Derain. Rodin being a sculptor, his drawings were another thing I found exceptionally interesting.
The museum was quite small, so I had plenty of time after I finished to head over to the Dali. I decided to check out the hospital museum I’d seen earlier. It turned out to be €1, so why not?
It was really odd. Apparently the building is one of the oldest standing, purpose built hospitals in the world. It now houses Flemish art, some related to the hospital but not all. The strangest thing was this portrait of a doctor. It was a normal looking portrait from elbows up of a conservatively dressed man looking out at the viewer with a stoic profession. In the bottom half of the composition, though, he was holding a child by the head and pushing a long pin into his eyeball. It was deeply disturbing.
The hospital museum has an Apothekary annex that was a short visit. It was basically preserved as it was in the days of its use. The old bottles and everything were odd, but about what one would expect.
On my way back towards the Dali, I ran across yet another museum. As it also turned out to be €1 for students, I gave it a shot. This was a fine art museum of Flemish art from the 1500’s to today. Again, it was surprisingly small. My favorite period of it was the 1500’s and 1600’s, which is unusual for me. My tastes usually land me a little later on. The reason I enjoyed these so much is because almost all of these paintings had to do with the apocalypse.
Regardless of your religion, you should read the christian book of Revelations. In it, a man (this is often said to be John the disciple, but it was written at least 150 years after his death and by more than one author so don’t be fooled) has visions of what is to come at the end of days, after the Last Judgement. This is where almost all apocalyptic imagery in modern pop culture comes from, which is why I think everyone should read it. Vampires, zombies, and some pretty scary things come out of that book. It’s crazy. And once you’ve read it, you will see references everywhere. I mean everywhere. It’s a short read, so you should really just do it.
So, I enjoyed some crazy, double rainbow, miniature flying hornet horses, legs of fire, eight headed monster, zombie art. Again, the museum was pretty small, so I was on the streets again before too long.
I finally made it to the Dali museum. I enjoyed my detours, but this was definitely the highlight. I had mixed feelings about Dali before now, but this was the first time that I’ve seen an extensive amount of his art in person. He never had a relationship with Brugge, but he had a huge collector from there.
His work is sooooo fabulous in person, and many of his drawings are so engaging you can just look at them for ages. There is an image that you see right away, but different things keep revealing themselves. The thing about this gallery, though, is that they may have editorialized it a bit too much for me. The walls on which the paintings were hung were covered in leopard print. Or just mirrors. Or there were taxidermied peacocks hanging from the ceiling.
Another thing that I found incredibly odd was that, at both the Picasso and Dali museums, some of the work was for sale. I have never been to any museum that sold original work. Not the things in the exhibit itself, but there was framed original work in the giftshop. In the Picasso museum there was a price list, in the Dali museum you had to meet with someone and negotiate. It was weird to think about owning those paintings. What a souvenir! But hey, art is always a good investment.
I have heard a thing or two about Belgian french fries, and after the last museum closed I decided it was my time to taste them. I found a little place that served burgers as well. I totally understand what the hype is about, the fries were incredible. Fresh, hot, crunchy on the outside but potatoeyon the inside. I hardly touched the hamburger. It wasn’t good. The fries were so excellent though that I did not care.
I don’t think I’ve fully recovered from yesterday yet, as by this time I was already running out of energy. It had been a busy day today, too. It felt like a good time to head back to Brussels.
I planned to write my blog and go straight to bed, but the people at this hostel are far too friendly. I made a bunch of new friends in the common area. Two English girls, both named Ellie, are backpacking on the continent for the first time. They’ve just started their adventure, we talked a lot about the tips and tricks to it. They cleared up a few lingering questions I had about British words, and were so sweet and fun.
There was also a Canadian guy named Josh, who scored major points when his response to my “I’m from Kansas City,” was an unhesitating “Home of the Chiefs!” He did, however, think that KC is in Kansas, whereas I knew a little about the Canadian east coast. So I won at geography. Josh shares my enthusiasm of Holocaust history, plus we have all kinds of North American inside jokes, so we hit it off.
I don’t think I left a doubt in anyone’s mind as to how much of a nerd I am. I raved about the educational walking tours I’ve been on and dazzled them with Amsterdam facts. I followed this up with giving Ellie a link to my blog, and opting to stay in tonight while they all went out. Hopefully, though, I’ve been able to open their minds to the free walks. Maybe someone will even join me tomorrow at 11:00 AM in front of town hall for the Brussels walk!