My daughter and son-in-law convinced me to watch the 2008 Colin Farrell movie In Bruges before coming here. I can’t say I would ever recommend anyone watch that dark crime/dramedy, but I did find myself looking around for landmarks. Of course, the majestic town belfry tower does play a significant role in the movie. I was planning to climb to the top of the tower – but when I found out it was 366 steps, well, eating mussels and frites sounded like a much better plan.
Bruges is lovely. One of the prettiest European cities I’ve visited. With scenic canals draped with weeping willows, this beautifully restored medieval town has a thriving Grote Markt (main square) and many smaller squares lined with cafés, waffle shops and every type of store imaginable, including one of my favorites, Desigual. There were lots of trees and colorful flowers. Belgium is famous for handmade lace and Bruges is considered the place to buy it. Handmade lace is literally a dying art and it was interesting to see detail about how lace is tatted. Only women between 50 and 90 are left making the famous (Bobbin) lace; they must have amazing eyesight for this level of detail work.
This walled city even features a double moat for fortification. Dating from the 1100s, any medieval town is going to have the requisite ancient cathedral, here the Basilica of the Holy Blood, and an elaborate Town Hall. Because of its fairytale-like quality, Bruges is quite a popular tourist destination and the city was crowded with visitors of all ages and ethnicities. There were several genres of excellent musicians playing for tips, including two terrific sax players.
I found the history of St. John’s Hospital complex interesting, since it also operated as a hostel, in the same era as the Parador at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It’s hard to imagine, back in the time Columbus was discovering America, Ferdinand and Isabella ruled Spain, and pilgrims traveling for religious worship stayed in these precursors of hotels, many of which, like this one, also cared for the sick. St. John’s is thought to be the oldest hospital in Europe, dating from 1138; today it is a museum.
The history here, in general, is very complicated and I can’t even begin to remember the succession of kings, royal houses, and conquerors who once ruled these parts. I did not know the Spanish ruled the area for about a hundred years.
By the way, the mussels and frites (moules-frites) turned out to be a good choice. They are famous for their mussels here and the Belgians lay claim to inventing frites (do NOT call them French fries here). We found a great little spot, ‘t Fonteintje and I had their “maison” sauce with ginger, cream, coriander, and tomato – delicious. The café was on Simon Stevinplein facing a small plaza and had indoor and outdoor seating. They serve the mussels by weight, one kilo, and there must’ve been 100 since they were fairly small; far more than I could finish. Another culinary point I’d like to make is that they eat their frites with mayonnaise here, which I have always preferred and been teased about.
I feel vindicated and very continental.