Jackie: We want to talk about the little known Belgium city of Bruges. Well, a lot more is known now since last year’s dark comedy-drama-thriller introduced film fans to the beautiful and historic location. “In Bruges” opened in the shadow of block-buster movies and got lost in the flurry. Find it. I grudgingly saw “In Bruges”. Not my cup ‘a tea, I assumed. The majesty of the production and the performances overcame my prim loathing for vulgar language and easy murders. And, in between all the vileness, we were blessed with a virtual tour of Bruges. During a canal boat ride, a yellow dog was looking out a high apartment window. The same dog that we have seen every time we’ve taken that elegant boat tour. Here’s a capsule version of the plot, (if you accept what you are going to see, the DVD is available). Bruges, the most well preserved medieval city in the whole of Belgium, is a welcoming destination for trave-lers from all over the world. But for hit men Ray and Ken, it could be their final destination; a difficult job has resulted in the pair being, ordered right before Christmas, by their London boss Harry to go and cool their heels in the storybook Flemish city for a couple of weeks. Very much out of place amidst the gothic architecture, canals, and cobbled streets, the two hit men fill their days living the lives of tourists. Ray, still haunted by some bloodshed in London, hates the place, while Ken, even as he keeps a fatherly eye on Ray’s often profanely funny exploits, finds his mind and soul being expanded by the beauty and serenity of the city. But the longer they stay waiting for Harry’s call, the more surreal their experience becomes, as they find themselves in weird encounters with locals, tourists, violent medieval art, a dwarf American actor shooting a European art film, Dutch prostitutes, and a potential romance for Ray in the form of Chloë, who may have some dark secrets of her own. And when the call from Harry does finally come, Ken and Ray’s vacation becomes a life-and-death struggle of darkly comic proportions and surprisingly emotional consequences. A long capsule, but hopefully enticing. Not for kiddies. The cast is stunning. Colin Farrell, as Ray, is disgustingly excellent. Brendan Gleeson is Ken, and is so brilliant an actor that adult drama schools should assign this film to demon-strate the art. Just for fun, Ralph Fiennes is the perplexed and intriguing Harry. And Bruges is gorgeous as Bruges.
David and I have been to Bruges on day trips from Brussels and from an Oceania Cruise with our neighbor John and Dorene Martin. The Martin’s did the smartest thing. They brought little walkie-talkies and could wander away, yet always find each other. We took the canal boat ride (and saw the yellow dog both coming and going). My favorite shopping destination is a hardware store when I get stainless steel spoon straws, my favorite gift for straw drinkers. We always eat in the Grote Market (“Big Market square”). David is a Mussel’s and Frites man, I like asparagus. The first lunch we had there was just after a huge market morning. As we settled to dine, a thundering street cleaner circled round and round to tidy the place. Take note. On quieter occasions, it’s so beautiful. Most of the people do their errands on bikes. Very charming people watching.
Along with a few other canal-based northern cities, Bruges is sometimes referred to as “The Venice of the North.” The historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of its medieval buildings are notable, including the Church of Our Lady, whose brick spire makes it one of the world’s highest brick towers/buildings. The sculpt-ure Madonna and Child, which can be seen in the transept, is believed to be Michelangelo’s only sculpture to have left Italy within his lifetime. My first visit, before I knew my limits, I walked up the winding bell tower. It was worth it. I could wave to David, way below, and take in the mythic Flemish architecture circling around from the Centre Square. Bruges is also famous for its 13th Century belfry, housing a municipal carillon comprising 47 bells. The city still employs a full-time carillonneur, who gives free con-certs on a regular basis. This is what Travel is all about!
Just for a different approach, I looked on the Internet at Earth-observatory.nasa.gov and Bruges was the Image of the Day. So interesting! It was a satellite view of the Belgium coast and we see the port of Zee Bruges and the straight line to Bruges. Surround-ing Bruges is the very flat, fertile plain of the Flanders countryside. There are charming hotels along side the canals. A good and calm destination, one could stay in Bruges and then take the train to Brussels, Paris and even England. By the way, that is where David is as I write. He’s been taking a winter jaunt to Milford on Sea and hither through London and special villages. That’s why I’ve been doing all the Talking here. But, David is collecting a bevy of travel tips to share with us all.
Until then, we’ll travel.