24 March 2024

Back in Bruges

How time passes!

In May 2017 I briefly visited Brugge (Bruges) and subsequently posted this piece: https://www.richardpgibbs.org/2017/05/flanders-2.html, so, if you like you can read that one and save yourself the effort of looking at this one.....

It is alarming how quickly time passes (perhaps especially as you get older?)  It doesn't seem that long ago..... 

But perhaps what is even more astonishing is that Martin McDonagh's film In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, was made in 2008..... Look! There's trigger-happy Harry running by the fish market:

It's still a great film, if you like dark humour and a fair amount of violence, though the locals apparently didn't appreciate it, possibly because the last lines go like this:

Poor Ray.  Not so sensitive as his fellow killer Ken.

But I like Brugge, and wouldn't be averse to spending more time there.....

On this occasion I had booked myself on a short 'Bruges for solo travellers' trip with Riviera Travel.  I booked it some months ago as I anticipated I might need a few days respite from caring for Amanda.  However, time passes, as do we, and now she has gone, I just need a break.

But it didn't start well....  Thanks to an inconvenient incident on a bridge somewhere between Baldock and Letchworth my train to London decided to dump us all in Welwyn Garden City, so I missed my Eurostar to Lille and the convenience of a coach from there to the hotel in Brugge.  I nearly gave up then, but with a little luck and a following wind I finally caught up with my group, ably managed by Rosey, in a restaurant near the Minnewater.  A little frazzled, but hungry, and thirsty, and glad of the company.

Not surprisingly, the town hasn't changed much since my last visit.  The old centre is almost too perfect (which is why Ray didn't like it) - a kind of Medieval Disney World which attracts hordes of tourists..... like me.  

The canals meander past antique buildings and grand palaces, all of which are clean and free of graffiti.  The only bit of litter I saw was a plastic bag floating on a chill wind, almost certainly aiming to deposit itself in a bin somewhere out of a sense of civic duty.....

It is spring, and the Begijnhof is carpeted with daffodils:

But the weather is changeable, and though sharp streams of sunshine light the Kruispoort:

Dark clouds loom above a rainbow beyond the windmills:

And the reflections of Jan van Eyck's statue shimmer on the cobbles:

But if you allow for the inundation of visitors, it is still a tranquil place and the mellow brickwork and casual chintz curtains make for a restful effect:

While the views from the Belfort (something Ken got too close to) give you a sense of the lay-out of the closely worked streets and rising spires of the old town:

And in the shelter of the Sint-Janshospitaal there is still an unrivalled collection of works by Hans Memling, which delighted me on my earlier visit.  The St Ursula Shrine (1489) is exquisite:

As is the St John Altarpiece (1479) with St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist standing behind the Virgin and child and Saints Catherine and Barbara seated aside. Despite the scenes of torture and execution all around the central picture is one of supreme tranquility:

While in contrast the pale horse of death emerges from the mouth of hell on the right hand panel:

It all happens in Bruges!  In the Markt young sibyls possibly foretell the second coming (or something worse?)

While in the garden of Cafe Vlissinghe the elders hone their skills at Krulbollen (or Curve Ball - sometimes called Rolle Bolle):

The inside of this bar, barely changed since 1515, is warm and relaxed, and an eponymous beer goes down exceedingly well, carefully served by Grietje while Bruno cooks up Vissoep (fish soup) in the kitchen:

It is getting dark when I leave:

By now the day trippers have gone back to their cruise ships, while those who remain are crowding the bars and restaurants around the centre.  The sky fades from deep blue:

To inky black:

Rain begins to fall again and I lose myself in the dark lanes of the city:

Walking by the canals and basins:

Over bridges from which the town gets its name:

Until I regain the open space of the Markt and the great Belfry that rises above the Cloth Hall.  It is stunning and despite Ray (Colin Farrell)'s dying words at the end of In Bruges, if this is Hell, then give me eternity any day......

Ay Marieke, Marieke
Le soir souvent
Entre les tours
De Bruges et Gand
Ay Marieke, Marieke
Tous les √©tangs
M'ouvrent leurs bras
De Bruges à Gand

Jacques Brel

[For Marieke please substitute Amanda.....]

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