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Just to get something clear right off the bat – Bruges is a terrific destination, and definitely one of the most popular short trips from Brussels along with classic Ghent. So even though our particular reason for visiting was a bit sketchy, it was still an excellent decision. I have spent plenty of time laughing at people who travel around searching out impossible-to-recreate scenes from their favourite movies, intensely dull locations once discussed in a very fictional novel, pretentious cafes where famous authors once got drunk enough to dine and dash, short supervised visits with unpleasant dogs that once starred opposite Owen Wilson or, most likely, guided tours to tiny round cottages where mythical midgets once pretended to sit around combing feet allegedly even hairier than mine. Oh ho ho, I’d laugh. What a stupid reason to travel. Much more cultural to just find a nice photo in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel Year 20xx and head off in that direction with your camera and clever new t-shirt like the rest of us. Ha, again. But then we saw In Bruges, the black 2008 comedy from Martin McDonagh starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, universally accepted as one of the best travel movies of all time. And when I say black I mean really black, as in laugh but then look around to see if anyone saw you doing it, that kind of black. But black in a good way, too, like your investment is “in the black”, or “you dance like you’re black”, not in a negative way like “black Republican”. Bottom line is we really liked the movie, have spent far more time than necessary espousing its virtues to anyone who will listen in the lead up to this trip, and fully intended – accomplished – and now are on the verge of telling you all about – how we visited all the relevant areas of Bruges (Brugge for all you Flemish carpenters out there reading this), giggled naughtily like your mom watching Chelsea Lately, then did our clumsy best to draw meaningful comparisons between that suspenseful tale of morality, redemption and stupidity and us wandering around in flip flops searching for different places to try the same beer. After all, with all the canals, bridges and old buildings and such, well, it’s pretty much a fucking fairy tale. Oh and by the way, it’s in Belgium. Yeah, I know, we thought that was weird, too.
Our version of some of In Bruges’ best scenes
Climbing the Belfort
366 narrow, claustrophobic steps to the top of UNESCO recognized Belfry, winding past old bells (the ringing kind, not the sipping iced tea and entertaining gentleman callers kind), thick wooden doors and menacing arrow slits presumably set up to defend against rogue packs of Hun bandits. Or maybe just drunken Brits on stag parties bent on overtaking the fort and, I don’t know, maybe ringing the bell at all the wrong times and messing with the lunch rush at pasta takeaway shops, or maybe sprinkling coins to the ground far below to scatter the crowd before plummeting to an honourable fog-shrouded death. Good news on all fronts – no strain-induced heart attacks to report, no overweight Americans getting stuck in the narrow stairwell or offended at the implication, and only two instances of ill-advised photos of the stairs that always fail to capture any useful perspective.
Contemplating suicide in the park
Well, not so much suicide, I guess, as quietly contemplating the funny smell wafting over from that rowdy group of teenagers loitering in the grass. And strolling. And discussing Mark’s firm belief that all covered playground slides are irretrievably coated in child’s pee. An irrational fear? Or commentary on a Yorkton childhood? Or does he just spend long hours quietly observing strange children urinating? None of our theories proved conclusive, but the pictures of the lake turned out just terrific.
Fleeing a mad gunman by diving out the hotel window into the canal
Ok, this one is tough. We really didn’t do this. But it probably got your attention.
Making out with a con artist on a fairy tale bridge
Well, ex-waitress, anyway. And she made a face when I came at her lips blazing. But romantic all the same. And all this took place just metres away from the reflected celebrity of the golden lab lounging on a pillow in a nearby window. From what we could tell, Andie’s endless fascination with him did nothing to temper his already out of control performer’s ego, although it did seem to bring him down a peg the time his agent took him to that strange smelling place and a jovial guy in a white lab coat cut his balls off.
Snorting coke with two manky hookers and a racist dwarf
The snorting part actually didn’t happen that much, and usually it was coming out rather than in, but we did do our fair share of guzzling and even traded Coke for beer on more than one occasion. Laynni and Andie continue to take exception to the “hooker” reference but don’t fool yourself, nobody gets anything for nothing these days. As for the dwarf, well, let’s just say European girls in high heels do their leggy, effortless best to shed a humbling light on Andie’s alleged sixty-four inches.
Shootout in the Fish Market
We were using a Canon. Ha ha. And we got some cool shots of vine-covered bridges, calm canals and disfigured brown swans.
Getting robbed by a skinhead conman
In fact, what happened was the waitress was giving me the eye, so I winked and licked my lips seductively, as I’m wont to do, then her skinhead boyfriend appeared over my shoulder all cocky and Mario Lopez-y, so I spit partially chewed cheese in his eye, kicked the shit out of him and his Club Brugge jersey, stole some Ibuprofen out of his girlfriend’s sequined mini-purse, got drunk and wandered reflectively among all the haunting medieval churches and got down to some real thorough Belgian lace doily shopping. Then, after that, none of that actually happened.
We drank a lot of Belgian beer and spent a lot of time meandering through mesmerizing little alleys, pondering picturesque yet sluggish windmills, gazing pensively down murkily reflective canals and barging through busy plazas teeming with looming Dutch day trippers and skeptical French people shopping doggedly for good bargains on striped clothing, jaunty scarves and shiny new Flemish dildos.
Quick Stop in Brussels
All movie tourism aside, before Bruges we had arrived in pleasant Brussels where we enjoyed a nice start thanks to the friendly and helpful woman at airport info desk, friendly and helpful taxi driver, friendly and helpful Fedex guy who shipped our hiking gear off to western France to wait for us until the beginning of October and a guy named Jan with tight white jeans and surprisingly hairy forearms who suggested I try a traditional Belgian specialty of ice cream sprinkled with chocolate wrapped in a waffle cone and eaten while kneeling on a lace doily. It translates into English as Sweet Belgian Mouth Cream. Hey, it’s no weirder than a naked child called Mannekin Pis urinating exuberantly into the air becoming the symbol of Brussels. All in all, the only thing that could have improved our visit was if, while wandering the suburbs of Brussels in search of a train station, we had found a hat in the ditch with a picture of a donkey drinking moonshine.
After Bruges we actually spent a night back in Brussels, arriving amid one of reputedly many festival type celebrations held regularly in the magnificent Grand Place (and no, that’s not a typo), what turned out to be a strange mix of classical renditions of eighties pop songs, vigorous square dancing and tourists getting their photos taken with three American WWII jeeps and supposed soldiers dressed appropriately for that time period, but clearly not ours. Just a few blocks down from that assault on logic we found a large gathering of young slackers and irritatingly lanky bikers enjoying a “Take Back the City” rally. It seemed to be promoting cycling and walking as opposed to driving environmentally intrusive vehicles. I’m not sure where all the pot and b.o. fit in but they sure had some fun posters.
Unfortunately, we had a flight to Croatia scheduled for the following morning and were unable to stick around for the remainder of the week’s “Take Back the-” itinerary:
Take Back the Waiting Room – smoking cigarettes and reading Life magazine while waiting to have a meat blockage surgically removed from your small intestine.
Take Back the Sitcom – helpful laugh tracks and weekly moral lessons like how giving in to peer pressure can lead to young Sarah getting double-teamed by the Anderson brothers from down the block.
Take Back Sexual Innuendo in the Workplace – reintroduction of terms like “Babe” and phrases such as “Why don’t you grab us some coffee, Sweet Cheeks?” and “Are your high beams always on or were you just thinking about my cock?”
Think on that. Next up from Croatia!
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