Let’s start where we left off . . . where my wits left me entirely. The chocolate shops.
There was music playing in the Market Square, which was bustling with people and horses and carriages. The air was chill, and the sunlight was just beginning to dip low, so there was something festive and holiday feeling about the town, despite the fact that it was only mid October.
We ate in a bistro near the fish market (Vismarkt) area of town, but left room for nibbles in the street (namely, chocolate). We bought chocolate covered orange slices and all manner of chocolate truffles, eventually winding our way through the canals and back to our hotel, to navigate those treacherous, steep, and tiny stairs to our room– a task made more difficult by our round, chocolate-filled bellies and lethargic-satiated gaits. (It’s nearly impossible to waddle up stairs like these.)
The next morning, we struck out early to walk the city before any crowds might set in. This has become a new ritual of ours–one that I’m absolutely sold on. No crowds, no noise, just the city in all its glory, laid out in the morning light and eager to be enjoyed and photographed at a leisurely pace. Here’s a little sampling for you:
After our stroll, we returned to the hotel for breakfast, then headed out mid-morning to the Historium (on the Market Square) for some local history. The Historium bills itself as a multi-media history exhibit. We enjoyed it. The first half of the experience is heavy on multi-media and offers an interesting feel for what life was like here hundreds of years ago, but it’s a little light on actual history. The final parts of the exhibit are heavy on history, but mostly of the “look at the placard and read/listen to the lesson” variety. All in all, we enjoyed it, but the kids got antsy toward the end. And so . . .we headed off to eat and drink again! (No surprise there.)
At this point, we’d met friends from Germany, and we all headed to Die Halve Mann Brewery and Bistro, for what turned out to be a great lunch. The beers were lovely, the steaks and Flemish stew were exceptional, and the local man who sat next to us was very chatty! (I guess Belgian beer loosens the tongue.)
After the brewery, we stopped in at the Church of Our Lady, to see the famous statue, The Madonna of Bruges.
The statue is famous for so many reasons. It is one of the only sculptures by Michaelangelo to reside outside of Italy. (Or maybe THE only– I forget.) It was also a focal point of the recent book and movie Monuments Men — as one of the finest pieces of art to be stolen by the Nazis from Bruges, but later recovered by “the monuments men” from a salt mine in Austria where it had been hidden with innumerable other pieces of art.
It was a lovely statue, and impressive to see (especially with its lengthy backstory). But it did hold one disappointment for me. It was walled off from the rest of the church and an entry fee was required to see it–not unusual, and maybe not distasteful, as I’m sure these cathedrals take incredible funds to keep them running and in good order. But still, walling this off somehow created a disconnect for me. Shouldn’t it be seen as a piece of the whole, a part of the worship experience? Isn’t that where its power lies, and not just in its aesthetic beauty? (Chat amongst yourselves on that–I’ll just put it out there. All in all, though, it was fantastic to see this, as well as the rest of the church.)
After touring the church, our day was nearly spent, and our daughter was beginning to come down with what turned out to be the flu (and would dog us for weeks to come), so we began winding down. BUT not until after we …. YES–ate more chocolate!!
I strolled the city a little more, while everyone else napped off the chocolate and lunch binge, and then we headed home. Another day in Bruges would have been fantastic, but might have prompted a chocolate overdose. You have to pace yourself with these things. Maybe another weekend, we’ll make the pilgrimage again.