Another busy day out and about in Bruges! I started yesterday with an early morning walk to Queen Astrid Park, near my hotel. Queen Astrid was a Swede who married the king of Belgium and then died young in a car accident in 1935. Belgium marked the occasion by issuing stamps bearing her portrait, familiar to any collector for their unusual black borders. When I saw that there was a park named for her I had to go check it out.
It was a good time to wander with the camera because the streets were quiet, and normally popular picture spots, like the one above, weren't thronged with people. Apparently this area was featured in the movie "In Bruges," which I saw years ago but don't really remember. Maybe I'll rent it when I get back home.
I kept walking for a while, venturing north of the Augustijnenrei, or Augustine canal. That area seemed to get less touristy and I found some unusual antique shops, like the one with this little settee in the window. If I'm reading that tag right, it's hand-embroidered and made in Mexico. I can't make out the price, but I have nowhere to put it anyway!
I went back to my room, and I have to pause here to show you the ridiculous journey I need to make to get between my room and the hotel's front door. This place has the weirdest architecture:
I think the building has been expanded several times. It needs colored lines on the floor like a hospital.
Anyway, back out on the street again, I met up with my former co-worker Venisha and a small group of fellow tourists for a "free" walking tour (not really free because of course we tipped the guide), which took a couple of hours. It was quite interesting and we saw a lot of sights.
Here we all are at the Beguinage, or Begijnhof, a sort of group home for unmarried women.
After a lunch featuring a savory Belgian waffle, Venisha and I went to the Basilica of the Holy Blood, the home of a holy relic -- allegedly a vial of Christ's blood, brought back to Europe during the Crusades. I didn't get near the relic itself, which looked like a rather intimidating affair. People were visiting it one by one, praying and crossing themselves, and it was presided over by a serious-looking robed woman. I stayed back and just appreciated the colorful interior of the church. Apparently the organ was getting a tune-up.
In the afternoon I did climb to the top of the Belfort, the bell tower on the main square. Here's the view looking downward. It wasn't a terribly arduous climb but the stairs are very narrow and wind upward in a very tight spiral. While I was up there the bells rang (as they do every 15 minutes), so here's what that sounded like:
Yes, it's a two-video day here at Shadows & Light! Can you stand it?! I can't identify that music but the carillon does occasionally play recognizable pop tunes, which is pretty fun.
It rained in the late afternoon, so Venisha and I retreated to our respective accommodations before meeting up again in the evening. We had a beer just off the main square and then she left to pack for her departure today while I went for another drink and dinner on my own. I settled into a busy bar overlooking the scenic spot in the second photo above and ordered a Chimay Blue.
That waiter was running like crazy. As I paid my bill I told him, "You're the hardest working waiter in Belgium!" He laughed and said, "Am I?!" And then, of course, immediately ran off to serve someone else.
It was about this time that I began to think mildly drunken thoughts, about the fact that as a kid in Florida I dreamed of going to other countries -- even the Bahamas seemed wildly exotic. And now here I was, sitting on the banks of a canal in Flanders.
I wandered down the road a bit to a place with actual food. I sat eating my Flemish beef stew and frites, watching the swallows swoop and dive in the sky overhead with the sunset glinting off their wings, and hearing ABBA's "Thank You For The Music" echoing out of the carillon at the Belfort, and every so often a cute guy would wander past, and I actually teared up a bit thinking: You know, life is pretty darn wonderful.