Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Rain, the Park and Other Things

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.


Moving with Mitchell said...

Haven’t been there in years. Such a beautiful city. One of my father’s favorites, although he never said why. Remind me to not stay in that hotel. You’d be singing the song “And he never returned, no he never returned...” Enjoy yourself.

Frances said...

Ye gods, I am surprised you ever found your way out at all! They need more pictures on the walls and I hope that there are no bedrooms near that first set of noisy stairs.
Do you ever watch " The Hotel Inspector" with Alex Polizzi? She would have plenty to complain about in your hotel!
I seem to remember that Beguinage place.
(The " Hairy Bikers" have a good recipe for Flemish beef stew that I have made a few times.)

Andrew said...

The path to your room reminds me of ours once at Lancaster Gate Hotel in London, but a lift was part of the journey too. You wouldn't want to be a smoker and need to duck out for a quick puff. Since there is audio in both clips, I will listen to them later.

I like the style of the settee but not the bright fabric.

It looks like a decent sized organ. Organs can be high maintenance and in need of a lot of attention.

I never dreamed of visiting other countries when I was young, but I have visited many. I've had a couple of experiences where I've thought how did a naïve gay farm boy manage to be in a position to do this. There's probably a blog post in it, probably containing the word surreal at some point.

I'm pleased you are enjoying yourself.

River said...

That's a heck of a walk between your room and the front door! Could you maybe abseil out your window instead? It would be quicker.
It all looks so beautiful, I love all the old buildings, will you be sorry to leave?

Yorkshire Pudding said...

There's an awful lot that could be said about this blogpost...
1) I can easily picture you enjoying a martini on that Mexican sofa but the fabric style is surely too brash and colourful for a gay man. You would need to get it reupholstered in grey (i.e. gray).
2) Good job you didn't tumble downstairs while making the labyrinthine hotel video. Safety first young man!
3) I love the way the writing ends - on such a happy note. Life can indeed be darned good but recent events have tended to suppress that feeling.

Boud said...

Such a happy post, what a contrast to the general anxiety. Thank you.

gz said...

I had a weekend there in the overflow youth hostel (a school!) in 1968 I think..a group trip on the way back from walking up the Rhine Valley. Bruges...or Brugge..was a wonderful place to wander around

Debby said...

I recognize that emotion at the end...and you are right: it is.

Ed said...

I thought the music played by the carillion was obvious. It was playing "Happy Birthday To You" with a lot of extra lower notes thrown in. But if you listen to the higher toned bells, it is definitely "Happy Birthday."

Bob said...

Gorgeous photos but it feels like your room and the lobby are in two separate buildings!

Ms. Moon said...

I would get so lost in that hotel. I'm serious. It looks like a nightmare to me.
BUT the rest of your trip seems so lovely! And guess what? That Mexican settee is magnificent in my eyes. I've never seen anything like it.
I am so glad you're getting this time to enjoy life, your life- beautiful.

Mary said...

Clearly understand your emotion at the end of the post. That kind of experience--a kind of overwhelming gratitude--for those of us who love travel-is wonderfully grand. These days, we need them more than ever. Safe travels.

NewRobin13 said...

The way out of that hotel is so confusing. it's a good thing there wasn't a fire. How would anyone find their way out of there? Yikes.
A beautiful day you had there in every way. I love the views.

Sharon said...

That has to be the most confusing walk through that hotel that I've ever seen. It certainly beats the hotel in Italy I stayed in where I had to go up the stairs and then down the stairs and then up more stairs to get to my room.
Your day sounds perfect. I can't recall if I took a walking tour when I was there or just explored on my own but I do remember the windmill that I found on a rainy walk by the canal. And, that beef stew and frites sounds very familiar. I might have eaten something similar. I do remember that whatever I ate, I loved it.
I loved hearing the bells and seeing that wonderful view!

Kelly said...

As much as I love to see stained glass, my favorite photo today is the very first one! What a serene, tranquil setting! (as long as there aren't any obnoxious insects)

Wilma said...

I do love that settee with the Mexican fabric! Your trip is sort of like falling down the rabbit hole into the Escher Hotel.

Ellen D. said...

You are doing a great job of sharing your trip with us! I love seeing everything as I will never get there myself. It is a great relief to see and I can use some relief right now. Thanks, Steve!

Allison said...

What a beautiful place! I'd get up and go if the airlines weren't such a disaster.

Jennifer said...

What a wonderful and happy post! Enjoy the rest of your trip, Steve. I'm glad you're having such fun!

The Bug said...

That trip through your hotel was crazy! Reminds me of my usual stress dream where I'm in a house with multiple levels & can't find my way (usually to the bathroom - ha!).

It sounds like you've have a very lovely visit - I'm happy for you!

Pixie said...

I love that movie "In Bruges" and would love to visit. Maybe one day.

That's a brutal journey from hotel room to front door, reminds me of "The Hotel California", you can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave, because find the frigging door:)

Glad you're having such a nice holiday, although I am envious.

Margaret said...

Chimay! One of my favorites. You've accomplished so much, including navigating your hotel. It can be tricky. :)

John Going Gently said...

Not very practical in a fire

Steve Reed said...

Mitchell: I think it's one of my favorites, too. Some people think it's a little too touristy and sanitized. There's no real urban grit. But it IS beautiful.

Frances: No, I've never seen that show, but she should definitely do a review of this bizarre hotel! Despite the long walk to the front door, I'd stay there again. The room itself (the second one) was comfortable.

Andrew: The first room they put me in included a lift, one with two doors -- it opened on one side on the main floor and on the other on the next floor up.

River: Ha! I probably COULD do that. (I did consider whether it was possible in the event of a fire, though there was an emergency exit nearby.)

YP: Oh, I love that colorful fabric. I'm a tacky gay man, not a chic one.

Boud: This is the purpose of travel -- to reawaken us to the world's wonders.

GZ: Yeah, I have no idea whether it's more appropriate to go with the French spelling (Bruges) or the Flemish one (Brugge). I use French because that's the one I learned first.

Debby: It's a nice feeling to have, isn't it? When we step back from everyday annoyances we can see so much more.

Ed: That's a good guess, but I later figured out it's actually "Dance of the Hours" by Ponchielli -- which makes sense for a bell tower with a clock chime. It's not a particularly melodic version.

Bob: I think they actually ARE in separate buildings. I think the hotel was cobbled together by connecting the remnants of a few different structures.

Ms Moon: I knew you'd like that settee! I love it too, but I wish they'd get it out of that window before it fades in the sun.

Mary: That's true. We need to reconnect with that feeling now and then, and travel helps.

Robin: There was an emergency stairwell much closer to my room. Now, whether it was really open and accessible or not, I couldn't tell you!

Sharon: I think in the older parts of European cities, old buildings are repurposed and you wind up with these bizarre constructions!

Kelly: No insects (for better or worse)!

Wilma: Escher is all I could think about the whole time I was there! I couldn't help laughing to myself about it.

Ellen D: I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Allison: Yeah, I'm glad I was on a train! (Although they've been disastrous here in London lately, with strikes and whatnot. Eurostar wasn't affected.)

Jennifer: Thank you! I had a great time. It was good to get away.

Bug: It WAS like an anxiety dream! LOL

Pixie: Ha! I need to rent "In Bruges" again. I saw it a long time ago and I don't remember it.

Margaret: That Chimay was yummy, but a couple of Belgian beers and I am three sheets to the wind. The alcohol content is so high!

John: No! But there was an emergency exit. (Which I didn't have to try, fortunately!)

Jeanie said...

Life IS wonderful, isn't it? It really hits you -- that "I'm here in a foreign country, wandering around, seeing history" and it almost seems miraculous, even in these days of travel. A far cry from childhood.

Love the videos -- and you're right about the hospital tape! It's a gorgeous city, one I've never discovered in person -- and would love to.

gz said...

Steve it depends which part..or even which shop you are in!