Ray: After I killed him, I dropped the gun in the Thames, washed the residue off me hands in the bathroom of a Burger King, and walked home to await instructions. Shortly thereafter the instructions came through – “Get the f#@# out of London, you dumb f#@#s. Get to Bruges.” I didn’t even know where Bruges f#@#ing was.
Ray: It’s in Belgium.
No, I don’t know a killer by the name of Ray. Those were the opening lines of the movie ‘In Bruges‘. This dark and wickedly funny movie was also one of the reasons why I had to visit this beautifully-preserved medieval city. Shot entirely in the old city of Bruges, the story is about 2 Irish hitmen (played by bushy-browed Colin Farell and the excellent Brendan Gleeson) sent to Bruges to lie low after a botched job.
The dialogue is mostly sharp, witty and a bit coarse, but I was fascinated by the backdrop of Bruges in the move. I had to include Bruges in my plans. In fact, most English speaking tourists who came to Bruges had already seen the movie and most were enamoured by it.
Well today, I would be a tourist again. But when I woke up this morning, it seemed to be colder than usual. I would have to add another layer of clothing to keep warm. Good thing I was going about on my bike. I’d have to anyway, the campsite is about 15 minutes from the centre of Bruges, where it was ringed by canals and the remnants of some fortifications.
I hadn’t bargained for the ridiculously high number of tourists though, and they were all over the place. Buses and buses of them, many in orderly groups walking around and being led by guides, others sightseeing on boats floating through the many canals … they were everywhere.
After I tired of the crowds, I would simply point my bike in the opposite direction and explored the less popular parts of the city. Unencumbered freedom on wheels. Again, advantage cycle-tourer.
Below is a photo essay of my little jaunt through the cobbled streets of medieval Bruges, or Brugge, as the Belgians call it.
One of the first things I do when visiting a new place is to get a free map. I loved the one that I found at the campsite reception. It’s called ‘Bruges. Free map for young travellers’. Instead of the usual boring spin, this particular leaflet dished out tips and advice in a very tongue-in-cheek manner. The introduction, and some of the tips, deserve a mention here:
ACT LIKE A LOCAL
Bruges has 3 million visitors a year. Almost 1 million take the tourist boat, and many also do the horse carriage. No wonder it’s called ‘The Venice of the North’, there are some swans on the water, and there’s a Michelangelo statue in a church. Do you care? Of course not. Very well, then start acting like a local!
* Use your bicycle to run over tourists. It’s what we do as well. Kamikaze bicycles are for rent all over town.
* On your face! Most people in Belgium say ‘Sante‘ when they toast, but around here ‘up je mulle’ does the trick. It literally means ‘(I toast) on your face‘.
* West Flemish, the dialect in Bruges, is the most powerful dialect around. To summarize it; just pronounce half of the sounds. For example, ‘pannenkoek met chocolade‘ should be pronounced as ‘panne’oe’e me cho’ola‘. Ask help from any real local.
* Do not salute people with a stressy ‘Yo!’, but go for ‘Yuuu‘ or ‘Yooo‘ while pointing your finger at the person you’re greeting. Don’t wink or whistle though.
* Choose the right football team. Club Brugge (blue and black) is always high in the first division and regularly gets to the Champion’s League, but Cercle Brugge (green and black) is the proud underdog. The worse they’re playing, the more enthusiastic their fans get.
And then there are ‘QUESTIONS TO PISS OFF THE LOCALS’
* Oooh, I know this tower! It was built for the movie ‘In Bruges’, wasn’t it?
* When does Bruges close?
* Where is McDonalds?
Charming little town, isn’t it?
Tomorrow, I head for Kortrijk, near the French border.