I’m now back after a break for the Lovely Wife and I to enjoy our anniversary and reflecting on a very enjoyable week in Bruges. We were self-catering in a very central apartment in possibly the least Bruges-like development (i.e. post 1600 in style) that the owner of the flat euphemistically referred to as ‘The Project’. Any disappointment at the frigid modernity of the accommodation was quickly dispelled by proximity to the centre and the patisserie over the road.
I had been to Bruges once before many years ago and remembered enjoying it and to the Lovely Wife it was a completely new deal, a heady mix of water and cobblestones, lots and lots of cobblestones in fact, the only thing more numerous being the hordes of tour groups in certain areas of the city at certain times. Afternoons in Bruges, when visiting, seem to be a lot more pleasant sitting in a bar drinking the local brew rather than fighting the hordes following people with flags. Alternatively, walk one street away from the main sites and see no one at all, something we previously experienced to our delight in Venice. The old part of Bruges is terribly pretty throughout, with lots of interesting medieval buildings, random bits of canal and quiet courtyards of alms-houses. We especially were taken by the prevalence of crafty little wisteria plants that seemed to be inserted at fairly regular intervals, making even the most ordinary of streets just look a bit more scenic and worth promenading.
As well as visiting (and the obligatory eating and drinking – we were on holiday after all) we did a surprising amount of talking, or rather listening. Because I am not sure I have been away somewhere recently where, after an initial reticence, complete strangers opened up to us. There was the Australian lecturer who, having sat next to us in a bar, knocking back the Leffe and cigarettes while listening to podcasts (about Marilyn Monroe, we later learned) turned out to be rather chatty (she was from Melbourne, speaking at a conference in London and had taken to opportunity to nip across the channel for a bit of exploring). Waiting staff were also good value, providing the restaurant was not too busy. It turned out, for example, that a restaurant which (according to the guidebooks) specialised in playing the works of Mozart as a background to the obligatory mussels and fries (Belgium fries, as it was pointed out in several places, this being very much Flanders territory; the misappropriation of thin strips of deep fried potato to the French clearly still rankles) was now specialising in 1980s British electronica was because the head waiter was a massive fan of the genre. I do not even know how we started the conversation about that but soon we were regaled by his impressive list of gigs he was going to and possibly more impressively his list of ex-wives and associated issues. Normally this is the kind of download that I expect from bored ladies of a certain age that I often run into when visiting churches, but it certainly added amusement to our evening. It did not seem to be served up to everyone, but maybe we just have the kind of faces that makes people want to tell us about themselves. If so, I’m grateful for that because as a species we simply do not do enough talking to each other, especially conversing with complete strangers. If we did, maybe the world would be in a better state. As it is, one of the things that will stay with me from this week will not just be the beer, art and aforementioned cobblestones but the middle aged waiter so excited that he was soon going to see Depeche Mode play – for the umpteenth time, apparently.