Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Bruges

Here are my travel tips for going to Bruges. Are you ready?

1. Don't go to Bruges.

2. Watch the movie In Bruges instead, provided you have the necessary ability to withstand a pretty decent amount of blood, jokes about dwarves, and swearing.

While Emily was here, we decided it would be fun to go to Bruges in the evening and have dinner, walk around the city, take night photos, whatever. It is (as every source will tell you) the best-preserved medieval city in Europe.

When we got there, we noticed the train station is nothing special. In fact, it is perhaps the ugliest and most boring train station I've seen in any city so far. It's a station which opens out into a central flat area with no distinguishing features surrounded by chain store hell.

The chain stores are behind me.
 We got on the bus and were taken into the main part of town, and there we did indeed see a square surrounded by various old buildings.

The bell tower
However, the square was also absolutely thronged with tourists. Also: overpriced restaurants, people stumbling around not looking where they were going because they were staring through their camera's viewfinders, being stepped on by people backing up to get a picture of their companions standing in front of ... something.

Don't look now, but I think we're surrounded.

That only gives you the smallest idea of it, but if you imagine that in every direction you turn, you start to get the idea. And okay, I get it - it's a tourist destination, and it's tourist season, and we were after all tourists ourselves. But there was a big difference in the feel of Bruges and the feel of Gent when it's full of tourists, and here's what it is: Bruges is dead.

Even on the days when it seems like we've reached a critical mass of tourists in Gent, you see people biking through the squares on their way home or out with friends, or locals sitting and having drinks, or people shopping like on any other day. But the tourist center of Bruges is like an Epcot version of Belgium; there's not a single thing going on there that isn't directly related to tourists. The restaurants? Only tourists. The buildings? Mostly empty facades. Shops? Either souvenirs or high-end chain stores. If you're suddenly seized by the urge to buy a Rolex while on vacation, Bruges is your city.

"My God, it's full of stars! I mean, tourists."
So we beat a quick retreat to try to find some other more interesting and real parts of the city. We found the expected old buildings and canals (populated by tour boats going at warp speed), but still there was that feeling of deadness. No one riding bikes from here to there in the course of their daily lives, only the rare car that went by on the street, disturbing the horse carriages. Not even that many people walking around, and none of the few we saw seemed to be natives.

Bruges is, indeed, as they say in the movie, a fairytale town. There are some old buildings, and some pretty scenes to take photos of if you can manage to get a clear shot (forget it in the main area). But it's also completely lifeless. It's like a constructed simulacrum, a thing that used to be authentic but has now become a shell and sad parody of its former self.

Rent the movie, and come to Gent instead.

No comments:

Post a Comment