IN BRUGES, BELGIUM

Bruges has been on our bucket list since seeing the 2008 crime thriller In Bruges in which Irish hunk Colin Farrell (Ray) and Brendan Gleeson (Ken) hid out in this gorgeous Belgian city.

Like Ken we fell in love with medieval Bruges. Its beauty and serenity are distinguished by its meandering canals, cobbled stone streets and ancient, intricately decorated buildings.

Bruges can be overrun by tourists daily, so the earlier you arrive the better. On our short visit we spent about three hours wandering the streets of this compact but stunning city. Around every turn there was another amazing photograph to be captured. Wearing a good pair of sturdy walking shoes is essential as the cobblestones are a no go zone for ‘petite pumps’.

The sleepy canals, decorated with white swans and small stone bridges, are framed with colourful flowers, lending the cityscape an unexpected tranquility. The tourist boat cruises are a great way to explore the charming nooks and crannies of this beguiling, ancient city.

On our quest to find the central square we passed dozens of shops selling Belgian chocolates, notorious as the finest chocolates in the world. The colours, shapes and fillings of these all too tempting delicacies have a hypnotic effect on tourists. Competing equally with the chocolate shops were the freshly cooked, sweet smelling, golden Belgian waffles, served with lashings of chocolate sauce and freshly whipped cream.

Onwards we bravely marched, past the chocolates, waffles and brilliantly decorated cakes, through the thickening crowds, whose numbers had started to swell significantly around noon. With lunchtime approaching most good tourists were eyeing off the possibilities in the endless sidewalk cafes advertising their tempting daily specialties.

As we looked skywards there seemed an immeasurable array of medieval church spires and beautiful rooftop architecture from the 13th and 14th centuries, ornate buildings with decorative gothic doors and windows, giving the landscape that total fairytale vibe for which Bruges is so renowned.

We could not help noticing the beautifully decorated shop facades, particularly those which had been repurposed for more modern brands. One classic example was the Zara shop, a perfectly symmetrical building with its proportional geometric windows and magnificent gilded decorations. It was quite simply exquisite and elegantly inviting.

The most prominent iconic buildings are in the city centre. Markt Square or (Market Square), featuring a 13th-century belfry tower with a 47-bell carillon and the nearby Cloth Hall. However, wherever we turned the inner city squares were graced with elaborate, ornate buildings, alive with music and people interacting, dining at open air restaurants, riding in horse drawn carriages and admiring the captivating spectacle of Bruges.

We were not in Bruges long enough to explore the gay scene but from all accounts The Pub is one of the most welcoming LGBTI venues. However, the latest advice is you can go to any bar in this gay friendly village and feel very comfortable.

Leaving Bruges to return to the bus station we saw the most picturesque scene, a canal lined with gothic buildings, towering spires and the iconic belfry tower at the vanishing point. People were drinking and dining on the 13th century stone terraces just above the waterline of the canal as the weeping willows drank in the astonishing beauty of this enchanting city.

Now we understand why the main characters of the film In Bruges picked such a stunning place to hide out for awhile and we certainly would have liked to spend more than three hours in this fascinating place. In fact, we can only imagine what the city must look like at night with floodlit gothic buildings reflecting their ancient charms into the luminous canals. We will definitely need to return for a longer visit to fully satisfy our curiosity.