Brugge, Belgium: Belfort

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Well, I’ve still got another English Heritage property and some Londony things to talk about, but I’m so excited to tell you about my latest trip to Belgium that I’ll spare you for now and just intersperse them with Belgian stuff later on.  In terms of European holiday destinations, I’ve been to Belgium a lot.  I think some people may perceive it as being a boring country, but something about it just keeps drawing me back.  It doesn’t hurt that the Belgians just seem so fabulously weird, in the best possible way.  There’s always unusual museums or strange festivals to visit (the latter being the main reason for my trip…you will hear much more about the wonder that is Kattenstoet in a future post), and three of the food groups that make up the bulk of my diet (chocolate, frites, and waffles – throw in cereal, cheese, and pasta and that’s 90% of what I eat) are very well represented, so why wouldn’t I keep coming back?  To ease you into my latest holiday (because really, shit gets weird at Kattenstoet, but in a good way), I’m starting out with a mainstream tourist attraction – the huge bell tower in the centre of Brugge (Bruges), otherwise known as Belfort.

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I’ve stayed in Brugge a couple times before this, but my position on Belfort has always been: why should I pay 8 euros to queue for ages and then climb a bunch of steps?  I can climb stairs for free if I want to!  However, my boyfriend was quite keen to see it, as it apparently features heavily in the film In Bruges, which I have never watched (not being much for films unless they feature a disturbingly sexy animated fox, the superb dancing and charmingly scarred cheek of Gene Kelly, Indiana Jones (except that fourth one, I don’t like to talk about that), or Chevy Chase being a jerk (his natural state, I’m told) at some point in the 1980s).  Because we arrived in the city on a Friday afternoon, and Belfort was relatively uncrowded (the line only stretched onto the balcony outside the ticket office, not down the steps, around the corner, and out to the street, like I have seen it in the past), after grabbing an ice cream from the always delectable Da Vinci Gelateria, we joined the queue (though we couldn’t let our guard down as Spanish people kept trying to cut in front of us.  I stared them down and tried to make myself look as wide as possible, like I was scaring off bears or something, and they eventually gave up and left.  Result!). Although the line really wasn’t very long, we still had to wait over half an hour to get in as they only allow 70 people inside the tower at any given time, so you have to wait for dawdlers to leave before you can climb up (so during peak times, you probably end up waiting for hours (and the archway leading into the courtyard reeks of poo, so you get the added fun of smelling that).  No thanks).

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To be honest, I wasn’t all that bothered about waiting, because I knew once I got inside the tower, I was going to have to walk up 366 steps.  The only saving grace was that I didn’t have to do it all in one go, as the tower has different floors with displays of bells and things set up where you can leave the staircase and rest for a minute.  Still, there was definitely a long stretch where we did about 120 steps in one go, and an even more awkward one when the stairs got really steep where I had to cram myself in a corner, bent almost double to let people by, and they just kept coming, ignoring my obvious discomfort.  I mean, I work out and stuff, I’m still a youngish person (just), and I consider myself to be in reasonably good shape, so it wasn’t really a problem getting to the top, but I was pretty out of breath by then.

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Upon finally reaching the top, we were rewarded with views of the city (and Brugge is inarguably a pretty place), albeit from behind some wire netting obviously meant to stop people from jumping off the tower (since the windows were pretty high up, there was no way you were just going to fall out), though it was flimsy stuff, so I have to think if you were really determined, it probably wouldn’t stop you. However, what we didn’t realise was that it was by this time 2 o’clock, and duh, we were in the top of a belfry.  What happens every hour in a bell tower?  Yep, deafening bells.  Bells that went on for about five minutes right above our heads when we were stuck in a corner with no way out, as everyone had frozen when the bells started ringing.  I wanted to put up a video my boyfriend took to really convey how noisy it was, but as I haven’t paid extra for a deluxe WordPress account, and I’m too lazy to start putting things on YouTube, you’ll just have to use your imagination (in lieu of a bell video, I’ll put up a picture of my delicious gelato).  It was loud.  I had my fingers stuck in my ears, and it was still loud.

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If I thought going up was bad, going down was even worse.  Narrow steps make me really really nervous, and watching my feet go down a spiral staircase made me dizzy, so I was super paranoid I was going to fall the whole time, and there was only a rope wrapped along the centre pole to hold on to. And an obnoxious child was running down the steps behind me, loudly counting off each one in French, so I had to zip along at a reasonable pace so he didn’t run into me (because I don’t know if I’d have been able to resist the temptation to trip him).  That’s not an experience I want to repeat any time soon.  After emerging from Belfort with great relief, I decided to poke my head into an open doorway right next to the exit, and discovered a free gallery.  I’m still not sure what this space is called, or what the featured exhibition was about, as it was mostly in Flemish, but it appeared to be something about communism, or perhaps postwar society in general.  All I know is they had some cool stuff in there, even if I can’t tell you exactly what it was.

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I wouldn’t recommend Belfort for people who are scared of heights (or falling down staircases, which is my main problem) or who dislike loud noises (also me), but I guess it is an iconic Brugge building.  I honestly still can’t believe I paid to walk up stairs and wait in line, but maybe that’s just me (and if you get the Brugge City Museum Pass thing, I believe it is included, so that might be worth doing if you’re going to a few museums – I didn’t as I had other things planned elsewhere, as you shall see).  But the gallery thing was pretty alright, though not worth a special trip.  2/5.

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