This isn’t my first visit to Bruges. I was last here with my parents in 1988 because we were visiting relatives in The Netherlands and made a week long side trip that incorporated London and an overnight stop in Bruges on the way back.
Back then it was literally a whistle-stop visit, we arrived in the afternoon, I was able to visit Michelangelo’s statue of Madonna in the Church of Our Lady. All I remember of the church was a quick glimpse of the statue because we arrived minutes before the churched closed for the day and joined at least a hundred other tourists who were also trying to get a last minute peek.
My one precious (film was very expensive) photograph was a beautifully blurred example because I got elbowed by someone as I clicked the shutter closed, but I still kept the photo for a long time afterwards because it was a reminder and proof that I had really seen a real Michaelangelo. You can imagine my pride as I pulled the photo out with the apology, “I know the photo’s not great but that white blurred blob really IS a real Michelangelo statue!”. I remembered absolutely nothing else about the interior of the church, but it was something behind the church that has been the driving force behind my wish to return here ever since that d.ay
My father had a back problem and had been tired out by an incident earlier : His mother (my Dutch Oma) had requested a special sort of chocolate from Bruges. We had very limited time on that trip and the shops were starting to shut, but my father hadn’t managed to track down these elusive favourites and he openly admitted that he was too scared to go back to her without them.
Therefore i witnessed my father literally running from one chocolate shop to another minutes before closing time trying to find what he wanted. Finally there was a lady who was actually trying to close the shop door to lock up for the night, but had answered “yes we have those, but we are closed so please come back tomorrow” to the question my father has asked.
He was however so intent on not leaving empty handed that he jammed his foot in the door and then the rest of him, and refused to budge until the lady sold him what he wanted. Witnessing your father physically wrestling with the door that this Belgium lady was just as intent on closing was one of those life’s images burned into my brain. My mother and I thought it was all very comical but for him it was no laughing matter. Eventually the lady gave up trying to evict him and with a lot of muttering and grumbling because the till had already been closed she sold him the chocolates he wanted.
Afterwards my Mother dared to ask if we could try one… the glare we both received told us that probably the second worst thing to facing Oma without her favourite chocolates would be facing her with a depleted supply, so it was more than our lives were worth to dare touch that little gift wrapped cardboard box.
After this incident we had managed our few minutes inside the church and now that all the drama and rush was over, all my father wanted to do was to collapse back at the hotel. It was a beautiful summer’s night and the hotel was close by so I elected to walk around the church first and set out by myself. I remember the stillness of the evening as I stumbled upon a little bridge over the canal, situated just behind the church: there were beautiful buildings on the canal around it and I was completely and utterly alone.
The evening light was magical and the stillness, solitude and peace of the moment in this beautiful spot left a lasting impression. I spent about twenty minutes there before other people arrived and the spell was broken.
Ever since that day I knew I wanted to return one day to that one little spot in Bruges, and now decades later I have finally done it. Amazingly the details were exactly as I remembered, even the weather was similar, but unfortunately this time there was no total solitude and silence. A constant stream of tourists kept coming to the bridge, photographs would be taken at each end and in the middle… getting photos without “extra’s” posing in them became a the challenge that I was determined to win. It took a while but Velveteen and I were determined, patient and at least partially successful.
This post therefore has become one of persistence on many levels, and whilst I have no idea what the canal or this area are officially called, the little path across the bridge becomes a cherished trip down memory lane.