Sunday, March 01, 2009

Taken aback by Bruges

Every so often a place knocks you for six. Sometimes unexpected, at others living up to hype. For me Bruges was a bit of both. Previous visitors I know wax lyrical about how marvellous it is, but for some reason such complements never transformed in my head to heightened expectation. They should have!
A near perfectly preserved medieval city, with misfortune as its guardian. The main artery of its trade and hence prosperity, the Zwin channel, silted up leaving the city frozen at its height of prosperity. No new grand buildings, just maintenance of the old. No doubt a disaster for the citizens of the time, but for the modern day tourist a God send.

Around every corner and across each bridge a new picture perfect image waited to impose itself. Rather than being quaint, the stonework and narrow canals maintain a rigid stoicism to the endless tourists.

A couple of said tourists - Felix and Fumie
Time fades memory. Things slowly shift from your forethoughts to ever further depths of the memory bank and eventually...gone. But, as this process runs, the mind grips hold of certain parts of an experience and refuses to let go. These parts become the slide-show you retell over and over. The crystal clear image from a heavy night out that still sticks years after the context has gone. Analogous to the the lime-stone stacks that remain stark and proud after the sea has removed all else - I am thinking Ko Phi Phi, Vang Vien, Vinales. Like those long-lasting remnants of memory, these stacks are distorted evidence of what once was. Think of your feelings towards an ex, then read your diary of what you thought at the time - correlation asplinter. Anyhow, the reason for this ramble is to highlight the two stacks of memory that I reckon will remain from this beautiful city....
One - Cutting through the narrow side-streets and entering the main square for the first time. High and grand, the surrounding buildings impose the success of their former patrons. Size is though only half the equation. As your eyes move from a wide perspective to scouring the particular, it is the fineness of the details that grabs. What architecture! Genuine exhilaration and surprise.
Two - A small table with wobbly chairs. A crisp Belgian beer slipping down the throat from a bulbous glass. Generous heating clashes with the cold from the windows and the outer door which refuses to stay shut. Beyond that frontier a cobbled road, bridge and canal. The water bends round an old building with little doors. Leafless trees and a faintly veiled bright-blue sky reflect in the distinct shards of ice. The civilization of winter.
Oh and the Dam

From Bruges, Amsterdam beckoned. Good, strange times in a city I have not been to for a while. Quite a combination of beauty, interest, fun and cool people. What made it all the better was meeting with a mate from travels past, Sumit (http://walter82.blogspot.com/2006/07/ko-chang.html ). It is great when, even after years, you still connect with people from brief times past. For that is what matters - connection. Regularity of social contact is simply no competitor. It was great to get a bit of a local's perspective, be introduced to "brown bars", reminisce of Power Girls and other things Ko Chang and knock back a few bevvies 'til the wee hours!
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