It's hard to pinpoint where to start with Bruges — it all feels like a dream, a daze, a fairytale land — a Wes Anderson x Disney theme park, a perfect, quirky village shaped mirage. Perhaps I slipped into a dream state
on the train? Never truly woke up, until the train looped back around to London, 36 hours later? That's what it felt like, at least, and not just for the surroundings. Everything about the place is surreal.
I arrived by train from sweet Paree, just after midnight. After spending most of my life in Australia, something seems so magical about being able to step on a train in one country, and jump off in another, just a few hours later. Back home it takes almost as long to get to the closest major city. Perhaps that's where the dream began, racing down the tracks at 200 km/ph, cutting through the darkness, travelling in a portal from one country to the next. There was no conductor or guard, and the carriage was all but empty, save a few serious looking business men and a mother and child. Once we crossed the border from France to Belgium, all of the announcements switched to a different language, one I didn't recognise, and I guessed it must be Dutch — there was no moon in the sky and hardly any lights outside the windows, and I had no idea where I was. Hurtling through the dark in a place I didn't know, where I didn't speak even a little of the language, I panicked a little. Surely, surely I would recognise when the driver announced Bruges, right? One of the aforementioned businessmen spotted my panic, and asked where I was heading, in French, and then English — Bruges, I said, and he said he was too, so he would show me when to leave the train. Good job, it turns out, as the announcement seemingly didn't include the name 'Bruges'.
Outside the train station, men yielding chainsaws and picks worked through the night, preparing ice sculptures for an upcoming snow festival, beginning just days later. I looked around for a taxi, but there were none in site, and no one to ask. There was, however, a charming young Dutch boy, waiting by a horse and cart. "Into Bruges?" he shouted, and I blinked at him, confused. Ice sculptors, horse carts and a cobbled station car park? What is this place?
"There is no taxi this late, we are the taxi!" The boy signalled to his horse - "How much?" "Same as a taxi, miss, 7 euros." - and that was it. He hoisted my giant, bursting backpack onto the carriage, then helped me up, and the fairytale started to unfold. What better start to this beautiful side trip, than hooves on the cobblestones, carrying me to my next adventure?
PART II — FRIDAY