Belgium Bruges

On a windy night, I attended a screening of “In Bruges,” at the Writer’s Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. It was simultaneously funny and horribly violent. I laughed, I cringed. Colin Ferrell and Ralph Fiennes were excellent, but the standout star of the movie was the sexy city of Bruges, in Belgium. Infatuated with her stunning, well-preserved Medieval architecture, I could hardly wait to be there.

Belgium BrugesIt took three years (I move slowly), but I finally got to her. There are no flights into Bruges from the US, so I flew into Brussels and caught a train (right at the airport) to the city of my dreams.

From the station in Bruges, I easily grabbed a taxi to the Best Western I’d booked online. I know, sounds cheap and cheesy, but it was lovely and a mere stone’s throw from the main square. It was also home to a sweet parrot that greeted me on my way in and out of the lobby and encouraged me to have fun.

Upon arrival, I walked to Market square. It was breathtaking, even prettier than in the movies! I sat outside with a gorgeous meal and enjoyed the mid-March chill, while munching a healthy omelet and salad. You can easily find all kinds of cuisines to delight your palate in Bruges, not just Belgian. And the food is fresh, robust and with dazzling presentation, even in the inexpensive restaurants.

Later that day I visited the Belfry Tower. After walking up 366 steps, I got to see the whole, spectacular city. There is a part in the movie wherein Colin Ferrell warns an overweight family not to hike up there. Before seeing it myself, I thought that was just snarky. As it turns out, the stairwell is tiny and one really must be fit in order to get in and up to the top.

Later in the trip I strolled to another part of town for a ride on the canal. The guide pointed out the hotel where Colin Ferrell stayed while filming. I realized I wasn’t the only tourist drawn to the city via the movie. Though some natives roll their eyes at the mention of “In Bruges,” the tourism industry is appreciative.

Bruges is home to some of the best chocolate shops on the planet. I know, because I’ve been around and chocolate is a staple of my diet. My first night, I was too shy to do dinner by myself, so I wandered around savoring a bag of assorted truffles and fell in love with them.

This charming little town invites you to walk anywhere and everywhere and promises to delight you no matter what you explore.

Plenty of lovely tours leave from the “Markt” (Market Square) every 30 minutes. You’re welcome to show up and hop on the bus. There are museums, churches, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, and tons of shopping. You can treat yourself to fabulous gifts. It’s an interesting, fun and safe place to visit alone, or with family and friends. If you want to check out its beauty before visiting, do see “In Bruges.” Careful, though, you might become obsessed. There’s also some alluring footage in the Audrey Hepburn film, “The Nun’s Story.” Though that film is from the late 50s, Bruges still looks hot. Traveling there is like going back in time to an old, yet well-preserved and wonderful love. I look forward to my return. Until then, there’s Netflix.

Toni Ann Johnson is a Sundance Institute Screenwriter’s Lab alum. She won the Humanitas Prize for her civil rights era teleplay “Ruby Bridges,” in 1998. In 2004 she won a second Humanitas Prize for “Crown Heights,” the Showtime drama about the 1991 riots between African-American and Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. She also writes dance movies and books about health and beauty. Her books Vibrating Youth and Vibrant and Clear are available on Amazon. Visit www.vibratingyouth.com