We finally docked in Zeebrugge about 11:30 am. For some reason, the pilot boats were not escorting the ships into port this morning (Seas too high? Too hard?).
Our tour (really a bus transfer to the city of Bruges) finally got underway at 12:50 pm and was cut to only 3 1/2 hours of “on your own time”. The trip to Bruges took about 20 minutes and we were given maps of the city. Unfortunately, for some unexplained reason, our guide had to walk us as a group from the bus stop at the south end of the town into an area near a bunch of breweries and sidewalk cafes nearer to the heart of the town. I could not keep up with the group and was not happy walking at this pace.
I informed the guide that we would not be going back with the group at 4:15 from the same rendezvous point, but we would find our way back to the bus at the appropriate time. She agreed with this and Steve and I set off at a much more sedate pace on our own. I was irked because we had paid an exorbitant amount to allegedly have the time in town on our own and I was already exhausted.
Eventually we found our way to the heart of Bruges, which is centered around the Burg and Markt squares. We rested at a sidewalk cafe in the Burg, the smaller plaza with the City Hall and Basilica of the Sacred Blood, one of our main destinations. Steve enjoyed a large Leffe dunker (dark) beer and I had wine.
Feeling refreshed, we climbed the stairs into the small Basilica nearby. The church is renowned for having a relic that’s supposedly a vial of Christ’s blood, captured while He was dying on the cross. The relic was being exhibited when we emerged into the sanctuary and we stood in a short line to see it while receiving a blessing.
Now here’s where the most amazing miscommunication happened. There were signs everywhere forbidding any photography; however, as we prepared to go up a few steps to an altar to see the relic, a staff member guiding us distinctly told us that we could take photographs (no flash allowed) of the relic, but not of anything else in the church. We stood before the relic, had a blessing by the priest, and I prepared to take a non-flash photo. The relic was in a glass vial encased in elaborate gold scrollwork. Well, the priest went bonkers, yelling at me that I couldn’t take a picture and making me feel like the lowly Protestant dog that I am (thanks, Martin Luther). In revenge after slinking away, I surreptitiously took a few photos of the sanctuary. If I do get consigned to Purgatory, it will likely be in the the section reserved for those trying to take pictures of relics. I wonder what they will do when Google Glass becomes popular and you can take pictures and videos with your eyeglasses? As much as this stuff is fascinating, I tend to agree with the Reformationaists who took the view that the ornate mysticism, relics and rituals actually keeps you from a relationship with God.
Anyway, we managed to walk all the way back to the bus and were there right on time. A few more folks showed up about the same time. The main group was about ten minutes late arriving and, to my amazement, I got a tongue lashing by some woman who said that we had kept the group waiting. I took issue and said that we had an agreement to walk back to the bus. I also pointed out that several other people were there ahead of the main group. It didn’t matter – she wanted to press the point, but I turned away and didn’t argue with her anymore. First world problems – someone else keeps you from completing your tour in a charming town on an expensive cruise for ten minutes (roll of the eyes).
We liked Bruges but thought the people were rather rude, somewhat like the Viennese Austrians. I would like to go back with more time and stronger new knees. We heard later that someone fell on the cobblestones and suffered an injury, so I’m glad I was very careful.
Tonight we ate at Jacques, the French restaurant named after Jacques Pepin, the famous French chef. It was excellent, but we has too much to eat. We’re off to bed shortly; we’re renting a car in Le Havre tomorrow.