After a great start to our last day in Bruges that included several attractions and a great lunch at the beerhall Cambrinus, it was finally time for our canal boat ride. The cost of the ticket was included in the City Pass, the only restriction being that we could only ride for free before 11:00a or after 2:00p. So, shaking off our filling lunch, we arrived at the ticket booth for the boat ride at 3pm.
I can’t say that I learned anything new about Bruges while on the boat ride. The guide’s remarks were pretty rudimentary. However, there were many lovely vistas along the way. And just being out on the water, even if the canal was at some points only several feet wide, was nice.
The boat ride was lovely, but short. Personally, I would’ve gladly paid a few more Euros to go beyond the well-traveled branches of the canal to the quieter out-of-the-way quadrants of the city. But it was not to be. For what it was, it was nice.
Our last foray of the day was to the Lace Centre and Jerusalem Chapel. They are really one attraction – the Chapel and the Lace Centre share a courtyard, and you pay one admission to see both. The two attractions are in a quieter part of the city, and it was nice walking there down quiet streets off the beaten path. Not that the buildings here were any less impressive – we saw numerous houses decorated elaborately, with bas relief lintels and freshly sand-blasted stone facades.
We began our visit by going into the workroom at the Lace Centre, where a bunch of ladies were weaving lace by hand, as a kind of open demonstration. These demonstrations take place every afternoon, and I had scheduled our visit to coincide with the demonstration.
In the center of the room were a bunch of ladies working who seemed to be intermediate in terms of skill and experience – their designs tended to be fairly simple, and they chatted with each other as they worked deliberately. In a corner near the window sat an elderly woman who was obviously the master weaver. When we entered the room, we were met by the instructor, Magda, the one woman who spoke English. She took us over near the elderly woman and explained to us a little about how lace is woven. We watched in wonder as this woman who has been weaving lace for more than 60 years skillfully manipulated dozens of strands of lace at once, flipping spools one over the other, in and out, at great speed. We asked Magda questions and remained for a while, spellbound by the industry and delicacy of the work being done in the lace workshop.
The lace museum next door to the workshop was merely a series of rooms filled with displays of incredible lace designs created by the ladies in the workshop over the years. There was little description next to the designs, but they spoke for themselves. They were stunningly beautiful.
We crossed the courtyard and entered the Jerusalem Chapel. You can see from the outside that this is not the usual neighborhood church you encounter in Bruges. I have never seen a tower like the Chapel’s anywhere. When we entered, our sense of a unique place was confirmed. It is very much a vertical space, with a high ceiling and staircases on either side of the altar leading to the choir loft above. The room is rather cramped, and while it is now obviously used mostly as a museum, I can’t imagine there is much room for a congregation.
Throughout, there is an emphasis on the macabre. The room is dominated by the tomb of Anselm Adornes and his wife, whose family built the church in the 15th century, apparently inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Behind the altar is a room with the symbolic tomb of Christ. Then there is the altar itself, covered in skulls, quite bizarre.
The one departure from the prevailing atmosphere is a gorgeous Della Robbia-style glazed terra cotta Madonna and Child displayed on the wall.
Our visit to the Jerusalem Chapel concluded our afternoon. The only thing left was to scout out a place for dinner. We decided to stay close to the hotel, and settled on Bistro Pili Pili. The restaurant is a celebration of spice, with even the decoration featuring hot peppers prominently. But the menu is not just spicy food: we found lots of mild things to eat there too. I had spaghetti bolognese again, though this time it was made with linguine. It wasn’t bad. After dinner we walked around a bit so that Eileen could take some pictures of the city at night. Then it was time to pack and get ready to leave Bruges the next morning.