It's funny. I never quite know what to call myself when I travel. I don't identify as a 'tourist'. An 'explorer' sounds very Christopher Columbus-y. And 'traveler' seems too formal. What I really feel like is a student; constantly observing, asking questions, hungering to learn. However, you know by now that I do so via sometimes unconventional ways.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m not a museum person. Well, not a traditional museum person. Quirky museums, I think, are great. Museums that showcase the weird things, the practical things, the why-does-this-thing-need-its-own-museum things. So it’s rather fitting (and humorous) that there are so many of this kind in Belgium; particularly Bruges.
When I need to find my way somewhere in town (and it is easy to get lost amidst the labyrinth of cobblestone streets), I literally use the museums as markers. In my head, I’m frequently saying 'Make a left at the Fries Museum, a right at the Beer Museum then go straight past the Diamond Museum'. And these places are all actually there. Not to mention the Chocolate Museum, the Lamp Museum, the Lace Museum, and the Medieval Torture Instruments Museum. I've been to them all. Just a hop, skip, and a jump away. I can only imagine what other further exhibitions like the Museum of Original Figurines in Brussels and the Carrot Museum in Berlotte might hold.
The Chocolate Museum (left) and Fries Museum in my neighborhood
Proudly and peculiarly, I've learned some interesting things from these places. I mean, how would I ever have known that my taste is best-suited to chocolate coming from Vietnam? Or that the creation of handmade lace products (which Bruges is known for) is an impressively laborious process? But perhaps the most affective "classroom" of all was the Medieval Torture Instruments Museum. It was a good one. Not because I'm in favor of such things, but because it is baffling that in that era, these devices were so intricate and well thought-out. It was Disney-esque in presentation- like the very dark, behind-the-scenes side of Pirates of the Caribbean. Set in underground stone walls of the oldest 11th century European prison. The morose Baroque music wafting through the chambers. The lifelike mannequins positioned in devices. With all the medieval history here in Belgium, the presentation shed light on a perspective and part of life that is not always represented. I may not be well-versed in the Gothic artistic masters, but I can tell you a heck of a lot about agony boots, the intestine crank, and the rooster BBQ.
My learnings may not always be the classiest of topics, but I stick to the belief that knowledge itself is classy. No matter how you get it.
The Frietmuseum. All you need to know about Belgian frites.
The Chocolate Museum. Who could resist a museum with these chocolate tasting dispensers throughout?
A skillful demonstration at the Lace Museum
The Iron Maiden, museum entrance, and the Chair at the Medieval Torture Instruments Museum