A different look at Brugge

by Steve Brock on February 6, 2014

Brugge SunsetSpeaking of memories (as I was doing last time about Brugge, Belgium), bear with me on this little road trip down memory lane for one more post here on The Meaningful Traveler.

Last time I showed you several photos that represented some fond memories of the Belgium city. But this time, I want to show you a shot (above) of the most photographed view of the place. It’s like the overlook view of the Grand Canyon or Machu Picchu: everyone takes it.

So while there, of course I wanted my own little digital version of it as well. But not the usual. So what did I take? I photographed the same location everyone else does, but not the same subject. In this case, shooting late in the afternoon as the sun descended, my target wasn’t the usual canal or buildings or perhaps a passing boat. Instead, I focused on the sun itself as it turned everything else in the shot into silhouettes and shadows.

I’ll let you be the judge if it works as a photo. And yes I did add some texture to it in Photoshop to give it some added punch since the sky was pretty boring. But even if it is only a nice attempt, to me that’s a success. Why?

There’s great value in approaching the familiar with a new take just to create something fresh. But another benefit is that the exercise forces you to think about and see things differently. That, in turn, equips you to apply that new insight to other places and situations in the future (see, for example, my shots of Arches taken a month after this trip to Europe but also directly into the setting sun).

What started as a desire to not do the same old shot as everyone else now becomes another tool in my tool chest of photography, creativity and perception.

Creativity begets creativity. With ideas, it’s one area where more really is better. The more ideas you have, well, the more ideas you have. And better ones. Quantity leads to quality.

So go out and find a familiar sight. Then try to discover at least a dozen ways to photograph it, even if it is just with your smart phone. Not all (or even most) will be great. But the exercise will make you not only a better photographer, but a better traveler.

You will have expanded your visual vocabulary and that is definitely something that will come in handy on your next trip, or in life in general. It is just one step further along in helping you better see the world in a new way. And after all, isn’t that really one of the main reasons you travel?

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Remembering what we don’t understand

by Steve Brock on January 27, 2014

Brugge- canals and buildings

As I get older, I understand fewer and fewer things even as I know more. Why, for instance, as I sit tonight on a plane flying home from a business trip in Alaska, do I suddenly think of Brugge, Belgium?

One memory cascades against another. I remember the place as it was when we visited last summer. But I also consider my own memories of how I pictured it before the trip. Sometimes, as if recalling a dream, I confuse the actual with the imagined. Anticipation of a trip can be that powerful that the expectant view of the place competes later with the real memories.

I have heard explanations for why this is, why our memories are as trustworthy as a thief. But still I don’t understand it fully when confronted with its reality.

So what comes to mind about Brugge tonight on this airplane thousands of miles away? Moments. Vignettes. Glimpses.

The crowds when we first arrived. I knew it was a popular city being a UNESCO World Heritage site, but still I had expected intimacy and not the jostling of so many other tourists on the main drags and in tour boats.

Brugge tourists

Water and stone. The numerous bridges and canals restrained by walls of brick and rock, moss and roots and passages of boats and time.

Brugge- canal and bridge

Brugge- canals

Music. Wandering one warm evening in the southern haunts of the old town. As hot air balloons floated I heard the sounds of Bonnie Raitt live in concert a hundred feet away performing in an amphitheater on the other side of an inviting row of trees.

Brugge Balloon

Smiling later as I passed her modern tour busses parked cozily along a centuries-old street.

Bonnie Raitt Busses

Light. A morning exploration of the town, in particular the old Godshuizen (or almshouses), a cluster of houses built for the poor by rich merchants from the 14th to 18th centuries.


Or the filtered sunlight of the lonely (at that time of day) chapel at the Beginjnhof, a 12th century nunnery still in use today. I sat in reverent silence there until a nun entered as I was leaving. We mutually reacted with surprise and smiles as if the presence of another was both unexpected and yet somehow fitting.

Beginjnhof Chapel

Food. The heavy iron pots that embraced the Flemish Stew at a particularly cozy restaurant while the “Fries Angel” hovered nearby with inexhaustible replenishments of pommes frittes.

Flemish Pot

Or the delightful meal we scarfed down, grateful that the owner had squeezed us in on a busy night between existing reservations.

Why I recall all this now with no known triggers (smell being the most common), I do not understand. But I do recognize the familiar nature of meaningful travel to revisit itself upon us months or years after a trip.

I don’t have to understand the wonder of travel to appreciate it. I have only to be grateful for it…and remember.

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Habits and their ways

by Steve Brock on July 25, 2013

Damme Trees

What’s wrong with this picture?

I’ll give you a hint. It’s not the bicyclists or the angle at which I shot the photo.

These trees are simply leaning in, like the way a dog tilts its head as it listens to a high-pitched sound.

We encountered these trees a few weeks ago on a bike ride outside of Bruges, Belgium as we neared the small village of Damme. Only in Dutch can you merely mention a town and sound like you’re swearing.

Apparently, the wind through that area is so consistent and pervasive that the trees have grown askew over the years, leaning to the side in a uniform sway. They didn’t get that way overnight but through long-term, persistent forces.

I realized on this trip to Europe that change for us is quite similar. I think back to when I was younger and the mere surprise and shock of a new place/culture or the distance from home on a trip was enough to create an often acute sense of change. Life transformation came fairly readily, or so it seemed at the time. But I’m not sure those so-called changes really stuck.

bent trees and bikes near BrugesThis trip, however, reminded me of the old adage that “no matter where you go, there you are.” There you are. You. Me. Our old selves. The ones we carry with us and can’t leave behind like an out-of-date suitcase or yesterday’s paper.

Just going away may make us aware of the rough edges in our lives. But changing them? That takes more than a trip or two. It takes work. It requires new habits.

If we really want to change, we’ll need to apply small but consistent efforts over time. A long time. We’ll have moments when things seem better. But also long stretches when nothing seems to budge.

Yet when we step back, we can see that time and effort can have a dramatic effect. If we cultivate the good habits, the holy habits and spiritual disciplines we know we need, then we see can positive changes. If not, we may one day wake up and realize how much we, like the trees near that Damme village (sorry, old habits – see? – die hard), have grown up in ways we didn’t expect or want.

Don’t get me wrong. Those trees seem to be doing quite well. And they’re rather beautiful in their distinctive tilt.

But that’s not how trees are meant to grow.


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What gets left behind

by Steve Brock August 24, 2010

When it comes to people we meet on a trip, we always leave some of ourselves behind. Each encounter is an exchange, a sharing of a little bit of us with a little bit of them. We will always leave a part of us with those we meet. The question is what will that be?

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