Old buildings in the medieval town. Nation Photo/Achara Deboonme
The line from the Hollywood flick "In Bruges" is not only funny - it's accurate.
But, as always, movies tell only part of the story.
Bruges, in Belgium's Flemish northwest, is the capital of the province of West Flanders. And, despite being a mediaeval town, it's not nearly as impressive as many other European cities of the same vintage.
All the lowrise buildings look alike as they cluster around churches and other buildings in the Gothic style. A city of just 120,000 inhabitants - and only 20,000 of those living in its historic heart - Bruges has a quietude that's only disturbed by a generous share of tourists, almost all Europeans.
But Bruges isn't totally dull. It has a unique charm due to its history, harking back to the 12th century. Most of its Middle Ages architecture remains intact, earning the inner core a place on the Unesco World Heritage list in 2000.
History ambles down narrow cobblestone streets in a clatter of horsedrawn carriages - cars won't fit through the laneways.
For 34 (Bt1,500), one of these buggies will ferry four people around the city centre for half an hour. There are a lot of them, so the first smell that greets visitors is the tang of manure.
It doesn't last. Within moments the air is fragrant again, thanks to the wealth of perfumed chocolate shops.
The big tour buses have to wait patiently outside the historic zone, leaving people to be toted by horse or stroll under their own power through a small park to the centre.
They're welcomed by chocolate emporia lining the streets, each with its own sweet decorations in the windows, all shapes and sizes. In among them are shops selling handmade embroideries, the other product for which Belgium is renowned.
Another pleasant halfhour is happily spent seeing more of the town by boat, the cruises going for 6.50 per head.
Bruges shares the title "Venice of the North" with several other canaltrimmed northern European cities, and here the waterways flutter with swans, oblivious to Bruges' transformation from commercial port to tourist mecca.
The port gave Bruges significant economic importance. The canals came along in the 12th century, when the newly prosperous city was walled in, with its weaving industry and woollen markets.
Merchants from Genoa arrived and settled, completing the link with the lucrative Mediterranean trade.
Thailand opened a stock exchange about 30 years ago, so it duly astonishing to learn that the bourse in Bruges opened in 1309.
Things got gloomier around 1500 when the channel linking the city to the outer sea began choking on silt.
With shipping stymied, Bruges soon yielded to Antwerp its title as the economic hub of the Low Countries, and it fell into a relative daze until the second half of the 19th century, when the port of Zeebrugge was established.
Wealthy British and French travellers came to see what there was, and they passed on the good word, to the extent that tourism never flagged. In 2002 Bruges had its season as the European Capital of Culture.
From the canal boats, visitors enjoy splendid views of the old town - unseen from the roadway - including many grand mediaeval structures strung along both banks.
Back on foot, there are hundreds of shops to explore. Admittedly, most are flogging souvenir knickknacks of the sort you can buy anywhere, but there's also an intriguingly broad variety of beer, and a drink or a meal in one of the cafes and restaurants on the main square is supremely pleasant.
There is the Gothicstyle provincial government palace and a 13thcentury belfry from which a 47bell carillon chimes.
Then there is the Church of Our Lady, whose 122metre brick spire is one of the world's highest brick structures.
The "Madonna and Child" sculpture in its transept is believed to be the only artwork by Michelangelo to have left Italy within his lifetime.
Bruges has been called the most romantic city in Europe, which is probably why Harry, in the movie, wanted to treat Ray to a tour - as a present.
It is indeed romantic if you enjoy the quiet life of a small town. Just don't forget to bring along a good map: Despite its relatively small size, the city's layout is confusing, particularly for firsttime visitors unfamiliar with the road names.
AT A GLANCE
Rail is the obvious transportation choice when you're travelling around Belgium. Trains between Bruges and Brussels set out every 30 minutes during the daylight hours.