Focus Features

In the 2008 film In Bruges, Ray (Colin Farrell) often cracks jokes at the expense of the movie's titular location. He even ends the film with the line, "Maybe that's what hell is: the entire rest of eternity spent in...Bruges. And I really really hoped I wouldn't die." Ray hates the sense of uneasiness the Belgian city arouses in him, although if travel guru Rick Steves is to be believed, we should embrace our uneasiness whenever (and wherever) we travel.

Too often, in fact, we choose our destinations based on whether we're comfortable traveling there, which is why many Houstonians prefer to stick close to home.. Steves, who recently gave a reading from his book Travel as a Political Act at Christ Church Cathedral, thinks this is a bad idea.

"I find myself encouraging people to get out of their comfort zones," he told Houstonia's Michael Hardy. Of course, Steves took this to an extreme when he traveled to Iran in 2008. Best known for his European travel guides and tours, Steves's suggestion to embrace one's "fear" for the purpose of "understanding" is paramount to the well-being of travelers. Otherwise, why travel at all?

So instead of revisiting Texas's greatest hits, the elderly east coast, or the sunny west coast, why not leave the country altogether? Iran might be a bit much, despite recent suggestions. Maybe Europe's a good place for you—especially if you've never been. And if you're worried about tourist traps and massive crowds, why not skip Paris and go somewhere else. Why not Bruges?


1. History: Unlike Houston and most North American cities, Bruges is an old soul. The city was chartered in 1128 and the first signs of habitation date back to the first century B.C. Hence the beautiful old architecture and cobblestone streets.

2. Beer: You may not have heard of this little Belgian hamlet before, but you've no doubt heard of Belgian beer. The country features some of Europe's finest fermented concoctions. Germany is great for German beer, but Belgian dubbels and tripels are best enjoyed in the home country.

3. Chocolate: Don't forget the chocolate. Every year, the city hosts its annual Choco-Laté—a chocolate festival celebrating one of Belgium's best known culinary traditions for the sweet tooth in everyone.

4. "European Capital of Culture": As the title implies, the city of Bruges is considered one of Europe's most treasured cultural centers. This is due not only to its age, but also its value as a former and current economic center—not just for Belgium, but for the surrounding area. After all, it's still a major port city.

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