Flanders fields … and cities and windmills and churches and…

Last Friday my uncle arrived, the first of our three sets of visitors. He’s been to the Netherlands before, but not to Belgium (barring a few railway stations). Saturday morning, we drove out to Brugge. It’s in the northern part of Belgium, Flanders, where Dutch is spoken, only they call it Flemish. (There’s an old saying that a language is a dialect with an army and a navy. Still, it’s the same language, with only a slight difference of accent.) The French speakers in the southern part of Belgium call it Bruge. Under either name, it used to be an important trading town, until its port silted up. The trade went to Antwerp, which helped Brugge preserve its medieval buildings – then once the residents realized what they had, they continued to preserve it with strict building codes and so on, so that it looks much as it always did. It’s still sized for walking around.
bruggestreet.JPG

We began by checking into Ter Duinen. I’d picked it just based on information from an online bookings site, but it turned out to be a wonderful place to stay: boh charming and comfortable, reasonably priced, close enough to walk to the center of town and far enough outside it to be quiet. The family that runs it obviously cares about making their guests happy and were able to give us excellent recommendations for a restaurant that evening.

We began by walking toward the edge of town. We stopped first at Jeruzalemkerk, Built in the 15th century according to the plans of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem:
jerusalemkerk.JPG, then went into the Lace Museum next door. I suspect some of their pieces took years to finish. We continued to the edge of town to see the city gates and some of the windmills around the canal that rings the city:
brwindmill1.JPG.

After a brief stop back at our hotel because it was the chilliest weather we had all week (though not very) and I was regretting not bringing a jacket, we headed for the center of town. In compliance with Standard Ted Protocol, we climbed up to the top of the Belfry:
brugge.JPG.

Next we took a canal tour, probably the best way to see the city, I was impressed with the guide, who repeated everything in Dutch, German, English, French, and Spanish.
bruggecanal.JPG

When we went to Mechlen a few months ago, I was disappointed to find no trace of the lace it was famous for. Brugge does have not only a Lace Museum but also a plethora of shops selling lace items for tourists (mostly machine made and probably made in China, but the guidebooks say there are a few places where you can get real handmade lace – if you can pay for it). There are also lots of chocolate shops, and the kilogram of mixed chocolates we bought at one turned out to be even better than the chocolates we can get in the Netherlands.

After the boat tour, we visited the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk, which contains the only sculture by Michelangelo to leave Italy in his lifetime, and the Sint Salvador Cathedral, with its Gobelin tapestries. However, a service was going on in the latter and so we couldn’t see its treasury. After a brief rest, we went to dinner at a restaurant recommended by our hotel. The outwide was unprepossessing and we would never have chosen it on our own, but the inside was beautiful (wood floors and ceiling, brick fireplace) and the food was excellent.

We hadn’t see all there was to see in Brugge, but we decided we’d seen enough to get the full flavor of the city. Ghent is supposed to be much the same sort of thing, so we decided to leave Sunday morning and spend the day in Antwerp, halfway home from Brugge. First, though, we took another recommendation from our hotelier and detoured north to the town of Damme, which was the port for Brugge in the 13th century. It’s a picturesque place, with restaurants and bookstores that were open even on a Sunday morning (I suspect this is where a lot of Brugee residents spend their Sunday mornings). I bought a knitting book – most of it is a pattern dictionary, so the fact that it’s all in Dutch isn’t much of an issue. We also enjoyed the walk from the parking lot south of town along the canal, with its reflections of the local windmill.

millreflection.JPG

My previous impression that Antwerp is an easy city to get lost in was not altered by this trip. Even on foot we kept getting turned around and having a hard time figuring out directions. Also, there was a marathon going on so there were extra crowds and some streets were closed. It’s one of those cities that was heavily damaged by wars and so has a lot of newer buildings, but we did see their Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal. (It means Church of Our Lady – same as Notre Dame – hence the many churches and cathedrals with the same name.) It’s got three Rubens paintings, as well as many others of similar vintage:
antwerpcathedral.JPG

The square in front of the hurch was very crowded, with a couple of street entertainers including a mediocre magician and an excellent living statue – who sat among a group of real statues, painted and costumed to blend in – who would sing for a coin. We found our way to the waterfront, where we enjoyed the Maritime Museum, whihc is in a medieval fortress. After lunch on the waterfront, we made our way back to the street we’d parked on. Unfortunately, finding parking had been so difficult that none of us were all that careful about noticing exactly where we’d parks, and we came back to the steet at a different point than we’d left it. Normally I defer to Ted in all matters of direction, but in Antwerp he was getting turned around as much as I was. ted and Uncle Larry agreed that the car was in one direction; I though it was the other way. Since they were in agreement, I didn’t argue, which was fortunate – the car was the way they’d guessed, but so far away that we came very near giving up and going the other way before we got to it. We did managed to get out of the city and on the road home with no further confusion.

We’d both taken Monday off to sped with our guest and we all took the train to Rotterdam. This was a bad idea: as I noted in a previous entry, almost all tourist attractions in Rotterdam are closed on Mondays. (Tourist sites are likely to be closed on Mondays here in general, but in most places the closing is not quite so universal.) We’d hoped to see the Maritime Museum there, which sounds even better than the one in Antwerp, but had to give up on that and all other museums in town. We walked out to the Euromast, the one thing we’d wanted to see which was open. It’s got a ring-shaped elevator that rises along the outside of the tower, spinning slowly, and gives a great view of the city and the harbor.

They sold us a package ticket that also included a boat trip to the Kinderdijk, so after going to the top of the Euromast we walked out trought a pretty park to the boat docks, stopping for lunch along the way. When we got to the docks, though, the boat we were supposed to take was being washed off, and the guys cleaning it told us that they never went out on Mondays! They didn’t have any useful suggestions beyond “Well, maybe you can use the ticket tomorrow”, and we were only in town for the day. Fortunately the harbor-tour boats do operate on Mondays so we did that instead.

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When we walked back to the Euromast, they were very apologetic and made no problems giving us our money back at least. Then we walked back to the station just in time to catch a train home – with all that walking at least we got a good look at the city of Rotterdam, even if we couldn’t visit most of its attractions.

That night we took my uncle (or rather, he took us) to one ouf our favorite local restaurants. He approved. (He’s much more of a foodie than we are, and this place is really excellent.) The next day, Ted had to work, so we just hung around town, walking through the weekly market and biking to the Open-Air Historic Museum. Since it was a weekday, they were more focused on the groups of schoolkids there, but it was a nice day and we enjoyed riding through the park.

2 Responses to “Flanders fields … and cities and windmills and churches and…”

  1. Jane H Says:

    Wonderful pictures, & good travelogue. Thanks.

  2. Squirrel Says:

    Love to read your tour to Brugge, but, errm , am I right in understandign that you did NOT visit the Gruuthuse???? WEll, all I can say:
    “We hadn’t see all there was to see in Brugge, but we decided we’d seen enough to get the full flavor of the city.” that, though I hesitate to contradict you: you did not… or at least:there will be still much to discover for you in Brugge!

    Thank you for that great picture of my beloved Zwaan (Swan, as the nickname the Rotterdammers gave it…as they do to all architecture in Rotterdam) ; ie the bridge pic you took in Rotterdam.. (last in this message).
    You also wanted to visit: the Maritime Museum there; hm, you may like it, but when we find the time this summer to welcome you in Rotterdam, we (twin mostly, as senior historian of art) will take you to the Schielandshuis, the Histories Museum van de Stad Rotterdam…

    “My previous impression that Antwerp is an easy city to get lost in was not altered by this trip.”
    Funny, I find Antwerp (at elasst the centre!) very easy: start at teh Keizerslei at the Middle Station, walk down don the Meir adn find the Cathedral (adn have a special beer at Pater’s Vaatje!) wander to left ad right but return to the Meir always..
    bbut this might be due to experience of about 45 years OF Antwerp…..

    Squirrel. looking forward to report of Queens Day. great fun it is, to see my country through new (and intelligent and questioning eyes!)

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