Belgium -September 2016

We left Lucerne, Switzerland on Monday morning in the pouring rain. Left very early  as we knew we had a long day of driving ahead of us to get to Namur, Belgium. Robin took the first leg of the driving and we switched every couple of hours. By the time my turn came around, the rain had stopped. Was supposed to take 6 hrs. but with all the road construction, took more like eight hours, a long day.

A liitle background on Belgium. It is divided into three regions that exist next to each other. Its two largest regions are the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north and the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia. The Brussels-Capital Region is an officially bilingual (French and Dutch) enclave within the Flemish Region. I will say the change was very noticeable. When in Namur everyone spoke French, then when we reached Bruges, everyone spoke Dutch. 

Namur was a nice town however not really a tourist town. Our stop here was a way point to get us from Lucerne to Bruges. Having said this still a lovely old town. A beautiful fortress at the top of the city, which unfortunately we did not have a chance to visit.

Namur
The following morning, we head out early to get to Bruges in enough time to visit this town we have heard so much about. Only about 1/2 hour out of Namur, the traffic comes to a complete stop, then a slow crawl. We are still 30 kms. so we are thinking this can’t possibly be rush hour traffic! Put the radio on and what is playing….”Hey Yah” by Outkast. Well needless to say I start dancing in the car……only my family will appreciate this. I love dancing and this song has a great beat and I ask for it to be played at all family weddings! A few looks from the cars around us, but I really don’t care..you have to do something if stuck in traffic. Well, about 20 minutes later we finally start moving again….road repairs!
We finally arrive in Bruges around 11:00 a.m. Another medieval town, my research shows that Belgium has numerous medieval towns;  will definitely have to come back to Belgium. We head off to find our way around the town, our hotel is in the old town, an old mansion dating back to 1830. 

The first square we come across is the City Hall (Burg Square) and continue to the main Market Square. A little cloudy today, but still pleasantly warm at 24C. We stop for coffee/tea at one of the many outdoor restaurants and get our bearings and watch the tourists and locals go about their day. The famous bell tower is here in the main square and they say one should climg the 366 steps to view the town of Bruges. Well our knees are creaking and we take a pass….maybe next time. 

The City Hall
The main “Market” square
Robin enjoying the ambience of the main Market Square.
 
We continue walking through some of the side street and then decide to rent bikes for one hour and go further out than simply the tourist area. 

Claire on our bike ride in Bruges
 
In the afternoon, we had arranged to take a two hour walking tour with a company called “Legends of Bruges”. These tours are lead by locals and are free, although one is expected to tip the guide. We would highly recommend if the reader is ever in Bruges. Our guide shared her knowledge of the history of Bruges and area, all very interesting. Bruges was a trading mecca in ancient times mainly due to its tidal inlet from the coast and its central location in Europe. Traders would come from the south to sell their goods and so would people from the north, say Norway. This way the southern traders could obtain Norwegian goods without travelling all the way there. Well of course, as the trade was being done in Bruges, the merchants here took a commission from all trades….pretty smart! 

We were told that as the merchants from Bruges became  wealthier, they wanted to show off the towns wealth. Normally one would see a bell tower as part of a church, as they were the only ones who could afford such splendor. But in the case of the Bruges merchants they proved their wealth by building this stand alone bell tower in 1300…..so there! Unfortunately by the 16th century, the harbour had silted up and trade dropped off and Bruges fell into decline. In the 19th centrury a new port, Zeebrugge helped turn around the fortunes of Bruges once again. In the 20th century Bruges was discovered by tourists and today the city still prospers from tourism. Robin watched the movie “In Bruges” on the way over on the plane and really enjoyed it, I might do that on the way home. It is said that the movie helped the tourism in Bruges.

We continued on our guided walk with our new twenty best friends, and visited the Main Square, the Burg Square, the old St. john’s hospital grounds, Basilica of the Holy Blood, Church of our Lady and Begijhof.

 Th Begijhof is interesting as it was a sort of convent. The begijnhof originally dates from the 13th century. A beguinage (French roots)  is an architectural complex which was created to house beguines: lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world. We were told that this order of lay women became totally self sufficient and had everything they needed within their walls.  If men visited they had to leave at a certain time and the gates were locked. Although the last begijn has long since passed away, today residents of the complex include a convent of Benedictine nuns and women who have need for social housing. 

The Begijnhof

Tour continued and we stopped by the Palace , under restoration, a picturesque bridge, the fish market and several museums. All in all this is a good way to get to know where things are in the city, then you can go back for a more indepth visit. Unfortunately, we really did not give ourselves enough time here, but a definite come back on our list….I am scouting out apartments on Air bnb and  VRBO! 

Our last evening in Bruges and on a recommendation from our friend Shirley, we had one of our best meals at the Chagall restaurant,thanks Shirley! 
The next morning we head out early to spend our last morning visiting more of Bruges. We go back to the Church of our Lady to see the Michaelangelo statue of “The Virgin and the Child”. Then onto a boat ride through the canals to see the town from a different perspective. Loved Bruges! 

A three hour drive back to Amsterdam on Wednesday afternoon before our flight home Thursday afternoon. 

Well, our sixteen day whirlwind trip has come to an end and now waiting for our flight home this afternoon. I can’t say how much getting away has meant to me, and I thank Robin for suggesting it and making it happen. We had a wonderful time and saw so many new interesting  places.  Robin is my constant travelling companion always willing to adventure out and discover and try new things! Thank you for being by my side in good times and hard times. My Dad said “The sun will always shine tomorrow”, and it certainly has for us. 

One thought on “Belgium -September 2016

  1. Claire, thanks for your blog. You write so eloquently! I really can “vision” what you see! Thanks. My Grandfather Bollers sent my three aunts to “finishing school in Brussels in the early 1900’s. All they every told me that it was run by Nuns. When you make your way to Sarasota to visit Terry, I will give you my family’s history as I believe it includes Belgium. I hope you had a safe trip home!

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