Our day started in the much recommended and picturesque town of Brugges. Once one of the largest towns in Europe it has preserved many of it’s Gothic buildings. For our architectural identification Cliffnotes, gothic is now anything that is pointy and has a moat. Every building has a front gable (gable – our newly learned work for the part of a roof that is not slanted) that is stair-stepped on the side and every church has arched doorways and ceilings that come to a point (not rounded which is Romanesque). This is mostly likely completely incorrect information but I’m going to go with it.
The entire city once had a moat and it still does but now they call it a canal. It is connected to other canals making this city reminiscent of Venice. There are plenty of tour boats but no gondolas. The canals are lined with charming homes and swans must be the city mascot because they are all over. This place has to be in the running for most photographed city.
Brugges has gone overboard to embrace tourists. On the outskirt of the town (but within the moat) is a parking garage where the top price is 3.50Euro – That is not a typo – 3.50 for the entire day AND a free bus ride for everyone in your car to the center of town. This level of accommodation is stunning. There is a hotel in town that is built right on top of ruins. Historic preservationists should check out exactly how the ruins have been incorporated into the hotel layout. Rather than have old crumbled walls in a field these walls and artifacts are part of the hotel conference center in the basement. It makes the ruins more accessible and preserves them in a controlled climate. The hotel made an agreement with the city that anyone can come see the ruins.
Our host family has a number of travel related books. Brody embraced the Top 10 of Belgium and took to studying about Brugges. If he gets excited about something we are there to support him. His big focus was the top ten things to eat. We have covered waffles, chocolate and beer but not French Fries which were evidently invented in Belgium. Here is what you need to know about Belgian French Fries – they are just like American French Fries but the Belgian condiment of choice is mayonnaise.
Our next stop was the nearby town of Ypres, or Ieper or something else. Every town here has at least 3 different spellings of their name. The different regions have their preferences so depending where you are it will be spelled according to that areas custom. This makes looking for signs challenging. I imagine the pronounciations are just as varied but we have not even attempted to learn the Dutch or Flemish dialect peculiarities. Although, J may be a vowel here.
Our visit to a 19th century battlefield yesterday did not satiate our historical learning capacity – Ypres is amidst the WWI battleground known as Flanders Fields. In Waterloo the combat was face to face with interesting formations with battles completed in a short time frame. 100 years later they had figured out that protection was helpful and dug trenches. They had new weaponry too: machine guns and chemical weapons. The war here lasted nearly 4 years and the town of Ypres was leveled in the process. Amazingly they rebuilt it all – including the Cloth house which is now home to the In Flanders Field WWI museum.
Unlike other war oriented museums this one did not focus on great leaders or strategic decisions. They focused on the soldiers, what they wore, their ordnance, and their mementos. Visitors check in and are assigned a soldiers story which is given in vignettes through electronic kiosks scattered around the museum. The story is someone with your name or near where you live. At the end we learned that 24 men died in Flanders Fields with the surname Friend.
In Flanders Fields by John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.