A quick connection in Antwerp and we were in Brugge (Flemish), Bruges(French)......... complicated history. Beautiful small city with a very long and rich history. Early Bruges was a very powerful trading centre specializing in textiles. In the 16th and 17th century this was a very wealthy city and their buildings and town square are a testament to that wealth. Again, canals brought trade goods into town and the Guild Houses along the canals were the center of industry in this town. Bruges is connected to the North Sea via a canal, as a result the world could come to the doorstep of Bruges.
Bruges is a fairy tale town, the preserved 16th and 17th century buildings as well as the town square rimmed with step gabled guild houses looks like a Hollywood film set. All this has not gone unnoticed........ even in late October there are many tourists day tripping from Amsterdam or Brussels as well as cruise ship passengers bussed into town for the day. We stayed in a beautiful hotel a block off of the square and spend several days visiting art galleries and sampling the local cuisine. It is always amazing to see the art museums in these smallish towns..... and the important collections that they have, Memlin, Michelangelo. Bruges is in the Flanders region of Belgium and we wanted to visit the Canadian WW1 battle fields. We joined a tour of approximately 20 people lead by a local, who grew up in Flanders, an encyclopedia of information. By the end of the day we were numbed by the number of white limestone grave markers we saw in perfect rows, each with the same inscription A CANADIAN SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR. We saw what insanity man is capable of. The western front moved perhaps 5 km back and forth during the war and the cost was 500,000 lives. We saw the low flat landscape which has been returned back to rich farmland but farmers still unearth unexplored shells daily....... nearly 100 years later. We were told that enough shells were fired in Flanders to have 3 shells land per square meter..... over 1 billion fired by both sides. Belgium has been in the wrong place at the wrong time twice in the 20th century and large parts of both world wars were fought there.
Flanders is the western most region of Belgium and Flemish is spoken, it sounded a lot like Dutch, no French is spoken here.......complicated, very complicated. The Belgians are very serious about beer. There are hundreds of little and not so little breweries in Belgium. It is a very distinctive brew and I would say Stella, the Belgian export everyone knows, is not typical of the beers I tried. The popular local beers tend to be a little darker and I swear they have a hint of clove......maybe that's just me.
Besides being serious about beer Belgians are lovers of fish, all kinds of things from the sea really. Mussels and "Frits" are everywhere and always fantastic........they are cooked in a broth, from wine and garlic to curry......where to begin? Oh let's not forget about Belgians thing with chocolate, at least 2-3 chocolatiers per block, one better than the next.
We arrived on Monday and by Friday we packed our suitcases again, off to the train station.......next stop Brussels.