Brugge Markt Square
Some people may wonder why we don’t get more done in a day but it’s likely because we don’t rush to get out of bed in the morning. Our usual time to get up is about 8:30 and we tend to be able to leave the house about one and half hours after that. That said, we are quite content with the pace. We stayed out about nine hours today, with Bruges as our sole target. The weather the last couple of days has been extremely rainy and overcast and today was no exception. That affected how we spent the day – it would have been nice to walk around the city more but we found ourselves leaning towards inside activities. The city is very endearing: there are many beautiful buildings, a few large squares, quite a bit of green space and a narrow canal with quaint bridges that flows through the whole of it. As we’ve said many times before on this trip, “This would be spectacular in the sun.”
Ben researched and located a parking garage that was really inexpensive and offered a free shuttle to the centre so we chose that route at the start of the day. We walked a bit around the main Markt Square, a large rectangle that hosts the belfry, which we might have entered had the weather allowed us to see the skyline. However, we satisfied ourselves with a short wander to see some of the buildings and monuments and walk along the canal. The historic centre of town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its importance as a capital and its architecture. Soon enough, the drizzle chased us inside, with our first stop being the “Choco-Story” (the chocolate museum). As all four of us are chocoholics, we couldn’t resist. We learned quite a bit on the history of the cocoa bean and the development of chocolate, saw many examples of chocolate pots and cups through the ages, learned about the cocoa plant and what ingredients go into the three types of chocolate (dark, milk, and white), saw virtual and live demonstrations of chocolate making and, finally, got to sample real Belgian chocolate. It was a better museum than either Ben or I had thought it would be and we found we spent over an hour and a half reviewing all the material. And the smell was great, of course. In the shop, we found we could buy chocolate pastilles for a third of the price of any chocolates in Bruge’s chocolate shops so we succumbed (it felt like purchasing the reject jelly beans – the belly flops -- from the Jelly Belly Factory). Still within budget, they taste really good too.
Chocolate Sculpture at the Chocolate Museum
Having had dessert, it was now time to get lunch. Did you know that Belgium is actually the inventor of the ‘French fry’ and not France? Belgium is proud of that and to prove it, there are many fritures (outdoor ‘frite’ vendors) about. Because of the cold, we found a sit down place and ordered a big whack of fries, and some bitte ballen and croquettes. Belgians eat fries with all kinds of sauces – this place only had about 17 – but mayonnaise is the traditional one, so we got that as well as ketchup for our backup plan. The fries were great, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, piping hot with just the right amount of salt – you know the kind I’m talking about. And the mayo was very tasty too. We’re hooked so it’s probably a good thing we’re leaving Belgium tomorrow.
The next couple of hours involved a review of Flemish painting through the ages as we visited the small Groeninge museum. It bills itself as the ‘home of the Flemish Primitives’ as well as others. Well, there is nothing primitive about these guys but I guess it’s some art term that means something different than what I think. It contains some great works by Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Gerard David, Petrus Christus, and Hieronymous Bosch (only some of whom I had heard of). I found the detail in some of these paintings just astounding; the early painters, like van Eyck, had an amazing ability to make materials (such as lace, velour, tapestry, embroidered fabrics, gemstones and metals) come alive. Other intriguing works were the portraits, several of which seemed to be able to reflect personalities (whether accurate or not, we’ll never know). The span of the works covered five hundred years which added more interest to the collection and allowed us to see various types of art: renaissance, expressionism, impressionism, etc. It carried us to present day, offering some challenging modern art pieces as well. As Hannah said, while she may not always like modern art, she does find it interesting. And as Ben sat there longer, he could see some interpretations grow stronger and more appealing. Abby’s response to the modern art was similar today to what it’s been in the past: “Why can’t I create some of this stuff and have others pay lots of money for it?” She came up with a good idea that involved a cookie jar and a toilet seat which could reflect the current state of the political and economic affairs in Canada (I think she might have something there.) It’s a good stretch for all of us, and the education in Flemish art was a good one.
Groeninge Museum: detail of painting
We traipsed back through the city, briefly stopping at the Burg, another popular square. It hosts the Basilica of the Holy Blood, so named because there is a relic of Christ’s blood stored there and venerated by pilgrims. We noted the distinctive style of the twelfth century church, a combination of Romanesque and Gothic architectures. Inside the Gothic chapel, the walls, pillars and ceilings were painted in a multitude of colours but the lighting was so low it was difficult to see the whole effect. It was unlike any style of church we had seen before.
Bruges is an often-visited spot in Belgium; its picturesque streets, many lace shops, plethora of faux tapestry stores, frite places and chocolate vendors come together to produce a unique effect. Being so close to both France and the Netherlands, it could easily lose its distinctiveness but somehow, it seems to retain its individuality. We are absolutely amazed at how many people speak multiple languages here, well beyond the usual two we’ve encountered. In so many situations today (chocolatier, museum guide, frite seller), we heard a person speak in English, French and German, depending on the tourist to whom they were conversing. And it is likely that they all speak Flemish as well so that makes four. It makes me feel positively ignorant.
A friend recently asked me whether we had started ‘the countdown’ to home yet. I can say that while Ben and I haven’t, the kids have certainly started (Abby started on the second day, I believe.) Their novel way of keeping track has been to buy a container of tic tacs, eating the extra ones so that the remainder equals the number of travel days left. They pledge to eat one a day so that they have a visual reminder of how many days we have to go till we touch down in Victoria. I said it was fine as long as they didn’t show me the box.