A Travellerspoint blog


Last Day in Belgium

By Hannah

semi-overcast 12 °C
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We parted from our perfect Belgian cottage today and headed off to yet another new country: the Netherlands. Before we left Belgium, however, we stopped to visit Antwerp. Our plan was to walk around the town for awhile, as well as take a look at the Diamond Museum. As we came closer and closer to the museum, jewellery and diamond shops started popping up. On the corner closest to where the museum was supposed to be there were no less than seven of these stores, all side by side. But try as we might, we just couldn't find the place. We did see a large, boarded up building, and decided that the museum had been closed. So we went looking for a tourism office instead.

We were right about the closure, and the agent recommend we take a walk down Keyser Street instead, which would lead us into the centre of town. We saw numerous stores, cafes and chocolate shops, and enjoyed the unique atmosphere. There were signs and advertisements in English, French, Dutch, German and Flemish, and I think we heard nearly all of these languages today, too.

City Hall

City Hall

We ended up in a square where an impressive fountain and a grand, flag-laden building stood. The building turned out to be City Hall, and the flags represented countries that were in the European Union or had consulates in Antwerp. Canada didn't seem to be up there. There were a number of other interesting and beautiful buildings too, as well as a towering cathedral spire adorned with a golden clock.

Before we headed back to our car, we decided to indulge in a couple very Belgian treats. Abby and Mom had warm Belgian waffles covered in chocolate and whipped cream. Mom attempted to order in French, and was given a brief language lesson from the vendor. Dad and I opted for something more savoury and had fries instead, which were shared by everyone.

Then it was time to hit the road again. The landscape became more and more idyllic as we passed lush green fields, winding canals and hundreds of cows and sheep. As we drove up to our new home for the next twelve days, we marvelled at the countryside perfection of everything.

Posted by KZFamily 12:43 Archived in Belgium Tagged antwerp netherlands belgium Comments (4)

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium


rain 11 °C
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Brugge Markt Square

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

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

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.

Posted by KZFamily 12:48 Archived in Belgium Tagged chocolate belgium bruges frites Comments (3)

In Flanders Fields


rain 13 °C
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Ypres: Flanders Museum

Ypres: Flanders Museum

Today we travelled out of France and into Belgium, but we weren’t too heartbroken because we would be back in France again at the end of our trip, and although the place we were staying in was lovely, it lacked one crucial thing: Wi-Fi. As you all know the blogs have been coming in at a very slow pace, and this isn’t because we haven’t been keeping on top of things, it’s because the internet access we did have was very slow and we often weren’t able to connect. Plus there was a storm, which didn’t help things much. But now that we are back online you can all look forward to some more fantastic blogs from yours truly.

The morning pack was smooth and we got out the door before 9:30, a good time to start on our drive of over four hours. The drive was uneventful, so we filled the time by looking at the countless fields of cows and listening to podcasts on various subjects. Today’s topics were Octopi (using the forms Octopuses and Octopods are acceptable as well), tone-deafness and whether or not it is hereditary, and tipping. Thank you Chuck and Josh for filling us up with sparkling knowledge from your ever spewing fountain.

Click here, here and here to find out a little more about Chuck and Josh and what they do.

After the long drive, a lunch stop and what seemed like thousands of tolls, we were finally at our destination. It took us no trouble at all to find our new house, and the lady who rents it is one of the nicest and most helpful people you could ever meet (plus she speaks English so that scores big points too). We got to the house at 3 and it wouldn’t be ready for us for another hour so we drove off to check out the “In Flanders Field Museum”.

The museum was all about the First World War, and all four of us thought it was very well done. Unlike the Juno Beach Centre and its coverage of World War II, it gave more of an idea of how brutal and terrible the war really was. Every part of the museum was done in the four languages that would be most commonly spoken: English, Dutch (or maybe it was Flemish), German and French. We learned that around Belgium most people know at least two languages. Our host speaks four fluently (English, Flemish, Dutch and French), and knows a little German as well.

My favourite part of the museum was the video screens they had. They had gotten actors to dress up and present accounts of their time either at war or as a nurse or doctor treating the soldiers. There were many of these scattered around the length of the exhibit, but the best one was about 15 minutes long in the centre of the museum. It was like a small theater with seats and a large screen so that it would be more efficient for everyone to view. This long film was all about the nurses and doctors. There were two nurses in this film, one young and another one more experienced. The doctor was the oldest of the three, and told less accounts of taking care of patients, and more about what he had heard about what was going on in the field.

St Julien Monument

St Julien Monument

On the way home we took a quick stop at a Canadian War Memorial dedicated to all the Canadians that had died in the gas bombing while fighting for the British side. It was very simple but I liked it quite a lot. One thing that the museum had mentioned us (Canadians) for is our abundance of rememberance acts, such as our poppy tradition, our many memorials and the ten dollar bill which is dedicated to the rememberance of the soldiers who went to war.

When we got home our host showed us around and even gave us some homemade chocolate biscuits. The house is perfect, and Hannah is determined to find something wrong because she said that every place has to have a flaw. I’m hoping that the only flaw we’ve found so far will be the last, and that’s that there are no bowls. My dad says the problem with this place is that we booked it for only two nights and not longer.

Posted by KZFamily 12:44 Archived in Belgium Tagged chocolate travel museum belgium world_war_one in_flanders_fields_museum Comments (2)

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