I'm a little late starting our blog because of that old devil jet lag. Plus they have kept us busy touring around from the first minute we got here!! So I'll get you up-to-date.
We left Phoenix on Sunday, Sep 22; flew to Chicago; changed planes; flew on to Brussels, Belgium; arrived Monday, Sep 23 at 2pm. Our tour guide or rather Program Director Tim, took us on a short orientation tour of the Old City Center of Brugge, Belgium very near our very nice hotel. Brugge (also spelled Bruges) should be on the map connected with this travel log. It's west of Brussels, nearer the North Sea.
Originally a ninth-century fortress built to protect the Flemish coast from marauding Vikings, Bruges today retains its reputation as one of Europe's best-preserved Old-World cities. The city's centuries-old canal system, which was essential to its once thriving textile industry has beckoned tourists to meander its narrow, winding streets in search of art, history, and fine chocolates for nearly two centuries.
People in Belgium are called Flemish. People in The Netherlands (where we go next) are called Dutch.
We're staying in the Hotel Casselbergh. It was built in 1320 with seven turrets, of which the country is very proud.
Bruges was not destroyed in either World Wars. It is not a port city and had no military advantage. Plus the German Commander who occupied Bruges (I guess in both wars) said it was too beautiful to destroy. So it has retained its old Medieval charm.
It has many squares; one has the government buildings; one is for markets; one is for entertainment, etc. It has many churches, 24 I think. But all of their buildings look like big churches or cathedrals!!! They are all so beautiful!! There is architecture from all periods, Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque, Classical; sometimes all in the same square. Wait until you see the pictures!!
Like any other nation and city, Bruges has had its ups and downs economically. It used to be a center for trade, exchanging its beautiful Flemish cloth and lace for spices and gems from around the world. Flemish cloth was boiled in hot soapy water, which shrunk it, making felt. Then in the 16th century, the trade business switched to Antwerp, a city north of here. Then it was called Dead Bruges. A few centuries later it would thrive again. Remember, we're in Europe with its layers and layers of history, so they talk in centuries!
In the market square is a beautiful "Bell Tower". It's magnificent bells play every 15 minutes. These towers, every town and village has one, were used for communications in the olden days (don't ask me for the details of that).
In the market square, restaurants, cafes, bistros line every side. We will not starve in Belgium. Off the square are many streets filled with shops of every variety. What we liked most are all the chocolate shops; almost every other store is a chocolate shop. Very nice!!! Delicious!!!
In the Cathedral, Church of our Lady, is a statue by Michelangelo, a Madonna with Child. One of the churches, maybe that one, has a relic of several drops of Jesus' blood, brought here from Jerusalem. Behind the Church is the hospital built in the 10th century. To qualify to get into the hospital you had to confess your sins to ensure you were pure in spirit before they cured your body.
I mentioned all the chocolate shops, but also very often you see a Pub for beer. They all brag about having the most varieties of beer. There is a Wall of Beer Pub bragging about 1200 styles of beer. They've been making beer since the 12th century. The water was too dirty to drink so the average people drank beer and the upper class drank wine.
We went to a lace making demonstration. It was amazing to watch her work, fingers just flying. Of course the young people don't want to carry on the tradition so it is dying out. All lace will be made by machines in China soon. Most of their hand made lace is exported to Italy.
The town is surrounded by water, canals, rivers; 30 minutes from the North Sea; so it used to get flooded, but they have all kinds of flood control measures now so it doesn't happen much any more; the same in The Netherlands.
There's not much real estate for sale here; why would you leave Bruges? All of the houses just get passed down through the family.
Two of the most famous Flemish painters are Rubens and Rembrandt; among many.
Also famous here are "Belgium Waffles". They are not for breakfast or any meal. They are considered a pastry for tea (snack in the afternoon). So they are sold on the street or in bakeries. Of course we tried them. You'll see a picture of me eating one. Doug loves to take pictures of me eating!?!
You'll see that all of the buildings are made of bricks, that's because, being so close to the sea, they have lots of clay. That's another reason there are so many medieval buildings around the country, they didn't burn down! In Scandinavia, the buildings were all made of wood and often burned down.
Tuesday, Sep 24
Some of our activities discussed above may have happened today but it's all in Bruges. Today, we took a boat ride in the canals around and through the city. See the pictures.
Then in the afternoon we took a bus ride to the Museum for Flanders Fields and through Flanders Fields. The museum is in Ypres (pronounced E-Pers) and is dedicated to the study of World War One (initially called the Great War, the War to end all Wars); not to glorify war but to show its futility. The exhibit tells the story of the invasion of Belgium, the first months of the mobilization, the four years of trench warfare, the end of the war and the permanent remembrance every since. (I'll have the pictures for you tomorrow.)
It is named Flanders Fields Museum after the famous poem by Canadian John McCrae (Google that). Flanders Fields is a name given to the battlegrounds of the Great War located in the medieval County of Flanders, across southern Belgium going through to north-west France. The region still bears witness to the Great War's history with many monuments, museums, cemeteries and individual stories. As we drove through Flanders, we stopped at a few cemeteries and past many others. They basically set up a cemetery at each battle site. We also stopped at places along the road where the trenches and dug-outs left over from the war are still evident. Of course, most of the trenches were filled in so the farmers could get back to work. Also, as factories have been built, more bodies have been dug up, more munitions, and other signs of the war. There were many German cemeteries as well all over the country-side. But the farmers wanted their land back so German graves have all been consolidated into 4 large cemeteries (44,000 graves). An interesting point is that all of the Allies tombstones are white, while all of the German headstones are black. That was done on purpose since Germany was the aggressor and part of their punishment was to make their gravestones black and the cemeteries dark and gloomy. Included in the British cemeteries are graves for soldiers from Canada, Australia, India, and all the colonies of Britain. There is a US cemetery in the north part of Flanders. In all, 10 Million died in WWI.
In 1898-1899, Russia summoned a peace conference at The Hague, The Netherlands. It covered many issues concerning the countries of Eastern and Western Europe. There was a Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use of poisonous gases and bacteriological methods. 98 nations signed the Treaty including Germany. Germany did use chlorine and mustard gas during WWI; but they did not drop bombs of it so they didn't violate the Treaty. They merely set up canisters of the gases along the roads and opened them at the same time and let the wind carry the gases toward the Allies lines. Of course when the wind changed, may Germans were killed as well. Official figures declare about 1.3 million casualties were directly caused by chemical warfare agents during the course of WWI; 100,000 to 260,000 were civilians.
In summary, the cause and start of WWI is very complex. And since Germany did not accept blame for WWI as the treaty required, that is one of the causes of WWII.
That night, we went to the ceremony at Menin Gate in Ypres. It is a memorial to the missing of WWI, dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of WWI and whose graves are unknown. Following the Menin Gate Memorial opening in 1927, the citizens of Ypres wanted to express their gratitude towards those who had given their lives for Belgium's freedom. So every evening at 8pm, buglers from the Last Post Association close the road which passes under the memorial and sound the "Last Post". This ceremony has been carried on uninterrupted since 2 July 1928. Bands and choirs from around the world may apply to participate in the ceremony. We were lucky in that a group of bag pipers from Scotland participated while we were there. It was very special.