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Belgium - Page Text Content

S: Belgium February 2011

BC: All in all, it was a pretty great trip! We saw a lot in the seven days we were in Belgium. These last pictures are extras from our trip - the miscellaneous, but not to be forgotten moments! :) (Especially the one of me looking like I am about to be knocked on the head! And we can't forget Erwin!) Can't wait till the next adventure!!

FC: Belgium 2011

1: We flew into Brussels on Feb. 8th and took the train to Brugge (Bruges). From there, it was a cab to Hotel Egmund - which also had two friendly (albeit shy) dogs! | The hotel was very quaint and was situated near Minnewater Park. We were easily able to walk to all the sights in town. | Brugge

2: We started walking towards the Begijnhof, which is occupied by the Benedictine nuns. The beguinage used to be a home to the Beguines, a group of girls and widows that devoted themselves to charitable work but did not take religious vows (1245-1928). These women were those left single and widowed by the Crusades in the 13th century.

3: The beguinage is situated right on a canal so the scenery was really pretty. We also walked inside the small church of St. Elizabeth.

4: We continued walking around the town towards the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of our Lady). We stopped to look at some shop windows and check out the scenery along the canals.

5: Our second stop was the Markt. In the center of the square is a memorial to the city's medieval heroes, Jan Breydel and Pieter De Coninck. These two led the people of Flanders in a short-lived victory against the French aristocrats. (Interestingly, Belgium is still divided between the Flemish and the French.) Old guild houses line the west and north side of the square. | On the east side is the provincial government house and post office. The medieval Belfort (Belfry) is on the south side. It dates to the 13th century and is 270 ft tall!

6: We paid to climb the 366 winding steps to the top of the Belfry. We passed the former treasury room which used to house the city's valuables. At the top we saw the 47-bell carillon.

7: Displayed are the impressive views of Bruges from the top of the Belfry. We acted out a scene from In Bruges (right). Definitely an interesting movie to see right before traveling to Bruges!

8: Scenes from the Markt (below) and the Steenhouwersdijk (stonemason's embankment) and Groenerei (green canal) (top left) towards evening. We stopped for hot chocolate in the building above - yum! | Bruges is a medieval town. The outer ramparts used to be dotted with windmills; now only four remain along the outer ring road (on the Kruisvest). We also saw Kruispoort, one of only four surviving gates of the city walls (top right).

9: Tina had a Chimay - a real Trappist beer! (Whoa, was it strong!) I had Waterzooi (fish stew). Quite tasty (except for the Langouste)! | Night shots of Markt | We stopped for dinner at De Vlaamsche Pot. It took us a bit to find it, but we finally did! The outside was really cute!

10: The next day, we went back to Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk. The Gothic church has a Carrara marble statue by Michelangelo called Madonna with Child (~1504) (far left). The rococo pulpit in the nave was designed by Bruges artist Jan Antoon Garemijn (far left bottom). The church also contains the mausoleums of Mary of Burgundy and her father, Charles the Bold (the last Valois Duke of Burgundy) (immediate left). In front of the mausoleums, there is a large painting of the Crucifixion of Christ by Anthony van Dyck (immediate top left). Another notable painting is the Transfiguration of Christ by Gerard David (middle center).

11: We wanted to see the Groeningemuseum while in Bruges (Flemish art gallery), but it was closed. Instead, we stopped by the Gruuthusemuseum (applied arts museum). | The museum is housed in the former home of Lodewijk Van Gruuthuse, a Dutch nobleman. His family made its money from gruut, an herb used in brewing beer - which makes sense in Belgium! Inside we saw furniture, tapestries, lace, kitchen equipment, and a guillotine! We couldn't take pictures inside, so we took some around the grounds. You can see the Belfry in the distance in one of the pictures.

12: Above is Stadhuis, the Gothic town hall. It's the oldest town hall in Belgium, built in the 14th century. We were able to tour the inside and walk up the grand staircase to the Gothic hall. The walls contain 19th-century frescoes that tell the history of Bruges. At one point, there was a military ceremony going on - that was neat to see! Stadhuis is located in an area called the Burg, a popular meeting square just around the corner from the Markt. The Burg contains several civic buildings, including a law court. | The T | The Basilica of the Holy Blood (Heilig Bloed Basiliek) (top right) contains a vial thought to hold a few drops of the blood of Christ, brought from Jerusalem to Bruges in 1149 by Derek of Alsace upon his return from the Second Crusade. We were able to see the vial, place our hand upon it, and receive a blessing by the priest inside.

13: Of course, we couldn't visit Belgium without going to a chocolatier or a cookie/candy shop! The Stephen Dumon Chocolatier was recommended by Rick Steves. They proudly displayed pictures of him in the shop. And the candy store - La Cure Gourmande - was so cute! I bought cookies and caramels. | The basilica has two chapels. The Lower Chapel (St. Basil Chapel) (left) is 12th -century Romanesque. There is a 14th-century Pieta in one of the naves. This area was rather somber. In contrast, the Upper Chapel (Chapel of the Holy Blood) was re-done in the Gothic style at the end of the 15th century. It was much more extravagant, and it was there we saw the relic of the Holy Blood. (We couldn't take pictures though.)

14: So we learned that "French Fries" are native to Belgium, not France! The Frietmuseum (the only museum of its kind) explains the history of the potato and the history of the fries. At the end of our tour, we were able to sample them! Oh, and their mascots are Fiona Frite and Peter Potato! Too funny!

15: Our last night in Bruges, we had dinner at the Maximiliaan van Oostenrijk (right). We had mussels and fries, and I had a Leffe Belgian beer. Tasty! The restaurant is set in the back of this picture.

16: After Bruges, we took the train back to Brussels and checked into our hotel. We started with an afternoon trip to Waterloo, a 20-minute train ride outside the city. Then we hopped a bus to the site. When the bus dropped us off, we were a little unsure of where to go. But then we saw the Butte de Lion from afar and were able to find the way. | Waterloo

17: At Waterloo, we saw the Champ de Bataille (battlefield). The best views were from the Butte de Lion, a pyramid 226 steps high. The visitor center had an audiovisual presentation of the battle, as well as a film that we were able to view. We were the only ones there! Quite nice to have the place to yourself! (Btw, the French were defeated by the British/Prussians here in June 1815. This ended Napoleon's attempt to dominate Europe.)

18: Waterloo also had a Panorama de la Bataille (in a completely circular building) which contains a vast, circular painting of the charge of the French cavalry. We also visited the wax museum (musee de cire). After a few hours, we walked back to the bus stop. We had to wait a bit for the next bus, but passed the time with silly posts on Facebook :) Then it was the train back to Brussels!

19: Brussels | While in Brussels, we stayed at the Radisson - simple and nice! Once we got back from Waterloo, we walked over to the Grand 'Place, one of Europe's most beautiful squares. It's surrounded by guild houses built in the Baroque style. The town hall (Hotel de Ville) is Gothic in style and dates from the early 15th century. This building dominated the square. It's almost 300 years older than the guild houses that surround it. You'll notice the Belfry is slightly off center due to an extension Charles the Bold added in 1444. The Belfry is topped by a statue of St. Michael.

20: Additional views of Grand 'Place towards evening. Across the Hotel de Ville is the Maison du Roi (House of the King) (above), re-built in the neo-Gothical style at the end of the 19th century. It used to be Charles V's administrative offices, but now houses a municipal museum. On the top floor, you can see the hundreds of costumes for Mannekin Pis (a small statue of a boy urinating – the symbol of the city). One of the side streets of the square (Rue Charles Buls) has a statue symbolizing Everhard 't Serclaes, the Brussels hero. If you touch his elbow, it brings you luck (below)! Serclaes rescued Brussels in 1356 by climbing the city walls and putting the Duke of Brabant flag on the Town Hall.

21: The Grand 'Place also has the Maison de la Brasserie - once known as the Brewer's guild (top center). It is also known as l"Arbre d'Or and now houses a brewery museum. Below, Tina found a "Greek Town" or at least one Greek restaurant just off the Grand 'Place! The city's cathedral (below) is the Cathedral St-Michel et Ste-Gudule. Construction started in 1226! St. Michael is the patron saint of Brussels and all royal weddings and christenings take place there.

22: Situated on the Grand 'Place is the Musee du Cacao et du Chocolat. We learned how cocoa beans are grown and about the stages of chocolate production. | Of course, there was a small tasting too! We even watched a demonstration of how some chocolates were made!

23: The next place we went to was the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinee (CBBC) on Rue des Sables. This museum celebrates Belgian cartoonists and famous characters in different exhibitions, as well as how comic books are made. In Belgium, the comic strip is known as the "ninth art." The first exhibit we saw was how comic strips are made: how the imagination of the story writer and art designer (le scenariste) is converted into a visual form and prepared for printing.

24: We saw Belgium's best-known comic strip heroes: Tin Tin, the Smurfs (or Les Schtroumpfs!) and Asterix, Spirou, Lucky Luke, and Marsupilami. I had to buy another Asterix book in the Slumberland gift shop (in French, of course!) :) The Art Nouveau building was designed by Victor Horta in 1903. | Les Schtroumpfs were created by Peyo. They had some really cute pieces of artwork!

25: Between our hotel and the Grand 'Place was the Galeries Royales St. Hubert, a giant arcade and shopping center built in 1847 as the world's first covered shopping galleries. There are 3 parts: de la Reine, du Roi, and du Prince (of the queen, the king, and the prince). We had brunch in one of the cafes here and dinner one night at Chez Leon, a popular restaurant around the corner on Rue du Bouchors (also off the Grand 'Place). Of course we ordered the specialty - mussels and pomme frites! Also pictured is the Biscuiterie Dandoy situated between the Grand 'Place and the Bourse. It's one of the most popular cookie stores and specializes | in speculoos, Belgium's signature spiced cookie. We didn't buy any, but we did take a look around. The store had a great window display. The bottom right picture is Mannikin-pis, the statue of the little boy peeing.

26: We spent some time walking around Brussels on our way to a brewery. We passed the Bourse (the stock exchange) with a decorated frieze of statues - some by Rodin! Quite a walk west of the city center is the last traditional brewery in Brussels - Musee de la Gueuze. | It's also known as the Cantillon brewery. It produces Lambic beer, including Gueuze, Kriek, and Framboise (my favorite)! We took a tour and saw areas such as the aging containers and the bottling machines, and, of course, we had a tasting! Instead of walking all the way back, we tried the metro part of the way!

27: Our last day in Brussels, we walked around Upper Town (Royal Brussels). We saw the Place Royale, a square built in the neoclassical style, and also the center piece of Upper Town (right). There is an equestrian statue in the middle of the square representing Godefroid de Bouillon, Belgium's crusader and King of Jerusalem. Pictured to the left is the Palais du Roi built by Leopold II in the early 20th century. The palace faces the Parc de Bruxelles on the south side. Albert II comes here for state occasions. | Also in Upper Town is the Place du Grand Sablon (Sand Square). On the day we visited, there was an antiques market. At the end of the square is the Eglise Notre-Dame du Sabon (left), a Gothic church founded in 1304 by the guild of crossbowmen. | Opposite the Grand Sablon is the Place du Petit Sablon. It's a smaller square surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. It's topped by 48 bronze statues representing the city's guilds. Inside the square is a pretty garden with a double statue of the Flemish patriots Counts Egmont and Hoorn. The picture on the far left is of a painter representing the painter's guild.

28: A La Mort Subite, an authentic Brussels cafe designed in the Rococo style, was situated between our hotel and the Galeries Royales de St. Hubert. After a crazy day of walking, it was nice to sit down and enjoy a Froimboise. The cafe is extremely well known and has an interesting history regarding its name... | Per the website: "About 1910 Mr. Theophile Vossen ran an establishment called "La Cour Royale." Amongst his many customers were a lot of employees working at the National Bank of Belgium. Those employees passed their time in the pub playing a dives game called "421". Before returning to the office, the employees played a quick last game and the one who lost was called the "MORT SUBITE" or the sudden death." Very soon this name became well known and when Vossen moved to this actual address in 1928, he decided to call his pub "At the Mort Subite."

29: Ghent | The next morning, we were on the train again - this time to Ghent (Gent). Our luggage came with since we were renting a car and heading to the Ardennes region later in the afternoon. We were able to lock up our suitcases at the train station. Unfortunately, many parts of the city were under construction, but we still saw some pretty sights! Gent was the seat of the counts of Flanders, and today is the capital of the East Flanders Province. We started out walking towards Graslei, a magnificent row of guild houses in the original port area. The houses run along the river Leie on the Korenlei (Corn Quay).

30: Along Sint- Michielsbrug (St. Michel's Bridge), we saw the city's most well known view: the three medieval towers of Sint-Niklaaskerk (St. Nicholas's Church), the Belfort, and Sint-Baafskathedraal (St. Bavo's Cathedral). The bridge leads from the Korenmarkt to the Korenlei. | The 300-foot Belfort, started in 1314, used to serve as a watchtower. In 1377, it was topped with a gilded copper weather vane shaped in the shape of a dragon, the city's symbol of freedom. A 53-bell carillon (claimed to be one of the best in the world) is set on the top floor. Sint-Baafskathedraal was finished in the 16th century in the Brabantine Gothic style. It contains one of the greatest treasures in Christendom: De aanbidding van het Lam Gods (the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb). Emperor Charles V was christened here more than 500 years ago. | Sint-Niklaaskerk was first built in the 11th century in Romanesque style. The tower dates from about 1300 and was Gent's first belfry. Twice rebuilt, additional restoration began in the 1960s in the Scheldt-Gothic style. | The 12-paneled Adoration of the Mystic Lamb was painted by Jans van Eyck and his brother, Hubert. It was completed in 1432. The central panel is based on the Book of Revelations. | The cathedral was originally dedicated to St. John and it became the site for the veneration of St. Bavo, Gent's own saint.

31: Gravensteen, the Castle of the Counts of Flanders, is surrounded by a moat. It looks out to Lieve Canal. The castle was built in 1180 and has been rebuilt several times since then - most recently in the 19th century to reflect more of a medieval style. Above the entrance is an opening in the shape of a cross to represent the count's participation in the Crusades.

32: Inside is a historical weapons museum with swords, armor, pikes, and crossbows, as well as various torture devices (and a guillotine) that were historically used in Gent. You can also look down into the dungeons; it's said that an oubliette is also under the building. We also walked through what appeared to be a great hall.

33: Gravensteen has also been used as the Mint and as a prison. In the 19th century, a cotton plant was also installed.

34: One of the great views was from the top of the battlements...we could see the whole city of Gent. Unfortunately, it was a little foggy. Below you can see the three towers of St. Nicholas Church, the Belfry, and St. Bavo's Cathedral. All in all, it was nice to walk around Gent, stop for lunch on the Korenlei, and tour the castle. Around 3:00pm, we walked back to the train station, grabbed our suitcases, and headed back to Brussels to pick up our car. Next stop, the Ardennes!

35: Durbuy | Surrounded by forests in the Ourthe river valley, Durbuy became a city in 1331. It's claim to fame is that it calls itself the "smallest city in the world." We arrived in the evening - on Valentine's Day of all days. We stayed at the Le Sanglier des Ardennes (top left) which is known for its French restaurant. Before dinner, we took a quick walk around the town, still decorated from the winter holidays. It was so pretty!

36: Part of the reason we stayed at this hotel was the buzz around the restaurant. Since it was Valentine's Day, they offered an amazing dinner special. It was pretty pricey, but the food was really great. Of course, dinner was accompanied by a string trio that sang old songs. Tina even sang with them! I was so tired by the end of the night!

37: After breakfast, we walked for a bit. Since the town is so small, it didn't take long! The back of our hotel overlooked the Ourthe River. We could easily see the Parc des Topiaries on the bank of the river, as well as the Castle of Durbuy - an 11th century castle - towering above the small town. Durbuy dates mainly from the 17 th century with its cobblestone streets and architecture. It was fun to meander around and see the shops, though not much was open.

38: We left Durbuy on Monday morning and headed to Bastogne in the Ardennes region. This was by far the most impressive historical sight we saw. Bastogne is the sight of the Battle of the Bulge. (The Germans called it Wacht am Rhein.) On Dec. 16th, 1944, the Germans attacked with three armies, hoping to cut off the Allied reinforcement and supply lines. Anticipating an easy surrender, the Germans would head to Liege, and from there, to Brussels, eventually taking the port of Antwerp. | However, the city of Bastogne became a turning point. Though German tanks had the city surrounded on Dec. 20th, Gen. Eisenhower ordered a counterattack and within 8 days, 240,000 men were deployed to the area. It is here where General McAuliffe delivered WWII's most famous response to Hilter's surrender request: "Nuts!" McAuliffe headed the 101st Airborne division and reached Bastogne on Dec. 19th, the day before the Germans surrounded the town. He refused surrender on the 22nd. | Bastogne

39: This Bastogne Historical Center, next to the memorial monument, is built in the shape of a five-point star and is filled with uniforms, weapons, and commentary from WWII, as well as authentic American and German military vehicles. We also saw a 30-minute movie on the famous battle with original footage. | The Colline du Mardasson (Mardasson Hill Memorial), designed in the shape of a pentagram, honors the 76,890 Americans killed or wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. It was built in 1950. | The Screaming Eagle monument is dedicated to the 101st Airborne division who fought here in the Battle of the Bulge. This division is famously known as the "Screaming Eagles."

40: The insignia of most participating battalions are shown on the outside walls of the memorial. The history of the battle is inscribed in 10 paintings on the inner walls. In the center atrium is a plaque with a phrase in Latin: "The Belgian people remember their American liberators." The outside of the memorial lists all 50 states even though only 48 were official at the time of the war. Below the structure, a crypt with three altars – one each for Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish services – was carved, and decorated with mosaics by French artist Fernand Léger

41: From atop the memorial, there were amazing views of the battlegrounds. To the left is part of the history of the battle inscribed on inner walls. All in all, it was a very moving sight. On a side note, we were lucky we came when we did. The historical center was going to close a few weeks later for a 2 year renovation project.

42: Bastogne's central town square was renamed 'McAuliffe Square' after WWII. On the corner of the square stands an American Sherman Tank as a symbol of the victorious U.S. Army in the Battle of the Bulge. Also included is a bust of General McAuliffe. We ate lunch at "Le Nut's Cafe." As an American, it was really nice to see how much the town appreciated the Allied war efforts.

43: The roads leading into Bastogne are marked with red, white and blue concrete markers of the Voie de Liberte (Liberty Way). Liberty Way is the commemorative way marking the victorious route of the Allied forces from D-Day in June 1944. | It starts in Sainte-Mre-Église, in Normandy, France, travels across Northern France to Metz and then northwards to end in Bastogne. We stopped in a cafe for tea before driving back to Brussels for our journey home.

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  • Title: Belgium
  • Touring Belgium - Bruges, Brussels, Gent, Waterloo, Durbuy, Ardennes, Bastogne - February 2011
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  • Published: almost 8 years ago