Picturesque Brugge and sobering Flanders
Trip Start Oct 17, 2011
24Trip End May 22, 2012
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I hopped on an inter-city train and arrived before noon in Brugge, more commonly known as Bruges. I learned that Bruges is the city’s name in French, and this is most certainly not the French-speaking part of Belgium; rather, it’s Flemish, so the locals prefer Brugge.
Farmers today are still – a hundred years later – finding ammunition and other war detritus in their fields, and even bodies are still occasionally uncovered. Demarcation stones still mark the spots of furthest German advance. They read: "Here the enemy was stopped."
Ieper was virtually obliterated during the war, due to constant bombardment; after the war, the decision was made to rebuild in the same style, so the buildings appear a few hundred years older than they are. Funding for the reconstruction came from Germany.
At a dressing station where Canadian doctor John McCrae worked, there is a plaque about him. Philippe ended the tour by reading out John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields. McCrae died in his early 40s, in 1918, of a lung infection. He had discarded his poem, but a friend found it. Poppies grow wild here, but they’re late blooming this year. Wish I could have seen them.
On a lighter note, I went on the other tour offered by Philippe and his Australian wife Sharon, called Triple Treat. Besides seeing more of the Flanders countryside and learning about its history and economy, we sampled three Belgian “delicacies” – waffles, chocolate and beer.
Spoken Flemish is a dialect of Dutch. Written and schoolroom Flemish is standard Dutch. Flemish is the language of Flanders in northern Belgium; French and Flemish are official languages of Brussels; and French is the language of Wallonia in southern Belgium. I didn’t know that!
All this, and I haven’t even mentioned yet the picturesque and popular city of Brugge itself. I loved it – the stepped fašade architecture, canals, cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, neat and trim houses, a wonderful place for strolling. I also met two nice Flemish women at a vegetarian/organic restaurant. I wouldn’t have minded staying longer here, but my trip is winding down. On to Brussels.