A December 2002 trip
to Bruges by kjlouden
Quote: Medieval artisans were determined to reveal to the church and to mankind the creative
spirit, how to elevate, nourish and indulge it. I wouldn’t have gone for the "Holy Blood," but humanism shines supreme in the real tapestry of Bruges.
No visitor can deny that "artistic sanity," inspired by reality, was a driving force in medieval Europe. I was reverent before each scene and bewitched by the city the masters should have painted, but were too seduced to paint. Bruges was a scene in search of Monet, its artisans a growing class in need of Rembrandt. So, the sense of self came first, and Bruges was its expression. Its spiritual significance is in the hope it inspires that the human mind can transcend culture to create universal beauty, simple appeal in the prevailing of sense over nonsense, scene over mystical screen.
I couldn’t see all the art--the outdoor scenes are too remarkable to stay indoors!
Out on the frigid square, Merchants were soliciting customers: "We have hot coffee!" (.50 euro there)--vestige of Tijuana!
In Bruges, I bought a city daypass for Euro at the ticket booth in front of the rail station. Most buses stop at the center square or at the Burg, where the Tourist Info Center is located. They have maps and suggested walking tours. The address is 11 Burg.
Inside, the decor was modern chic with light wood and fabrics, and we were seated in the second room by a window with plants looking onto a patio behind, on a canal and one of the most beautiful spots in Bruges with plenty of photo opps. Erasmus himself seated and served us.
The fish waterzooi was $19.00 euro, more than Frommer had indicated anything costs at this restaurant, so I settled for the chicken stew at $15.50. This was only lunch, and I hadn’t shopped yet! My companion either didn’t find the rabbit on the menu or found it too expensive, so he ordered carbonnade a la Flamande, Flemish baked steak or stew meat in beer I had made one year for Christmas. Good, I could compare Erasmus’s dish to my own! Erasmus, honestly, mine was better! I made toastettes, smeared them with dijon, and sunk them down in the beer sauce to bake with the steak. This would be a non-costly little item to add, and it makes the dish superb! We Americans do cook your dishes ourselves, and we relish them with all the frills and respect the holy recipe. I was disappointed with the size of my own lunch and almost left hungry. My expensive chicken soup was mostly broth and 2 small legs with only shavings of carrots and celery amounting to a spoonful. I like lots of vegetables. It tasted like chicken soup, nothing Belgian. The broth was clear and good. The carbonnade was good, and I was disappointed (with myself) that I hadn't ordered the heartier dish and glad when our host brought bread he'd forgotten earlier.
Erasmus showed me how to deal with coffee in Europe. I was tired of paying as much as $3.50 euros for it (center square in Bruges) and getting a small cup of strong espresso, so I asked for something bigger and weaker. He brought an extra pot of hot water so I could make it as weak as I wanted in a large cup. This was the first good coffee I had in Europe. (This may not work in busier restaurants, where hosts may not be so accomodating.) I was happy here. It was a good stop: comfortable booths, soft lighting, responsive host. It is the lobby of a hotel, which might be a fun place to stay, in the center of Bruge’s shopping maze. I’m sure tables in back are charming in summer.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 14, 2002
On the first floor stairway, we paid a pittance for admission and went upstairs to the
astoundingly beautiful Alderman’s Hall where neo-Gothic frescoes rehabilitated in the
19th Century recount episodes in the history of the city. These were so impressive, I
pulled out my notebook and took a seat with my audio guide to my ear. One of the
largest frescoes is of the yearly fair of Bruges. The one to the right of the fireplace
depicts the depositing of the Holy Blood. Other paintings represent the laying of the
foundation stone, the granting of the charter, the Father of the Flemish party, and
Most of the scenes were painted from episodes dating 1190-1446 and appear in bright
greens, reds, and golds, very festive Medieval colors which are repeated in woodwork
and buttresses. Above them, biblical subjects are displayed and then vegetation motifs,
including representations of the twelve months of the year with scenes of rural life. All
together, an anthropological perspective of human history spans the ages and celebrates
the advent of the city in gorgeous bright colors.
Another room off to the side was worth a
look, and then the entrance hall downstairs and another to the side displayed artwork of
note. The wood ceiling in the Gothic Hall on the first floor is recognized as a fine example.
This celebration of the coming of the city is of supreme importance, because as Will Durant notes in The Story of Civilization, it was only in the civitas that men learned to be "civilized." The Aldermen needed a dignified hall, but they shared it with the townspeople, as the frescoes of local celebrations record, a sign that the population could be trusted to behave themselves and to take part in local government.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 14, 2002
Bruges Stadhuis: Medieval Prototype
So much wealth to see here! A small museum room contains the most exquisite, most
valuable masterpiece by Jan Crabbe, a 17th century metal smith. The Shrine of the Holy
Blood is crafted of gold and silver and encrusted with precious stones. Spectacular! I
wondered if all that gold was paid for with tithes or entrance fees. The guide knew only
that the church was benevolent to preserve all this for us. (He hadn’t read the English
novels about the greed and hypocrisy of the early clergy.) I didn’t ask him if he knew
what happened to the Rembrandts the Anglican church confiscated from the artist’s
home. No need, for all the art in this church depicted holy subjects. I wondered if these
masters wanted to paint the middle class, perhaps a little girl with watering
Another interesting piece is the carved wooden pulpit hanging on high. It is a
magnificent globe from one piece of wood, the shape symbolizing that the Word must
spread across the globe. I reflected, "How presumptive!" The hood or roof had atop it a
representation of Holy Authority--just to make sure no skeptic in the congregation could
mistake the priest for "just a man." I was reminded of the medieval morality plays
stressing the quasi-divinity of priests, God’s representatives, not to be
questioned--especially about the wealth they enjoyed while preaching the virtues of
poverty and tithing!
There was much more, including two altars, one of The Last Supper in alabaster,
another of marble set in carved wood. Good advice is to sit near the chapel. appreciate
the symmetry, and find something to study that means something to you according to
your background. We were told not to take photos by the fellow who wanted to sing the
praises of the early church, so I spent $8 euro on the book All Brugge.
Basilica of the Holy Blood
Attraction | "Nothing Transports Me in Time Like Shopping!"
Regardless of all the artwork and architecture to see in this city, I had to take home a little of the fine craftsmanship of Bruges. Finding lace shops wasn’t difficult. One can hardly avoid them! Two on the street connecting the Burg and the Markt lured me in with their window displays. I already had plenty of table lace, but these shops had many alternatives: coasters and serving plates with lace pressed under glass, blouses with
lace trim of every conceivable arrangement, and framed lace, just to name a few. Patterns included castles, cathedrals, bell towers, ladies with parasols, swans, and more,
all a propos to the city landscape. I bought a little set of framed lace to give as a
Christmas present ($20 euro).
This took my mind and body away from the cold and convinced me that December is after all a good time to go to Belgium. Who wouldn’t want a present from Bruges? Next stop was a tapestry store with pillows, pocketbooks, vests, and more. I found the perfect hanging tapestry for myself, an actual canal scene of Bruges with shimmering buildings reflecting in the water and swans and the belfry tower in the
background. Perfect! It even has a wide border and straps for hanging ($55 euro). It
isn’t very large (17 x 20 inches, not including straps). Others the same size were $25-35, but were not as nice. Large ones are hundreds. Good advice is to measure a wall
where it will hang before leaving home and then buy the largest one you can possibly fit
there and afford. The owner of the shop told me all his tapestries are "made in the
factory of my brother, and you can’t get more local than that!"
Chocolate shops had nice little stocking-stuffer variety boxes (pretty boxes). At
Chocolaterie Sweertvaegler, Philipstockstr. 29, the lady at the counter assured me she had made everything in the store herself. I bought three little boxes for just a little over $8 euro total, and I see they all have her label on them. Such fortitude--I haven’t opened a single one! (Of course, I had others from Antwerp that weren’t in such nice boxes.)
Shopping in Bruges
West Virginia, United States