A January 2003 trip
to Flanders by zabelle
Quote: Flanders is the northern Flemish-speaking part of Belgium. It includes the art cities of Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp.
"IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row"
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae
A strategic marriage between Phillipa of Hainault and Edward III of England turned the loyalty of Flanders toward the English and against the French. The Hundred Years War saw the power move back and forth between the English and the French. When the Count of Flanders died without a male heir, his daughter was forced to marry the brother of the King of France, the Duke of Burgundy and thus began the rule of Burgundy. A marriage between Burgundy and the Hapsburgs swung the rule into the Empire. Napoleon forced French rule back on the Flemish and finally after his defeat they became a part of the newly formed Belgium. Today there are two distinct parts of Belgium. Flanders where Flemish is spoken and Wallonia where French is spoken.
All of Belgium is roughly the size of Maryland so visiting a variety of cities in Flanders is both easy and enjoyable.
Kortrijk:/Courtrai Home to the Battle of the Golden Spurs this is a place of particular pride to all of Flanders.
Bruges/Brugge: This UNESCO city is as perfect a medieval city as you will ever see. It is as beautiful as it is war and historic.
Ghent/Gent/Gant; Often overlooked because of it’s flashier sister Bruges, this is a vital and beautiful city that has some of the finest art in all Flanders.
Mechelen/Malines: Beautiful Churches and a not to be missed museum make this a must stop.
Louvain/Leuven; This is the quintessential university city with a fair dose of history, art and a very famous saint.
Tournai/Doornik: Though technically in Wallonia it is close enough to be included.
We made our base in Laarne. Van Hercke Bed and Breakfast is the ideal location, close to the highway, within an easy drive of all the cities of Flanders, and a delightful host and excellent bargain are hard to beat.
You will need a car to reach most of these cities. If, however, you want to make your home base in Brussels or Antwerp, it is possible to take the train, the bus, or a tour to most of these cities.
Traveling in Flanders is both fast and confusing. Most of the town names are both in Flemish and French, so keep a sharp eye out. Parking is problematic in almost every city and town. Again, it will be pay and display. Always look for a machine, even if you are parked along the road; there will be one not far away. In parking garages, you should bring your ticket with you when you leave your car. You will pay in a machine. You insert your card, and the machine will tell you how much you owe. You can pay in cash or use a credit card. The credit card is inserted into the same slot as the card. Look for the parking signs as you enter a city. The larger cities will tell you which garages have space available and how many spaces are empty.
Hotel | "Van Hercke Cottages"
Ingrid came out to greet us as soon as we pulled into the driveway. For first-time visitors, this may be a little hard to find, but look for the wrought-iron sign with the water witch. Accommodations are provided in typical Flemish cottages. One is attached to the back of Ingrid and Daniel’s house, and the other is free-standing. We had the Blue cottage, and Joe and Bob had the Green cottage.
The cottages have an open floor plan, with tile floors and beautiful wall hangings as headboards. Each of the king-size beds can be separated into two twin beds quite easily. There is a romantic fireplace, a sleeper sofa, a dining table that seats four, a TV with a VCR and cable channels, lots of tourist information, and plenty of storage space in a large oak armoire.
The main reason we love this place, besides Ingrid’s breakfasts, is the small but well-equipped galley kitchen. With two burners and plenty of pots and pans, we were able to have home-cooked meals every evening. There is large grocery store in Destlebergen, which is less than 5 miles away. If you don’t have time to stop before you arrive, the fridge is stocked with orange juice, soda, and an excellent selection of Belgian beers.
Every effort is made to make your stay one that you will remember fondly for years to come. Arriving in January, we are less apt to enjoy the wonderful garden and greenhouse that adjoin the cottages. In the warm weather, Ingrid will serve breakfast in the hothouse. We chose to have breakfast in the green cottage every morning, but you may also choose to have it in Ingrid's dining room.
Every morning, precisely at 9am (the time we choose), Ingrid would bring over two loaded trays with museli cereal, milk, fruit (bananas or oranges), a platter of cheeses and meats, butter and jelly, and a basket of rolls and bread that varied from day to day. We had our choice of hot chocolate, tea or coffee, and orange juice. Needless to say, we never went off for our day of sightseeing on empty stomachs.
The bathrooms are bright white and equipped with a shower and blow dryer. There are plenty of nice fluffy towels and a towel warmer (which doubles as a clothes dryer).
If you need to use the Internet, for a minimal fee you can go into the main house and check your email. Ingrid did send an email for me to let everyone at home know we had arrived safely, and there was no charge for this service.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 19, 2005
Van Hercke Cottages
Restaurant | "Café Rouge-Kortrijk"
Everything is beautifully presented. The tea comes slices of cake and chocolates. The teacups had strainers for the loose tea and covers to keep the tea warm.
We were immediately enchanted. Around us were groups of all different ages, seniors, families with children, romantic young couples and even a romantic mature couple. Everyone was smiling and enjoying their food. We decided that tea just wasn’t going to be enough. Since it was a cold January day, we opted for soup and fondue.
While we were waiting, they brought us a bowl of flavored potato chips, which were enough to whet our appetites. The fondue here is solid nuggets of deep fried cheese that ooze their golden treasure when you cut them served with salad on the side. The soups that Sunday were traditional onion and a variation on tomato soup. Both were delicious and beautifully presented. We devoured the bread basket with it’s warn nutty textured slices.
We never expected to have dessert, but when we saw the selection, our resolve collapsed. Joe had the creme brulee, which was a very traditional presentation with a crisp crust and velvety custard and was possibly the best we have ever tasted (and all of us did have a taste). I had a waffle dusted with powdered sugar. Al had a ball of strawberry ice cream smothered in fresh strawberries,
which he passed to me turning my very delicious waffle into something extraordinary. These desserts were heavenly. Finishing off with more tea (you pay for refills), we felt able to face the cold again and finish our touring.
Service was friendly and efficient. We never felt either rushed or neglected.
The restaurant is located in a historic building facing the side of St. Martens Church. The name is written high on the building and there was a food board outside.
Kortrijk, Belgium 8500
+32 (56) 25 86 03
Ghent is second to none in the area of art. If you long to see some of the best art that the Low Countries have to offer, Ghent is a must-stop.
The first stop of any art lover has to be Sint Bafe’s (Bavo) Cathedral. Van Eykes’ "The Mystic Lamb" has to be classified as a national treasure. It draws thousands to Ghent every year. It is perhaps the finest piece of artwork in Belgium. When you consider the other artwork in Belgium, the Ruben’s, Van Dyke’s, Memling’s, and Vander Weyden’s, you begin to have a small idea of the treasure that Sint Bafes has in this painting. Don't overlook the frescos in the crypt, they have a beauty all their own.
The Museum voor Schone Kunsten is located outside the central walking area of Ghent.
It is necessary to take a cab to get there. We had some small problems finding an unoccupied cab on a busy Saturday in January, but eventually we made our way there. It was worth the effort. Among their treasures are works by Hieronymus Bosch, Jacob Jordaens, Frans Francken, P.P. Rubens, Antony Van Dyke, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Frans Hals, Nicolas Maes, and Philippe de Champaigne. What was especially nice was that each offering had a description card in English. They have a small café where we grabbed a bit of lunch.
Gravensteen - This has nothing to do with art, but everything to do with history. It also offers one of the best views of the center of Ghent from its tower. It was the Castle of the Counts of Flanders, a very impressive sight with a truly horrifying museum dedicated to the instruments of torture. There are also displays of arms and armor, guns, lances, powder horns, ivory-handled pistol spurs, and all the accouterments of war. It made me sorry that I didn't have a Houligan or two in tow. Visiting here involves lots of stair climbing, but going out onto the roof is worth it all.
FACTSGhent in January is unsurpassed. I can still small the air, fresh, crisp, and redolent with the smell of waffles. It floats on the wind and entices you to stop in at one of the many shops and have a bite. We didn’t on this last trip, and I still have regrets. We did manage to stop for lunch at the art-museum café, which offered a satisfying and well-priced option.
You can see Ghent in one day. This was our second visit and though we revisited some of the sights we had seen on the first visit, St. Bafe’s in particular, we also had time to visit the castle and the art museum which is out of the center of Ghent. As in all cities, some sites are closed in the winter and we had this problem with St. Michael Kirche.
LACEOne of the real joys of Belgium in general and Ghent in particular is shopping for handmade lace. This shop on St. Baafs Square is among our favorites. Yes, it is in a tourist area and maybe it’s just because we always visit in January but the prices here are very competitive, the owners are delightful and the quality is exceptional. We met them on our first trip and couldn’t wait to stop in again and really, nothing had changed.
St. Baafsplein 22
TRANSPORTATIONParking in Ghent is difficult. As you drive into the city look for the signs telling you in real time the number of parking spots available in each lot. There is underground parking near St. Bafe’s but it was full. Since we were not familiar with the other lots, we followed the signs to one under the Library. There is a tram station adjacent that took us right down to the center. When we crossed the bridge to go to St. Michael’s,
we spied a parking garage right there, which is much closer. Most of the sights can be reached on foot. We did however, take a cab to the art museum and then to the library. There are taxi stands right along the main square.For information of Ghent go to Ghent Tourism
Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance
Goswin de Stassartstraat 153
May 10, 1940, is a day that will remain in the Belgian psyche forever; it is the day Hitler invaded Belgium. Beyond the obvious trauma this caused was the Nazi obsession with the final solution. This museum documents the course that this philosophy followed in Belgium and its impact on not only the Jews but on Belgians in general.
This is a very hard museum to walk through. The displays are disturbing on every level. The very first displays you see are identification papers for six Jews with Joot-Juif stamped on them. Suddenly, these are no longer just numbers or statistics; they are real flesh-and-blood people. Abraham Gold was born in October 1920; we see his picture and can imagine his hopes, his dreams, and his final solution. We see pictures of synagogues burned on Kristallnacht and pictures of Jews forced to wear the Star of David sewn on their clothing. The stars were not big enough for the word Jew to be written in both Flemish and French, so they just have the letter J. We see personal things, like a poem written by Iszach Lipschitz to his wife, whom he married in the transit camp at Mechelen.
If this wasn’t enough to break your heart, there are exhibits of Jews forced into labor camps. These are not just adults; some are children as young as 3 years old and some are seniors in their 80s. What labor could they possibly do, you have to ask yourself.
As shocking as all this was, some of the most shocking things were the reaction of the Belgian population to what was going on around them. The Bishop of Liege allowed Jewish children to be housed in Catholic institutions, but he never denounced the deportation, at least not publicly. There was a case full of photos of the children who were hidden in Catholic convents. In all, 3,000 children were hidden thanks to the "Committee for the defense of the Jews." It was sickening to read a letter from an informant identifying Jewish families.
This is a visual museum. It takes a long time to read all the displays and listen to the audios offered. Allow 1 to 2 hours. You will finish your visit by walking through a tunnel of photos. They are family pictures. The survivors are in black and white in the colored pictures, and there were not many. It made it all the more poignant to see how some families were decimated. Examples include a family of five, a mother and father and three sons, but only the father survives. Then there was one of a mother, father, two boys, and two girls, with no survivors, and finally a family who all survived, but no information is given on them. No children under the age of 13 sent to Auschwitz survived.
Though we are all religious, the main reason we visit most churches is the art they contain.
St Rombauld - Construction began on this cathedral in the mid-13th century, and some remnants of it still survive even though there was a devastating fire in the mid-14th century. Reconstruction took the better part of 200 years. What brought us here was what is perhaps Anthony Van Dyke's finest painting, "The Crucifixion."
St. Jan - What brought us here was a triptych by Peter Paul Rubens. His first wife was the model for the Virgin Mary in the Adoration of the Magi. Our Lady has another triptych by Peter Paul Rubens; this one, the "Miraculous Draught of Fishes," was originally painted for the Guild of Fishmongers. That this church still survives is miraculous; it sustained major damage in both World Wars.
Parking was difficult in Mechelen. We had to circle around the city at least three times to find a small pay-and-display lot behind St. Rombauld Cathedral. Just be patient. We started to follow people as they walked into the lot to make sure we would get their spot if they left.
Reports vary from 500 to 900 pairs but obviously many very important French knights lost their lives here. So highly do the people of Flanders regard the victory that in 1973 the date of the battle, July 11, was made the Official Flemish Celebration Day.
Kortrijk will always remain in my heart as the city where we were welcomed with open arms. We arrived early on a Sunday morning and headed for our first stop the Church of Our Lady. Little did we know that today they were celebrating the 800th anniversary of the church and the 200th anniversary of their community. We had come here to see the Van Dyke painting that hangs in their church.
We thought they were having a meeting in the Chapel of the Counts, so we just went over to the left side of the church where the picture is hung. While we were admiring it several different people from the parish came over to tell us about it and take us to see other treasures in the church, some spoke in Flemish and eventually when we looked confused, in English. They were all justifiably proud of their church and its treasures. We were finally invited to join them in their celebration and they introduced us to not only their pastor but a women who was visiting her hometown from her present home in Connecticut, small world. I will never forget the look on Al’s face as he popped that truffle into his mouth only to find out it was pate--priceless.
Begijnhofstraat - tel.: +32-56-244800
You will know when you have arrived here as you are greeted by the statue of Joanna of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders who founded this community of Beguine in 1238. The name Begijn may derive from the Flemish "beghen" to pray. The Beguinage consists of about forty small houses around a courtyard.
The museum is located in one of the houses and for a small fee, you can visit the rooms to see how the Beguine lived. Beguine were not nuns, as they had no common rule and each community was self-contained. They dressed in habits and dedicated their lives to good works and prayer but did not take the same vows that a nun would take. They often took the vow if obedience and chastity but not the vow of poverty. The women who were rich lived in separate houses while the poor lived in communal houses. The house where the museum is located is the house where the superior lived. There is no store and the elderly woman who was on duty the day we were there spoke only French, and she was testy to say the least. Go anyway; this is a fascinating look at a fading way of life.
BROELMUSEUM Broelkaai, 6 - tel.: +32-56-240870
Housed in a beautiful mansion along the river this museum feels more like a house than a museum.
Some of the rooms were more beautiful than the art they housed. The purpose of the museum is to highlight the art of artists who lived or worked in Kortrijk. It spans five centuries of work. I loved the mulberry delft tiles from the 18th century, they had bible verses drawn on them. Another thing I particularly liked was a four-season panel. All the writing was in Flemish so it was a little hard to follow at times so this was a visual visit. They have an excellent ceramic collection as well as paintings by Roeland Savery.
THE GROENINGEABDIJ Houtmarkt/Begijnhofpark - tel.: +32-56-240870
This is a history of Kortrijk museum. They have among their treasures the chasuble of St. Thomas Becket.
It is in amazing condition for its age. In order to view it you must remove the protective cloth cover of the case. There are two floors of displays going from prehistory through the First World War. This is a great place to learn about the battle of the Golden Spurs. The building itself is a former abbey and the museum is located in the dormitory.
St. Martin Church- dominates the skyline of Kortijk. The main treasures here are the stone tabernacles by Hendrick Maes and a sixteenth century triptych. The redodo is so big that it covers two of the stained glass windows, it is what I really don’t like about Baroque. However, as I have said, the townspeople consider it their treasure.
This lovely town has many other treasures that make it worth a visit. One of the women from Our Lady Church told us not to miss St. Martin Church, "it is much more beautiful", she said. We had a fabulous lunch at the Café Rouge. One disappointment was that the Flax and Linen Museum was closed in January. One warning, nearly all the stores were closed on Sunday. This did however make it easy to find parking right in the main square. Kortijk is a great walking city. Everything is quite close together. The streets in the old part of town are very narrow and I would park and drive. I can’t recommend this town enough, it is charming. The Belfry in the town center is also very beautiful.
This is not just an art museum, but rather a history museum;
the atmosphere of the former hospital adds a lot of historic appeal. The hospital is named for St. John the Evangelist, but St. John the Baptist is included in most of the art references to the hospital from the 12th century on. Water still runs beneath the building today, as it was needed to clear the waste and to wash the clothing of the patients, as well as to water the animals that were kept.
St. John has always been a municipal institution, unlike most others of its kind that were attached to religious institutions. From the 15th century to Vatican II, the sisters who cared for the sick in the hospital wore habits; there is an interesting display of them for your viewing pleasure. The city council made the rules by which it was governed until 1459, when it came under the authority of the Bishop of Tournai. There are display cases documenting the income and expenses, which give a very good idea of the kind of things that were being used by the hospital. The hospital owned land, estates, and farms, from which it derived much of its income. You can view these registers as well. Not only do they give you a good overview of the 16th and 17th century, but the books themselves are quite lovely. I thought of them in terms of their genealogical significance. They list people who lived in homes in Bruges that were owned by the hospital. It would be amazing to be able to find your ancestor and know exactly where they were living and how much rent they had to pay. Moreover, when you consider that St. John’s was one of the largest landowners in the area, you can see the potential for a treasure trove of information.
I found some of the early medical information to be fascinating. During the Middle Ages, physicians had identified 33 main organs, three fluids, and four humors in the human body. A doctor did not operate; that was done by a surgeon, and they had to be astronomers to be able to decide when the best time to operate would be. A doctor’s job was to make a diagnosis; he did this by examining the urine of his patient. This helps explain the short lives of our ancestors.
Saint John’s has a mixture of religious and medical displays. The huge open interior is broken into artificially created rooms. The walls are brick and there are huge pillars with large wooden crossbeams. These were the wards. There is a 15th-century attic you can visit located up some winding stone steps. Most of the works of art were originally commissioned for the hospital chapel, but a few were for the benefit of the patients. This is a beautifully designed museum with an excellent flow. You can take the excellent headphone tour or tour on your own.
Located in the chapel of Saint John Hospital, the Memling Museum is a small but treasure-filled collection. The shining star is the St. Ursula Shrine
which was designed and painted by Hans Memling and is inspired by the architecture of Bruges.
Memling was strongly influenced by Rogier Van der Weyden, and it is very evident in his altar triptych in the chapel. St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist each get one of the side panels and then are united on the center panel.
Since 1994, some of Bruges finest chocolates have been being made at this location. The chocolates are not just sold here, they are made here. There are only three other shops in Brugges that can make this claim.
These days, many chocolate makers don’t use all cocoa butter, but substitute wax. Since 2000, in order to call something Belgian chocolate, you only have to use 2% cocoa butter, but at Pralinette, they use 100% cocoa butter. They don’t add sugar or glucose either. Needless to say, these are mighty delicious chocolates.
The hardest decision you will have is which of the fabulous truffles to choose from: white chocolate, dark chocolate, or milk chocolate. After you decide on the exterior, you have to choose the interior: rich chocolate, creamy hazelnut, fabulous champagne, or heavenly fruit flavors. You head will be spinning and your taste buds will be thrilled. Our box never made it back to the Ingrid’s. I have been asking myself ever since, why? Why? Why didn’t I buy more? I wish I had tasted the chocolates before we left the shop. They were far superior to anything else we bought in Belgium.
We took an audio tour of the Gothic Hall (Gotische Zaal). The audio tour was excellent and gave a lot of information. The Gothic Hall was where the alderman met, and it has a beautiful vaulted ceiling. We enjoyed looking at a map of Bruges from 1552 that showed all the canals and the main building. It was a fascinating study.
The Renaissance Hall is included in the price of the Gothic Hall and also on the audio tour. The mantle by Lancelot Blondell is the masterpiece of this building. It is the glory of the Emperor Charles. It shows his two sets of grandparents, Mary of Burgundy and Maximillan and Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. The room is flanked by tapestries; the ones on display are 19th-century reproductions of the 13th-century originals. Ceremonial portraits trace the genealogy of Charles V. It is quite a spectacular room.
Basilica of the Holy Blood
More accurately, this should be called a chapel of the holy blood. It was originally called St. Basil’s Chapel, and it wasn’t until 1923 that it was designated a basilica. It is a two-story structure. The lower chapel is almost unchanged since it was built in the 12th century. The dim interior has thick stone walls and is somber. The upstairs chapel, which houses one of Bruges most famous treasures, is awash in color. The precious blood can be venerated on Fridays’ from 9:30 to 11:45am and 3 to 4pm.
There is a small museum with a pretty little crown that belonged to Mary of Burgundy and a 15th-century chasuble showing the heart of Mary pierced with swords. Photos were not allowed in the museum.
Bruges is a city best appreciated on foot. Park your car in the municipal parking garage and start walking. You will see signs as you enter the city directing you to the parking garage. In this garage, you get a ticket as you enter, and when you are ready to leave, you take your ticket to a machine on the main floor and pay. The machine takes cash or credit cards. This is one time you may want to take your ticket with you for the day. You then insert your paid ticket at the gate to be let out. There are taxis available around the city if you have the need.