Saturday, 29 October 2011


I was looking forward to seeing Bruges, as a Belgian friend had recommended I see it when I visited him in Brussels about 15 years ago for work.  I was travelling on my own then and fairly daunted at not speaking Dutch or French; I thought I did well to survive four days on my own in Brussels and I never did make it to Bruges, until now.

Bruges train station

Bill and I had a discussion on the train about why we say Bruges (rhyming with rouge), when the Belgians say Brugge (with a hard g).  Not to mention that Ghent is spelled Gent in Gent and pronounced with a soft g.  Bill said Bruges is the French pronunciation, which I still don't understand, given that more Belgians speeh Dutch (Flemish) than French - though many are probably bi-lingual, which always makes me feel like a lazy old uni-linqual thing - and Ghent is in Flanders, where they mainly speak Dutch. 

Love Water & Bill (yes, that's true)...see below... 

For that matter, why do we say Paris when the French say Paree?  I can sort of follow why Indian names got distorted by the Brits, not having the same alphabet and all, so Mumbai became Bombay, for a while.  I still am not sure why we say some place names differently to how the respective inhabitants do.  I suspect it's something about dominant culture and that self-conscious feeling of getting it wrong.

We both agreed that Bruges is prettier, somehow tidier than Ghent.  However, the main square was still taken up with some sort of stage and sound system being erected, which really steals the olde-worlde feel of a place! 

Bruges calls itself the 'Venice of the North', but I'm not sure I agree in spite of the few canals.  There are canals in Ghent.  Flanders is apparently known for being a boggy, muddy place, particularly since some of the battles of the first world war.   I can also attest to this fact from the experience of parking our motorhome.

As usual, we were mainly taken by the buildings and we each took about a thousand pictures just of the little area along the canals.  

I noticed several place names beginning with 'Minne' - Minnewater Park being the first sign we came to after leaving the (very art deco) train station.  Google translate says minnewater is Dutch for 'love water', but I can't get Dutch or German to come up with anything affectionate about Minneapolis or Minnesota.  Swedish says that 'sota' is soot and Minnesota is memory sweep.  Oh well.  The Dutch language just must be more romantic, eh?  Then again, what's to love about a 'boplein'?  (Oh, wait, Minnebo is a man's name and plein means 'square'...)  And the Internet says Minnesota comes from the Dakota language for water that reflects the sky.  I but digress (never!).

The main street we found was crammed with tempting clothes shops, many British, - not that we went into any - and the place had the air and bustle of money.  There were also loads of little antique shops, not that we went into any of those either.  It would be slightly more dangerous given that we had a large box to drive back to Britain, with no duty to pay within the European Union.  I would like to have browsed, and clothing purchases have been some of my very best souveniers, but I didn't think it was fair to Bill, who's not big on shopping, and it's not what we came for.  Keeping those thoughts in mind probably saved me a lot of money!

Bill was telling me there is a British sort of joke about Belgium along the lines of 'Name three famous Belgians' [cue laughter]. I looked this up on the internet and it turns out one has to name ten famous Belgians (this is an interesting page about national stereotypes as purported on television).

Well, I can't yet name ten famous Belgians, but I can give you three names now: Bradley Wiggins, who is a household name around here at Tour de France time. True, he is a British cyclist, but he was born in Ghent, which should count for something. Also, born in Ghent was Victor Horta. Never heard of him? Me neither, but he is now as emblazoned on my brain as Alphonse Mucha.   Trust me, you're going to learn about this man soon!

Third, I give you Jan van Eyck, whose statue is in the distance in this photo. His is one of those names that swim around with the vague ideas I have about Rembrandt, Monet, Michaelangelo; I've heard of him but wouldn't recognise his work if it fell on my head. No, hang on! I do! I even blogged about one of his paintings. I might end up educated one day if I'm not careful... So, where were we?

We wandered up and down both sides of this canal for absolutely ages.  Most of the houses were in the old style, with the occasional colour surprise.

But now and then there would be something starkly unusual, like this funny window at the top

or this amazing building with the soldier at the top. 

For all that I tend to like old, traditional styles,

this was distinctly appealing.  Don't you agree?

It was also for sale, but though I found the website where it was listed at the time, I can't navigate it in Dutch well enough to find any details about it.  I wasn't planning on living in Bruges anyhow, lovely as it is.

Eventually we came to yet another square.

Also with the modern problem.  

By this time I was somewhat saturated with buildings anyhow.

The one place we did stop was at a small cafe to have a cup of coffee and a Belgian waffle.  I can report that they taste just like the ones you get in the US only (for a change) they are about 3 times larger and soft rather than toasty.  Mine was delicious and I was ready for a sit down.   At the end of our train journey back to Ghent we discovered that the return buses were from a different location and due to the canals there, it wasn't possible to make a straight-forward trip back to the campsite.  So, we had a much longer walk than we'd anticipated.  Never mind, I needed to burn off that waffle anyhow.  We rested up over the weekend in preparation for our adventures in Brussels and Antwerpen (I think that is much more fun to say than just Antwerp, don't you?).

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