Updated: May 22, 2019
You just don’t often hear much about Belgium. Tucked away between France, The Netherlands, and the sea, it’s not necessarily on the typical tourist track. Brussels, the capital, is a very modern, international city and is the headquarters of the European Union. The rest of the country, however, is very Belgian, down to their deepest roots, and the people are very proud of that fact. When we arrived in Bruges (Brügge in Flemish), all of this was immediately evident.
Bruges is another one of those places that isn’t overloaded with sites, but the city just screams old world charm. It’s a city that has been continuously inhabited since the 9th century, and although they’ve had some disputes with their neighbors, the city has never been destroyed. A new building in the city center is “only” 300 years old. We wanted to see this for ourselves.
Old world charm anyone?
We arrived in Bruges in the evening and once we started walking away from the train station it was peacefully quiet. We followed old cobblestone roads down winding streets, staring up and around at colorful old buildings and towering church spires. I honestly wondered if the train we took to get there also somehow traveled back in time. Our apartment, while in the old city, was wonderfully modern inside, so that debunked the time travel theory.
After a much needed morning of sleeping in, we slowly made our way out the door and into the city. We didn’t really have any plans for the day, but shortly after venturing into the city’s central plaza we discovered an afternoon walking tour, and decided it would be a great way to discover the city. On the two hour tour we learned not only about the history here but also about the products Bruges is most known for: lace, chocolate, and beer. The city does a great job of identifying the shops where these products are made locally and how to avoid the tourist traps.
Bruges main square
While on the tour we visited one of the first hospitals in Europe, founded by a group of Christian women known as the Begijns. While not nuns, they dedicate themselves to helping those in need. These women were experts in the medicine of the day and with their knowledge came money and some power, allowing them the ability to build a sort of convent for themselves and also have some sway in the matters of the city. It wasn’t until 1974 that the last Begijn woman passed away.
Bruges has no shortage of impressive churches, each with its own unique story. One such church is said to contain a small amount of the blood of Jesus Christ and a piece of the Holy Cross, which we were fortunate to be able to see. Another church has a sculpture of Michaelangelo’s and is the final resting place to some of the region’s former rulers. Yet another has the second tallest stone tower in Europe. They all look beautiful from the inside and out.
Churches kissing the sky
Bruges really shines along the canal that cuts through the city, and we couldn’t spend enough time in that area. While in this area we discovered that we weren’t the only tourists in town after all, but we still couldn’t get enough of the scenery here. We also made sure not to miss the chance at a Belgian waffle, which I tell you now is much more a pastry than something you would eat as a meal. With some strawberries and whipped cream on it, it was divine.
Never got tired of these views
Leaving Bruges behind, we traveled southeast through Belgium until we reached Luxembourg. Another one of those small countries tucked away in the middle of Europe, we wanted to see what the country was all about. Ruled by a Grand Duke, his palace sits in the capital, Luxembourg City. This is where we made our base for seeing the country (Luxembourg City, not the palace).
Our first day was entirely spent exploring the center of the city, starting with a series of tunnels carved from the rock and used during various wars (up to and including World War II) as a bastion of defense. We saw the Grand Duke’s palace from the outside as we walked through the old streets. We even peeked inside the church where members of the ruling family are laid to rest, the most recent being earlier this year.
On day two we walked out of the city a bit to a cemetery for American soldiers who fell during World War II. Over 5000 US soldiers who lost their lives in the area are buried here, and seeing all the crosses laid out so regally would make even the toughest person emotional. It was mainly US forces that pushed the Germans back in the region, liberating Luxembourg as a result. Even General George Patton, Commander of the Third US Army, is buried here per his request.
Rest in peace
General Patton's grave
After the emotional experience, we needed something lighter so we headed to the Moselle River on the German border. There, after having a nice lunch, we headed to Caves St. Martin, one of the few wineries in an area known for spectacular wines. We took a 45 minute tour of their facility, learning about their processes for picking, fermentation, and resting of wines. The tour concluded with a few samples of wine and sparkling wine, with grape juice for Ethan.
Inside the cellar
That's one big bottle
We are now on our way over the German border to Koblenz, in the Rhine Valley. This area is known to be rich in sites and small towns, and with over a week on the schedule we hope to see as much as we can. Don’t worry, I’ll share it all with you, so stay tuned