Sunday, September 16, 2007


Feeling the travel bug, we decided to take a drive to Bruges, Belgium, this weekend for a quick overnight stay. We left at sun up on Saturday, driving through the Channel Tunnel and up the coast of northern France on to Bruges. The drive took us about 4 hours total.

Bruges is quite beautiful (it's often referred to as the "Venice of the North" because of its canals). The city's historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and does not disappoint--much of its medieval architeture is well preserved.

By the14th century Bruges had become an important commercial center (wool, cloth, banking) but later fell on hard times and its canal to the sea silted up. As a result the city went into hundreds of years of decline (by the mid-1800s was the poorest city in Belgium) but the upshot is that without economic development, the city center remained virtually unchanged.

Bruges' other claim to fame is as a base for the Flemish painting school and the city is home to a number of small museums with masterpieces by the likes of Jan Van Eyck and Hans Memling.

My favorite paintings from the weekend are:

"The Madonna with Canon Joris van der Paele" painted by Van Eyck in 1436:

"Sibylle Sambetha" painted by Memling in 1480:

And "Portrait of Jacquemyne Buuck" painted by Pieter Porbus in 1551:

We took a number of photos of our own in between eating waffles, nibbling local chocolates (ok, more like scarfing) and toasting one another with glasses of heavily intoxicating Belgian beer:

[For larger, higher quality photos, click here].

On the way back, we tried in vain to find any kind of museum or interpretive marker in Dunkerque, France, commemorating the heroic efforts of some 900 British civilians, who in 1940 crossed the Channel in their own small boats to rescue some 300K French and British soldiers who were pinned on the beach by the Nazis. Instead, we found a run-down Atlantic City-esque seatown resort with a number of sketchy drifters wandering the streets. Locating the Bureau de Tourisme, we quickly dismissed the listing on its billboard for the local Musee de Beaux-Arts. Our mistake. Upon return home, a quick Google reveals the museum has an impressive collection of 16th century masters. Crap!

We also struck out in Calais. This is the town where the Channel Tunnel is located, but also an important English holding during medieval times so I was curious to see if any medieval architecture survived the test of time. As far as I could tell, it did not. We didn't spend much time exploring, as Scott quickly pronounced it to have a depressing, has-been feel, and I couldn't quite convince him to stop the car. So we continued on and spent our last hours in France awaiting our appointed crossing time trolling the Channel Tunnel duty free shop buying chocolate and Belgian beer. I guess I can't complain.

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