June 16, 2014- The magic Monday dawned, cloudy and cool. I left Lille, with the knowledge that THIS time, I would not need to go back to Paris, in order to catch the train to my next destination. I boarded the train around 10:30, and headed unceremoniously across the Belgian border, at Tourncoing/Mouscron (Moeskron). For the next three days, all signs would be in French and in Flemish (Dutch). Today, I would visit two siblings, and rivals: Brugge (Brooj, or Bruhh; your choice, but the majority Flemish like the second, more guttural sound) and Ghent.
Belgium does not, however come across as schizoid as some have had it look. The French and Flemish make an effort to get along, at least in public. The best thing I saw to do as a visitor was to listen carefully to the Flemish, make an effort to use some words in their language, and let our mutual English do the rest. Since I was already doing this among the French-speakers, it was more of the same.
I found Brugge cool, temperature-wise, but quite cordial in terms of greeting. I was able to easily place my bags in a storage locker, and devote several hours to this seedbed of capitalism. Here is the main train station.
I crossed the Stationplatz, and found Kong Albert Park waiting to greet everyone with a pleasant green space. Greenery did not matter so much to the early masters of commerce, but it matters now, to their descendants.
The streets in this UNESCO World Heritage Site are narrow, but workable, and a system of canals goes everywhere.
Smedenpoort is one of the gates that kept Old Bruges on guard, at all times, as the city state grew.
Hanssenspark, a greenspace on the east side of town, lends an air of solace to Brugge, even as the city shows some modern honours to those who fought in the World Wars, for which Belgium suffered greatly.
Belgium is far enough north for some evergreens, which brought back memories of my New England boyhood.
I came upon Kerk Sint-Jacob, built by the people of West Flanders in honour of St. James the Elder. A series of panels in the church depicts his martyrdom.
This series is similar to that found in El Prado, in Madrid.
The Deacon’s Mount is just south of the Main Altar.
As one leaves the church, there is a tympanum, with St. James watching over a lion.
This is fortuitous for Brugge, which was faced, for several centuries, with taming its mercantile beast- maintaining prosperity, while at least somewhat minding the passions of its soul. In Part II, I will focus on the Centrum- the heart of Brugge.