May 9, 2013

Medieval Splendor

“The further back I look, the further forward I see.”  Winston Churchill

Carol writes:  We found a great campground with all the bells and whistles that we needed that was just a short bus ride from the heart of the historic area in lovely Bruges.  It was a beautiful sunny day for laundry and we had been keeping a pretty hectic pace for the past week and so, by mutual agreement, we made the first day in Bruges a day for chores.  The first lesson I learned was that 3 loads of laundry in the Wonder Wash is one load too many for the drying rack.  As expected, we got lots of strange looks as we cranked away on the wash tub; however, we were the ones with clean clothes and linens in the end, so I will accept strange looks as part of laundry days.
We have quickly learned how to figure out general bus routes and schedules and where to obtain basic information to get started in a new city.  Most cities have a great tourist information kiosk, and these can be found on maps or by looking for the building in a central area with a sign that has a lower case “i.”

As we started out the next day on our walking tour of Bruges, we hadn’t progressed very far in this fascinating medieval city before we began to understand how special and quaint Bruges was.  Our walking tour took us into lovely Saint Savior’s Cathedral, Bruges’ oldest parish church,

past Town Hall,  a Gothic treasure which became a model for successive town halls,

into the enchanting Markt Square,

 down side streets where we saw two houses with unique and authentic 16th century wooden house fronts,

 and into the courtyard of a Jesuit monastery for a moment of heavenly peace all to ourselves.

We had lunch in Jan van Eyckplein, an historic former merchant plaza, and thoroughly enjoyed a wonderful conversation with a couple who had just driven in from the UK via the Chunnel.  Practically every person we have met from the UK is delighted to learn that we plan to spend the summer in their country, and they have provided us with a wealth of tips for our planned summer visit.  This couple was more than generous!  Like everyone we talk to, this couple had their own favorite town or attraction that we ‘must not miss’, so we took notes or, frequently, our “informal tourist guides” drew a rudimentary map and provided correct spelling for the topic of discussion.

After lunch our walk took us over 700-year-old St. Augustine Bridge, where merchants in the Middle Ages displayed their wares on its stone seats,

past the most frequently photographed spot in Bruges,

 and then into the Gothic Basilica of the Holy Blood where a reliquary of the precious blood of Christ was entombed in a silver tabernacle.

Our walk through Bruges pleased us in every way.  The less travelled cobbled alleys truly catapulted us straight back into the Middle Ages.

 Al had read about a wonderful medieval castle called Gravensteen in nearby Ghent, so we decided to stay in our gourmet campground an extra day and go for the experience of a short train ride to Ghent the next day.  One brief mention about local trains—clean, efficient, and on-time! 

Gravensteen, the Castle of the Counts, was a very impressive medieval fortress that took us back in time with an excellent self-guided tour that explained its history dating back to the 12th century.

In every way for us, both Bruges and Ghent satisfied our curiosity about medieval life and architectural styles.  Likewise, the social interaction with other campers and travelers the past few days has been very interesting.  Just about “perfect in every way” would be a fair description of our lunch in Bruges next to a couple down for the weekend from the UK.  At our morning bus stop we met an entertaining older couple from France who were staying in our campground and seemed most eager to have conversations with us, although neither of them spoke a word of English.  Through pantomime, hand gestures and my meager spattering of French, we were able to communicate on a simple level.  The older gentleman even poked gentle fun at Al by pointing out that he hadn’t shaved that morning.  At one point I was actually praised by the older gentleman for an appropriate response in French that I had dredged up from a classroom long ago.   

Al has mentioned that we do stand out somewhat in campgrounds because of our unique RV model with its “snazzy colors” and strange Colorado license plates.  One night we were visited by a couple who live in a house near the campground.  For entertaining nightly walks they said they like to stroll through the campground and strike up conversations.  We invited them into our RV for a “tour,” and when we brought out our map of Europe, they proceeded to provide us with a wealth of travel tips.  In a slightly different vein, I thoroughly enjoyed talking to two relatively young adult cousins from the UK who were in Belgium for a bachelor party.  Their youthful exuberance and curious questions about our adventure served up some enjoyable give and take, with no language barriers.  I had to laugh because the woman said she knew we were from the US because of our “American accent,” all the while I was thinking that I could listen to her “British accent” for hours, as it was so pleasing to my American ears.

“Never let your schoolin’ interfere with your education.”  Mark Twain





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