Monday, January 12, 2015

Belgium: In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row"

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae-  "In Flanders' Fields"

To understand Flanders, you need to understand a little about its history. History here began in the 9th century when the First Count of Flanders Baldwin Iron Arm built a castle at the junction of the Leie and Lieve Rivers as a defense against the marauding Norsemen. Flanders became an independent fief owing fealty to the King of France. France was much too busy with its own internal problems to pay much attention to Flanders. It thrived on its independence in the north. The cloth that was produced in Flanders was highly valued all over Europe. This very wealth brought it back to the attention of the French.

A strategic marriage between Phillipa of Hainault and Edward III of England turned the loyalty of Flanders toward the English and against the French. The Hundred Years War saw the power move back and forth between the English and the French. When the Count of Flanders died without a male heir, his daughter was forced to marry the brother of the King of France, the Duke of Burgundy and thus began the rule of Burgundy. A marriage between Burgundy and the Hapsburgs swung the rule into the Empire. Napoleon forced French rule back on the Flemish and finally after his defeat they became a part of the newly formed Belgium. Today there are two distinct parts of Belgium. Flanders where Flemish is spoken and Wallonia where French is spoken.
Basilica of the Holy Blood in Brugge
All of Belgium is roughly the size of Maryland so visiting a variety of cities in Flanders is both easy and enjoyable.

Kortrijk:/Courtrai Home to the Battle of the Golden Spurs this is a place of particular pride to all of Flanders.
Church in Leuven where St Damian the leper is buried

Bruges/Brugge: This UNESCO city is as perfect a medieval city as you will ever see. It is as beautiful as it is war and historic.

Ghent/Gent/Gant; Often overlooked because of it’s flashier sister Bruges, this is a vital and beautiful city that has some of the finest art in all Flanders.

Mechelen/Malines: Beautiful Churches and a not to be missed museum make this a must stop.

Louvain/Leuven; This is the quintessential university city with a fair dose of history, art, and a very famous saint.

Tournai/Doornik: Though technically in Wallonia it is close enough to be included. 

Where to stay: Van Hercke bed and breakfast

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