The engines fired up early this morning and as soon as the lift bridge was open for business – we were headed to Bruges.
There was another birthday this week – Someone got ice cream for breakfast!
The original trip information we were given was that after breakfast, we would be expected to depart in a timely fashion. Because we didn’t arrive in Bruges until after breakfast, they told us that we could store our luggage with them if we wanted to take a walk around town before we left. We did want to take a walk around town for sure!
It was a short walk through a park to the older part of Bruges. They were setting up for a festival and I was enamored with the bike parking area!
Over a bridge and through the festival area…
And we suddenly found ourselves back in time.
We crossed a bridge and then walked toward the arched bridge in the above picture. I wanted to see what was behind the door. Imagine my surprise to realize that we’d stumbled upon the Ten Wijngaerde, which has been operated as a convent for Benedictines since 1927. It is the story before 1927 that I found really interesting.
I had never heard of the word Béguinage before I researched the history of this place. Starting in the 12th century, communities of like-minded lay religious women began emerging across Europe. Women could join these communities without taking religious vows or retiring from the world, but they did pledge to follow an austere life. The women in these groups were called Beguines, their community was called a Beguinage. There were two types of these communities: small, informal, poor groups and groups established by and supported by the Royal courts of Europe. There were many reasons -spiritual, social and economical for women to gather in these communities, considering the times and the lack of opportunities for women.
I find this somewhat fascinating. Doing a bit more “snooping” on the internet, I found this blog post that nicely provides some more information about the Beguine way of life/story: https://ecampion.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/beguine-communities-and-medieval-history-an-unexpected-treasure/ I was surprised to learn that the Beguines existed into the 21st century – the last Beguine died in 2013, in Ghent.
Before 1240, there was already an informal Beguine community in Bruges, but it wasn’t until 1244 that Margaret of Constantinople made a formal request to the bishop in charge of the area that the community became officially established. In 1299 it came under the direct authority of King Philip the Fair and became known by the name of the Princely Béguinage Ten Wijngaerde. The entrance gate in the picture was built in 1776.
We peeked through the door. There was a large courtyard surrounded by small houses and other buildings. At the door there was a sign requesting silence and respect for the convent and also requesting no photos. So -if you want to see what it looked like you’ll need to book a trip to Bruges! We quietly retreated and kept wandering.
We had no map and no information of what we should see… and no time to see it anyway! 🙂 When in doubt – I usually head for the church, which is what we did. We passed through the Walplein, which is the old name for the town square.
We passed by several wonderful window displays (nothing open yet!)
This is part of the Old St. John’s Hospital. It is one of Europe’s oldest surviving hospital buildings. Starting in the mid 1100’s and onward, the hospital cared for sick travelers and pilgrims. It was in use as a hospital until at least the 1800’s. It is now used for other things – part of it is a museum.
The hospital is adjacent to the Church of Our Lady. This was the entrance, but it wasn’t open when we got there, so we ended up circling the whole church complex.
If I recall the information correctly, they just finished a large scale renovation of the exterior of the church that took something like 10 years to do. We still saw some scaffolding on one side of the church.
The church was open when we got back to the entrance -so we went in. It was a bit disappointing because a large portion of the church was closed off due to the fact that they have now started renovating the interior.
These tombs were for Charles the Bold (Duke of Burgundy) and his daughter, the duchess Mary.
Being the idiots we are sometimes… Someone on the boat had said that a great reason to go to the church was the Michelangelo….so we were keeping our eyes peeled for a Michelangelo. We didn’t really know exactly what we were supposed to look for and we assumed it would be something obvious; like a big neon sign – “LOOK! A Michelangelo!!!” We left the church feeling a bit mystified, wondering how we’d missed it…and wondering if it was hidden behind the temporary walls erected for the interior renovations. It wasn’t until I was back home doing some Googling about the church when the mystery was finally solved. Turns out I accidentally got a picture of it – so here it is!
The Michelangelo is a sculpture of the Madonna and Child circa 1504. (Prominently displayed in the center of the altar). Two Brugean merchants purchased it in Italy and donated it to the church in 1514. It was stolen twice. The first time by French revolutionaries in 1794 and the second time by the Nazis in 1944.
I loved the confessionals – so ornate.
It was time to end our whirlwind walk through the city. I wish we’d had Marcel to lead that last walking tour for us. Bruges was charming in it’s own way. So many pretty buildings and you can’t walk through the town without feeling history seeping into your bones. It was the type of old, historic town that makes you want to stay awhile and peel off a few layers.
We went to the Anna Antal and got our luggage and said goodbye to Marcel, who seemed to be the only one around at the moment.
I had Mike take a picture of me in my Shut Up Legs T-shirt because my sister had given it to me and I knew she’d get a kick out of knowing it went on this trip with me -even though I didn’t once have to say “Shut up legs!”
During the week we rode just shy of 190 miles and our average speed for the days never got much above 10 mph…a very leisurely speed. I can’t say it enough: The group as a whole can make or break a trip. For us, we enjoyed meeting each and every other member of our group. I can only hope they enjoyed meeting us. 😉
As a parting shot, I want to give a big thank you and a “job well done” to our crew. It takes a certain type of personality to deal with the ins and outs of leading a disparate group of people nearly 200 miles -and Marcel handled the challenge we presented to him with a smile (most of the time…hah…I’m sure we punched a few of his buttons).
Our captain, Jan, piloted our barge with skill and often visited with the group later in the evenings. He was all business when he had his captain hat on, but I liked that he joined us now and then.
Our chef, Hans, was very creative and although I’m a fussy eater -I never went completely hungry. He was also willing to make something else if we asked. Our birthday treats were wonderful.
Our deckhand and all around busy bee, Baris, did his tasks so efficiently we hardly realized how many things he was responsible for – from assisting the captain when the boat was on the move to cleaning cabins to assisting the chef, to folding our paper napkins into decorative shapes every day. We noticed!
I think the best compliment we can give is to say we’d absolutely recommend this trip to anyone and we’d also enjoy going back and doing it again someday!
Bye bye Anna Antal!
We got our next-to-the- last workout dragging our heap of luggage at least a 1/2 mile to the (not so) “nearby” train station! (To be fair -they would have called a cab for us.) We bought our tickets to Schiphol airport and had an uneventful train ride, changing trains in Antwerp. At Schiphol, we looked for the shuttle area for the airport hotel buses -in vain- and finally asked someone where our hotel was. “Nearby” …and thus began the last workout of the day, dragging our luggage quite a distance to the hotel. I could only think about how fun it would be dragging it back to the airport the next morning!
On our way to the train station in Bruges, I finally took a picture of a traffic signal for the bike lanes.
Don’t hesitate… GO!