Though this Flemish city is small enough to see on foot, one of the best ways to experience it is to take a boat ride on the historic canals of Bruges, Belgium. Bruges began life in the 9th and 10th century with a settlement on what is today likely Burg Square. To facilitate trade, canals were dug from the city center to a tidal inlet known as the “Golden Inlet,” which provided direct access to the North Sea. By the time Bruges received its city charter in 1128, it was exporting wool and cloth goods all over the world. Guild houses and a massive Cloth Hall were constructed around Market Square in Bruges, which became the undisputed heart and soul of the city. Read More
Activities in Market Square in Bruges, Belgium may have changed over the centuries, but one thing hasn’t. It’s still the commercial and cultural center of the city. Since the year 958, Market (Markt in Flemish) Square has been the the scene of medieval festivals, tournaments, and even executions. Weekly markets have been held here since 985. Though the executions have (thankfully) disappeared, the square still hosts a market every Wednesday, with dozens of stalls that offer fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade baked goods, and arts and crafts items. Read More
One hundred years ago, the Flanders region of Belgium lay in ruins. World War One had left cities like Ypres razed to the ground. Many such towns were in such a state of ruin that Winston Churchill suggested they be left as monuments to the Great War rather than being rebuilt. To many, it seemed inconceivable that these “Wasted Lands of WWI” could ever recover.
A century later, I found little in the way of devastation. Blue-green fields of corn, potatoes, and cabbage stretched to the horizon, broken only by an occasional hillock or pasture where cows grazed nonchalantly. Cyclists in royal blue Lycra tops and shorts flew by, competing in one of the many races held throughout the summer. Pretty villages appeared around every curve and the meandering Ijzer River sparkled under a brilliant sun. Read More
The Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium, is truly the heart of the city. Though the square is mentioned in documents dating back to the 12th century, the buildings from that era were destroyed during three days of bombardment by troops of Louis XIV in 1695. Rather than rebuild in a more modern style, city fathers decided to recreate the original buildings down to their smallest detail immediately following the bombardment. Despite scarcity of funds and material, they managed to complete the task in just four short years. Today the crown jewel of the Grand Place is the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), with its soaring bell tower and Brabant Gothic design. Read More
Liberty Square in the city of San Marino, which is the capital of the Republic of San Marino. Not only is it one of the tiniest countries in the world, San Marino is completely surrounded by Italy. Though the enclave measures just 24 square miles in size, it is a spectacular 24 square miles. The historic capital city perches atop Monte Titano, a stunning rocky outcrop that thrusts unexpectedly from the plains. The three 11th century castles that crown its peaks served as citadels that protected the early citizenry. Today, they are tourist attractions for those who have stamina enough to make the climb to the top via the city’s cobblestone streets. Read More