Things to Do in Flanders - page 2
Historium Brugge lets you travel back in time and experience Bruges as it was during its Golden Age. Through multimedia and special effects, medieval history comes alive in this interactive museum—one of the city’s most popular attractions—as you explore themed rooms with an audio guide, climb a Gothic tower, and peruse historical exhibits.
Standing next to city hall on Burg Square, the Basilica of the Holy Blood (Heilig-Bloedbasiliek) is a highlight of Bruges’ historical center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church dates back to the 12th century and houses one of the city’s most sacred relics: a vial believed to contain the blood of Jesus Christ.
The only brewery still working in Bruges’ city center, Brouwerij De Halve Maan has been operated by the same family since 1856. It’s believed, however, to have been in operation for much longer: The first recorded mention of the brewery dates from 1546, when Bruges was home to more than 30 breweries.
The historical and cultural heart of Antwerp, Grand Market Place (Grote Markt van Antwerpen) is surrounded by lavish 16th-century guild houses and the Cathedral of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal). Although many of the buildings burned down in the 16th century, they were rebuilt in the same style and showcase Flemish architecture.
Ever since the now-iconic ‘Antwerp Six’ (Walter Van Beirendonck, Dries van Noten, Dirk van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, Marina Yee, Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela) took the international catwalks by storm back in the 1980s, the city of Antwerp has firmly cemented its place on the global fashion radar. Since then, Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Hogeschool) has become one of the world’s leading design schools and the city has become synonymous with cutting-edge fashion.
It’s fitting then, that Antwerp’s hugely popular Mode Museum (MoMu) should put the spotlight on the fashion industry, showcasing a vast permanent collection of over 25,000 fashion-related items. The clothing, fabrics and textiles include pieces from as far back as the 16th century, intricate lacework and embroidery, tools for artisan textile processing and ethnic costumes, alongside a library of over 15,000 fashion books, catalogue and magazines. Even the museum’s location is on-trend, housed in the same building as the Flanders Fashion Institute, the Brasserie National and the Hogeschool’s fashion department.
Please note: The ModeMuseum (MoMu) is currently closed for renovation. The reopening is scheduled for fall 2020.
The Tyne Cot Cemetery, located near Zonnebeke, Belgium, is the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world. It contains the graves of nearly 12,000 soldiers who died between October 1914 and September 1918 while fighting in World War I. Unfortunately about 70% of the people buried there were never identified. The graves of the unknown soldiers are marked with tombstones that read “Known unto God.” In addition to these unknown soldiers, a list of nearly 35,000 names is on a wall at the back of the cemetery honoring soldiers who have no known grave and died between August 1917 and the end of the war.
Many of the fallen soldiers were buried in nearby battlefields or smaller cemeteries, but after the war ended, the graves were moved to the Tyne Cot Cemetery. A few remaining German blockhouse can still be seen at the cemetery, and they have been incorporated into the memorial as a way to honor the soldiers who died trying to capture them. On one of them, the Cross of Sacrifice, also called the Great Cross, was built at the suggestion of King George V who visited the cemetery in 1922. The cross can be seen through the entrance of the cemetery and is often photographed.
In the 16th century Antwerp – along with Paris – was one of the leading lights of the Northern Renaissance; among the brightest stars on the city’s stage at that time was Christophe Plantin, who established a printing workshop in his imposing townhouse in 1555. As well as contributing one of the most popular fonts still in use today, Plantin developed one of the busiest and most advanced publishing houses in northern Europe, now a UNESCO World Heritage-listed museum of print and early book publishing.
After Plantin’s death in 1589, his son-in-law Jan Moretus took over the printing empire and it remained active until 1867. Today the museum is laid out as if the compositors had just downed tools; the period workshops and rooms showcase printing presses dating back to the 16th century, graphic anatomical drawings featuring dissections, a vast collection of prints by Antwerp masters dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, and a library of 30,000 rare volumes. The artist Peter Paul Rubens, another local boy made good, illustrated many of the books published by the Plantin workshop and painted some of the family portraits displayed in the museum but the masterpiece of the collection is undoubtedly the priceless 36-line Gutenberg Bible dating from 1455.
Just a short drive outside of Brussels, this village offers some of the area’s best luxury shopping with access to 95 designer shops. The area’s traditional Limburg style of architecture is reflected in the form of the buildings, and the location in the quiet countryside carries over into the village. Conceived as a historical mining village, it is now filled with high-end boutiques containing both local Belgian brands such as Essentiel, Olivier Strelli, and Sarah Pacini, and internationally known labels such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. Prices are often significantly lower than similar nearby shops.
Of course it is important to refuel after a long day of shopping, and the village has both traditional Belgian treats such as waffles and moules frites in addition to Italian cuisine at the center’s outdoor Gastronomia Cellini. Just be sure to bring enough strength to carry multiple shopping bags.
A candy-striped confection of white sandstone and red brick, the 14th-century Gothic Butcher's Hall (Vleeshuis) originally served as a meat market but now fulfills the more refined role of music museum. Today, you can admire exquisite antique musical instruments such as Delftware mandolins at Museum Vleeshuis.
Hill 60 was a World War I battlefield in the Ypres Salent battlegrounds of Flanders named for its height at 60 meters (197 feet) above sea level. It was the site of intense fighting between British and German troops in April and May 1915. The British attack on April 17, 1915, began with the explosion of three mines which blew the top off the hill. Hundreds of soldiers died, and because of the continued fighting in this area, it was not possible to identify or even recover many of the bodies. Tunneling and mining operations were carried out here throughout the war by French, British, Australian and German troops. If tunnels caved in, soldiers who died underground were often left behind because of the difficulty of retrieving them. The remains of many soldiers from both sides of the war are still at this site.
At Hill 60 is a memorial to the 1st Australian Tunneling Company. Its plaque has bullet holes from World War II when this area was briefly fought over again. Near this memorial is the 14th Light Division Memorial. The site also holds the remains of several concrete bunkers which were used by both sides. Several other memorials and monuments are located at Hill 60 to honor soldiers who fought here during World War I.
More Things to Do in Flanders
There are more than 600 beers brewed in Belgium, from fruit and white beers to Trappist ales brewed by monks, strongdubbels and yeasty lambics. The Flanders region has been known for its specialty beers since the Middle Ages and the Bruges Beer Museum (Brugs Biermuseum), sandwiched between the Markt and Burg in medieval Bruges, provides a high-tech overview of the development of the Flemish brewing industry. The museum opened in 2014 and its tours are cleverly guided by iPad, educating visitors on the many different varieties of Belgian beer, their fermentation and brewing methods. All ingredients can be tasted along the way and interactive touch screens offer beer challenges, explain provenances and suggest food pairings; for kids there is a special tour that involves finding and rescuing an 850-year-old bear.
All tours of the museum end up in the tasting room, for panoramic views over the medieval architecture of Markt as well as the chance to taste three of 16 draught beers accompanied by cheeses to mop up the alcohol. Soft drinks are available for all visitors younger than 16.
Located inside the Historium Brugge building in the center of Bruges, the Duvelorium Grand Beer Café offers a relaxing space to have a drink and a bite following a Historium tour. Belgian-beer aficionados will want to spend some time at the bar, which is open to the general public and offers excellent people watching and Market Square views.
Occupying a 26-acre (10.5-hectare) site behind the city’s grandiose railway station, Antwerp Zoo was built in 1843 – when it was outside the city walls – in colorful Art Nouveau style; as well as being one of the oldest zoos in the world, it must be the only one where the elephants are housed in an Egyptian temple swathed in hieroglyphics.
Currently the zoo has more than 5,000 animals of around 950 species; family favorites such as lions, tigers, polar bears, zebras and gorillas, are housed among the spacious and colonnaded enclosures, themed habitats, Arctic pools, aquariums, reptile house, aviaries, winter gardens and petting zoo for toddlers. There are daily talks plus penguin and sea lion shows; elephant, seal and hippo feeding sessions; 3-D movies in the Planetarium; and plenty of eating options for families, from waffle stands to brasserie dining.
Despite its early foundation, this is one of the more forward-thinking of European zoos, running successful conservation and breeding programs and looking to run sustainably on its own resources. Recent breeding successes have included rare Malayan tapirs, endangered okapi and Eurasian black vultures, while fresh additions at the zoo are the spectacular Reef Aquarium and the restored Flemish Garden, where two cute koala bears have taken up residence as part of an international breeding initiative. A new Savannah habitat is also being planned.
Right across the road from Antwerp’s other great family attraction, the zoo, Aquatopia is housed in a biscuit-colored Art Deco building and aims to educate and entertain kids on life in our oceans. With seven, maze-like themed marine habitats from rainforest to mangrove swamp, it provides a stimulating way to teach children about the amazing natural world beneath the sea. More than 10,000 fish and reptiles from over 250 species – from sea horses to sharks to iguanas – are housed in 40 aquariums with interactive presentations providing information on each tank; glass tunnels lead underwater so youngsters can get up close to the rays, eels and striking angel fish, enjoy the colors of the coral and watch turtles lumbering through the water.
Belgium is famed for itsfrites (fries), and the Frietmuseum in Bruges pays homage to this quintessential—and delicious—national dish. Founded in 2008, it claims to be the world’s only museum dedicated to potato fries and offers visitors the chance to learn about the history of the ever-popular snack.
Sint-Janshospitaal (Saint John's Hospital) is one of the oldest surviving hospital buildings in Europe. The hospital cared for pilgrims, travellers, and the sick for more than 800 years. The old infirmary cared for patients from the 12th century to the middle of the 19th century when the hospital moved to a nearby red brick building, where patients were treated until 1978.
Visitors may tour the chapel and the medieval wards where monks and nuns performed their charitable work, and explore the hospital’s impressive collection of artwork, vintage medical instruments, and archives. Also worth a visit are the pharmacy and its herb garden, the Diksmuide attic, the old dormitory, and the custodian’s room. SintJanshospitaal owns six works by the artist Hans Memling (one of the most important Flemish Primitive painters, who lived and worked in Bruges in the 15th century), as well as many religious sculptures and paintings that depict what life in the hospital was like throughout the centuries. The museum, which is now located in the old infirmary, teaches the curious visitor more about hospital life in the past and how the wards would have looked then.
Ghent is Belgium’s best-kept secret, a cosmopolitan university city of imposing churches, top-quality museums and some of the most beautiful medieval architecture in Europe. Add to this a vigorous cultural scene, packed late-night bars, restaurants and clubs, plus stylish hotels and this is a city not to be missed.
The city’s pedestrianized heart surrounds triangular Korenmarkt, which was the medieval market place, with most of the major sights – the ornate Stadhuis, St Bavo’s Cathedral, St Nicholas’ Church and the Belfry – within easy walking distance. Just northwest of Korenmarkt, the River Leie is canalized and bordered with the medieval quays of Graslei and Korenlei; it curls through Ghent on its way to join the River Schelde and a network of canals leading to the port. Close by, the austere Gravensteen Castle lies on a split in the Leie, and beyond that is Patershol, an enclave of narrow streets crammed with 17th-century artisanal cottages. Now delightfully revamped, the district is currently scene of Ghent’s hottest nightlife. Ghent’s other focal square is Vrijdagmarkt, which is huge, tree lined and surrounded by ancient guild houses – now mostly shops and restaurants – where markets spring up most weekends. In the south of the city, Citadelpark is the location of two excellent art galleries.
The Essex Farm Cemetery is a World War I burial site outside of Ypres, Belgium. There are 1,200 servicemen buried or commemorated here, including 103 unidentified soldiers. Essex Farm was an Advanced Dressing Station during the war, so many of the casualties handled there were laid to rest in this cemetery. Remains of some of the bunkers used for medical services can still be seen near the cemetery. There is also a memorial to the 49th West Riding Division.
John McCrae, a World War I soldier who fought in the Ypres Salient battlegrounds, wrote a poem called “In Flanders Fields” after a friend of his was killed. It is believed that he was in the area of the Essex Farm Advanced Dressing Station when he wrote it. In the poem, he talks about the poppies in Flanders fields, and his short but moving poem became well known. Because of this poem, the poppy has become a symbol of remembrance.
Famous for one of the world’s largest collections of work by Flemish baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp(KMSKA) showcases art by Flemish masters such as van Dyck and Jordaens. The acclaimed gallery, which opened in 1890, exhibits 15th-century masterpieces beside more-modern works by Titian, Modigliani, and Rodin.
Please note: The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp is currently closed for renovation. The reopening is scheduled for 2020.However, most of the art can still be viewed at different venues throughout the city.
The Vladslo German War Cemetery is a burial ground located near the village of Vladslo, Belgium, which is about 16 miles north of Ypres and 25 miles southwest of Brugge. By the end of World War I, German soldiers were buried all over Belgium, from single or group sites in the woods to larger cemeteries with several thousand soldiers. In the years after the war, German officials worked with Belgian officials to gather and relocated many of the graves scattered throughout the country to give the soldiers a proper burial. This resumed after World War II, and in 1954 an agreement was made to have most of the fallen German soldiers from World War I moved to three different collecting cemeteries.
The cemetery in Vladslo is essentially a mass grave containing more than 25,000 graves from 61 locations. Each simple tombstone has the names, ranks, and dates of death for 20 deceased German soldiers. One of the soldiers buried here was Peter Kollwitz, the 18-year-old son of famous artist Käthe Kollwitz. Out of sorrow for her son, Kollwitz created two statues called “The Mourning Parents” which are located at the back of the cemetery.
The Dodengang (Trench of Death) was one of the most dangerous locations of Belgian troops on the Western Front during World War I. It is a half-mile long network of revetments, saps and dug-outs near Diksmuide in Flanders, and it was only 55 yards from a German bunker. The Belgian Army was here to prevent the German troops from advancing toward France. As a result, soldiers in this trench were under almost constant attack from the opposing forces. Conditions were harsh and life for the Belgian soldiers was rigorous. Soldiers had to man the trenches for three days straight before getting three days of rest in a cantonment at the back of the combat zone. The Trench of Death was the heart of Belgian resistance until the successful Battle of Flanders which began on September 28, 1918.
Visiting the Dodengang will give perspective on the size and conditions of the trenches. The visitor center uses maps, photographs, videos and war memorabilia to tell the story of life and death on the front lines. The exhibits explain how the Belgians kept fighting for four years and what kinds of weapons and equipment they used.
In pole position at the heart of Antwerp’s lovely, medieval Grote Markt, the Brabo Fountainstands in front of the ornate, pennant‐encrusted Stadhuis (Town Hall) and was created in 1887by the renowned Flemish sculptor Jef Lambeaux. The flamboyant Baroque statue represents alegend concerning the origins of the city: more than 2,000 years ago Antwerp was a smallsettlement in the Roman Empire when a Russian ‘giant’ called Druon Antigoon settled on thebanks of the River Scheldt and charged ships to sail up the river; if sailors refused to pay the toll, Druon Antigoon cut their hands off in revenge. A Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo –rumored to be a relative of Julius Caesar – refused to pay and subsequently killed the giant in aduel, cutting off his hand and throwing it into the Scheldt. The hand became a symbol ofAntwerp’s freedom and still features on the city’s coat of arms; the bronze Brabo Fountainfeatures Silvius Brabo atop a pedestal awash with mythical sea monster, his body twisted in theact of throwing the hand into the river.
Opened in 1987 in the now-fashionable Zuid neighborhood, the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (M HKA)contributed to the rejuvenation of the formerly dilapidated district. Transformed into a cutting-edge gallery by architect Michel Grandsard, the museum exhibits more than 4,750 multimedia works by some of Flanders’ foremost contemporary artists.
Located just east of Ypres, Sanctuary Wood stands as a stark reminder of the horrors of World War I in the Ypres Salient. Initially a place of refuge for Allied soldiers to rest and recuperate, by 1917 the woods were bang on the Front Line and trenches had been built for the troops to live in and fight from. At the end of the war, the farmer who owned the land returned and decided to preserve a length of tunnels and trenches – one of the few sections that were not ploughed over and returned to farming land – in which bullet holes are still clearly visible, along with the tree stumps blasted during shelling and the inadequate corrugated iron shelters for the soldiers. A small museum stands nearby, displaying munitions and weapons removed from the trenches, a British Army cooking wagon, and some graphic 3D images of life in the trenches. As the inevitable tragic result of the fierce battles around Ypres, several war cemeteries are nearby, including Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, designed by Sir Edwin Luytens and immaculately kept with 2,000 war graves standing in neat rows, and the Hill 62 Memorial honoring the Canadian participation in defending Ypres.
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