From Brussels we made two daytrips, one to Bruges and one to Ypres.
Bruges is rumored to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, perhaps one of the half-dozen cities that claim to be the “Venice of the North.” We visited on a drizzly Monday, in which all the museums were closed and everything was wet. I don’t recommend doing that, and won’t let it color my observations too much.
Boat tours in the city are cheap and worthwhile; they take between 30 and 45 minutes. Less expensive food can be had off of the side streets. There’s a church tower to climb and some neat windmills around the edge of the city, and mostly I just enjoyed walking around.
Our second daytrip from Brussels was the area in and around Ypres, where we visited some Commonwealth and German cemeteries. The countryside in the region is dotted with battlefields, and we even visited a spot where you can walk inside a reconstructed trench.
The best part was our guide, who knew plenty about the area and the war. One remarkable stop was Caterpillar Crater, a 50ft deep crater created by a British mining operation in the Battle of Messines in 1917.
It was eerie to walk through a cemetery containing some 40,000 dead, and even more strange to know that it’s only a fraction of the millions killed in the war. We’re approaching the 100th anniversary of WWI, so I’m sure there will be a great deal of public reflection over the next several years.
On a lighter note, the last few days in Brussels found me at a Bahamas concert at Botanique. He was by far the best solo performer I’ve ever seen, and the crowd was really diggin’ it. Also, the concert was in another underground brick basement, which seems to be all the rage in Brussels.