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Bruges and Waterloo: the peacefull and the fierce

Bruges and Waterloo: the peacefull and the fierce

Old Mar 12th, 2016, 03:44 AM
  #1  
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Bruges and Waterloo: the peacefull and the fierce

Bruges and Waterloo made an odd combination for a weekend trip. But I can't help it: October last year, I decided that it would be my last pleasure trip before "the winter is coming". (I'm sensitive to cold weather.) And I felt an urge to see both Bruges and Waterloo. I'm a fan of history, especially of the Napoleon period; but I'm also a fan of medieval towns and canals.

Now some of you might say that Bruges is a tourist trap. I respectfully disagree. There were tourists during the day (not to an extent that I would call it "swarming), but after 20 o'clock I almost had the streets for myself. At 7 o'clock the next morning, it was a heaven for photographers: I was all alone in a serene Bruges. I'm not a good photographer, but my photos belows would testify to the beauty of the morning town.

And for the record, the town was not built for tourists: it was authentic, though frozen. Wouldn't the frozen part be great for a step back in time?

After friday's work, I took a bus to Lille (France), stayed there for the night and took the earliest train to Bruges on saturday morning. It was an economic option, as Lille hotels are cheaper than Bruges' ones, and the bus to Lille are cheap too. Budget will play a big part in my voyages.

I stayed in Hotel Du Moulin D'or in Lille: it was close to the rail station, it was cheap but clean and comfortable. I arrived late but I had no problem finding the room key that they had left me.

Next post to continue.
FuryFluffy is offline  
Old Mar 12th, 2016, 03:58 AM
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"...after 20 o'clock I almost had the streets for myself. At 7 o'clock the next morning, it was a heaven for photographers: I was all alone in a serene Bruges."

Agree completely. During the years we lived in Brussels, we made more than a dozen overnight trips to Bruges. Even during the day, once you got out of the central core, you could find plenty of untouristy areas. And as you noted, in the evenings and the early mornings, it was amazing.
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Old Mar 12th, 2016, 04:18 AM
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Bruges I found very atmospheric, there was an old church there whose atmosphere suffocated me - very spiritual and I'm not always that moved. There was something very special about that place, so special I cant remember the name of the church.

Apologies here for detail: Im also a fan of history but don't know much about Waterloo. I read Bernard Cornwell's good book on the battle and what I remember thinking is that it was more by luck than design that Napoleon was defeated. Wat was Wellington doing strutting around in the line of fire? Had he been hit you wonder what may have happened. That said, one of the skirmishes that turned the whole battle around was virtually leaderless based more on intuition than planning.
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Old Mar 12th, 2016, 05:49 AM
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Re-read Bernard Cornwell's book, very well written. You'll see luck has nothing to do with Napoleon's defeat.
He accumulated mistakes, the first and foremost being that he could beat the allied troops, which numbered more than 1 Million troops capable of coming in the summer.

The Corsican had less than 300 000 men. including some 'territorials' (quite old soldiers).

He thought he had beaten Blucher at Ligny and sent too many troops with Grouchy in pursuit.

He sent too many men and not enough artillery against Hougoumont, where the Allied had few troops.

Ney charged several times the artillery but hadn't any material with him to spike the cannons : servants returned after each charge and used the guns again.

At the end of the day Naopleon sent his troops in columns, his favorite formation, which had always defeated the enemy. The column was broken by the line, that the British mastered quite well and which could pour simply too much lead into the french columns : the Brits fired very quickly.

So Napoleon didn't break the Brits and the Prussians came.
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Old Mar 13th, 2016, 06:58 AM
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Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think luck did play some role (albeit not decisive) in the result of the battle of Waterloo. The long and heavy raining had been hindering Napoleon's artillery. Of course, as a great general, he should have learnt how to deal with weather, but when he was in attacking position and going upward, there was nothing much he could do. Also, his health didn't fare well that day (or in that entire period). The amount of mistakes and the graveness of mistakes that his side made are inexplicable except because of his health. I know how a small diarrhea affected my exam's result, so, for such a big battle..

Also, the Prussians came just in time. Napoleon was gaining against Wellington at that moment, although the Brits was holding on quite well and doing much damaged to the French side.

Grouchy's terrible decision to not "head to where he heard the canon sound" is another detail that still makes me pull my hair when I think of it.

In the long term Napoleon would lose no matter what. The whole Europe had aligned against him. But the battle of Waterloo alone was decided by so many intervened things, so many up and down, that's why it still attract people nowadays.
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Old Mar 13th, 2016, 07:01 AM
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Thank you WeisserTee and stevelyon.
I would like to know the name of that atmospheric old church, if one day you remember it, stevelyon ^^
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Old Mar 15th, 2016, 11:57 AM
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Day 1&2: Bruges

Bruges was the first medieval canal town that I had encountered, so naturally I was awed by it.

I had found a discount at Hotel ‘t Putje in Bruges and booked it. Really good deal: the hotel was cute, situated at the animated t’Zand market and near the railway station. They also gave me a free copious breakfast the next day. The view from my room’s window couldn’t be better, with red tile roofs filling the air as far as eyes could see. I suddenly wanted to climb on those brick roofs and run like a court thief, but I restrained myself: I still had 2 days to go.

I went out into the t'Zand market for breakfast. The roast chicken stand, as some Fodorites mentioned, was to die for.

From there I followed the winding alleys with Notre-Dame cathedral looming over. I then took a boat tour on the canals. The boat guide introduced the scenery we were passing by in 3 different languages , it was fun but the switching between English, French and Spanish gave me a headache. At some point he (jokingly) offered to speak Chinese but luckily he wasn't carried away by it. At the end of the tour, I tipped him some money for having kept it down to three.

The guide said that if the canal was frozen in the winter, they could ice-skate all the way from here to Holland. How convenient.

The flea market along the canal is another highlight. I love markets. Fish or wood, fruit or antique silverware, they all appeal to me. There were plenty of beautiful objects in this market.

I continued strolling in the town. Some beer bar put Plato's words on the wall:
"He was a wise man who invented beer."
(In case you wonder, those words were ALWAYS wrongly attributed to Plato.)
I passed by De Garre but committed the mistake of not entering it to drink me away.

I seemed to have waffles with cream and strawberries for lunch that day. I hadn't remembered having waffles that good. Or chocolate. Myriad of chocolatiers with all kinds or shapes: chocolate skulls and witches (clearcly for the upcoming Halloween), chocolate hammers, and at some point, chocolate boobs (looked so delicious!).

Bruges is famous for its lace making. The Lace Museum located in a quiet quarter, with many nice doors around. There was a show of lace making in the museum at 14h. If you are there, look for the oldest lady: she has a lightning-fast speed of lacing. The other younger ladies, not so much. It was an interesting watch nonetheless.

I wanted to dine at Pomperlut as it got rave reviews, but the restaurant had been completed since 2 weeks. So I chose another one, and ordered "Flemish beef stew". While I was eating, the chef came out of the kitchen to hear compliments from customers. I gave him some formal words, but I could have made a better stew.

After my dinner, the landscape had become so much calmer. Ancient buildings made dreamy reflections on the water in the dim evening light.

Next morning, I went out before 7am, ready to catch some sunrise over the spikes. The alley behind my hotel was still dark. A chilly brume hung over sleepy bricks. The moon was still lingering on the citadel. Nothing to disturb the water mirror except some man who was arranging the first stand for the flea market. A lonely barge waiting for the day. It was a magical scene. I felt under Bruges' spell at that moment.

Please refer to my blog's photos, my words seem too loud for it:
https://moveablefeastofamess.wordpre...and-the-brume/

The sun didn't rise, but I was already late for the train to Brussels and Waterloo.

Til my next post.
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Old Mar 15th, 2016, 05:55 PM
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This report is bringing back very happy memories of a trip to Bruges a good few years ago. I really enjoyed your photographs, especially those taken on the very early morning walk. Marvellous. Thanks FuryFluffy.
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Old Mar 16th, 2016, 11:15 AM
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Thank you for your kind words, jon_rwr.

==============

I would like to ask people here, is the Flemish beef stew real good? Or was it the wrongdoing of the chef where I dined?
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Old Mar 16th, 2016, 11:49 AM
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Stoofvlees is excellent.
You find these in Wallonia under the name carbonades flamandes too.
They are really good - sorry your chef managed to screw that
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Old Mar 20th, 2016, 12:09 PM
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Thank you Whathello. I'll come back there some day if to try that dish only.

===

Day 2: Waterloo

Bruges had stayed my feet more than it should have, and the bus from Brussels was late, so I was left with not much time for Waterloo.

During 1h of bus ride, I barely saw any Belgian on streets. I wondered if it'd been Bonaparte's fault.

It was a fine day, everything was brisk with sunlight, but I kinda wished it'd rained so that I could have seen the weather of the battle.

It was a coincidence that it'd been British tourists visiting Waterloo who discovered the neglected city of Bruges. I hadn't know it when I planned the trip.

The view of the Lion's Mound is pretty from the bus, but it had little to do with the battle itself. It was to commemorate the place where the Prince of Orange (of the Netherlands, who else) was hit by a bullet and fell off his horse during the battle. The poor guy didn't even die: he lived on to reign the Netherlands for quite a few years, so there was no point in this mound, other than to disfigure the famous landscape and to put a Dutchie stamp on eternal memory. Wellington was quoted to have exclaimed "They have altered my field of battle!" when he revisited the location. While that might be another fantasy from Victor Hugo, I would have said exactly the same thing if I'd been the Duke.

I got off the bus at "Musée du Caillou" stop to visit Napoleon's Last Headquarters and Museum. Kudos for the Belgian for keeping everything, as much as they could, the same as 200 years ago. At least, it was not them who burnt the farm down. The farmhouse, the garden and the water well were all in place. There were several authentic artifacts inside the museum, including the dining table of that morning 18 June. Simple sights such as the small ossuary feel really touching to me. It was hard to imagine the soldiers of the Garde Impériale who had camped in this tiny garden under the ominous rain. The statue of Napoleon is, however, not in the mood.

I bought a Pass 1815 who covered this museum, the Orange Mound and everything else for less than 20 Euros (didn't count what was included, because the Mound alone was quite expensive).

The bus passed by only once per hour, so I had to hurry my visit and left the Museum quite soon. From here, endless green field was rolling in front of me in wavely ridges: it seemed quite a beautiful region. Napoleon might have watched the same scenery that day when he departed from the farm, but his mind was elsewhere I guess.

I intended to see Hougoumont next, as it was on the way to the Mound, but I couldn't find it: it was well-hidden behind ridges and trees. So I headed to the Mound instead. It took me quite a while to find the entrance since direction's indication was not much available. Plus, for me, iron barring such a hill is a no-no. I literally ran to the top of the hill in a minute: I was in a rush, I had to return to Brussels, and to Paris, that day. And I didn't want to show respect to the stairs of that artificial hill.

From the top I had a 360° view of the peaceful field, but Hougoumont's bricks was nowhere in sight. Inside the building, the huge panorama painting was quite impressive with reenactment sounds and stages. There are not many panorama paintings like that left worldwide, so we may enjoy it while it lasts.

After the Mound, I ran - again - to Hougoumont. There was a bus taking tourists to it, but I didn't even have time for buses. I ran past people, mostly Europeans, and dogs. Many commemoration plaques had been erected along the way - bus people would miss them. It was surreal to see a plaque for the legendary cavalry charge two centuries ago on a modern beetroot field. Condolence flower wreaths had been left at some random places. The sunken Ohain road was still there, nowadays no more than a shallow wrinkle on the battlefield, thanks to the Lion's Mound work. The upward slope from the French's side to the Allied's side was also much reduced, geez.

Hougoumont was brilliantly restored. You must watch the projection in the barn, words cannot describe it. The moment the high gates of the barn closed and light went out, you'd feel as if you were trapped in that building and the French army was attacting outside, or as if you managed to break into the farm but then was enclosed again to a massacre, refering to The Closing Of The North Gates chapter. Depends on which side you are on.

I missed the bus I planned to return to Brussels. I took the second bus, it drove for 15 mins before breaking down on the road for some unknown reasons. The driver got off and restarted the bus several times. My clock was ticking. There was no one around, not even a taxi if I wanted to hail one. Luckily the bus did get back to work after a tiresome manoeuvre, and I arrived in Brussels when my Eurolines vessel was about to leave for Paris - I was the last passenger entering. Phew. What a day.

My photos:
https://moveablefeastofamess.wordpre...0-years-later/
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Old Mar 20th, 2016, 12:50 PM
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Lucky you to get into Hougoumont. A number of other visitors and I wandered aimlessly about before deciding it would not be open the day we were there. But I was able to walk from it back to the British line and enjoyed that walk.

Too bad about the mound;it did rather destroy the topography.
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Old Mar 20th, 2016, 02:03 PM
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I like Hougoumont too. You've done quite a lot of waling/running.

The Ohain sunken road has never existed - it came from Victor Hugo's imagination and Ohain is on the other side of the battlefield, not between Hougoumont and the mound. (Everybody falls for that legend).

Next time stop in the farm of Mont Saint Jean they brew the 'Waterloo beer' there now.
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Old Mar 27th, 2016, 08:13 AM
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Enjoyed reading your well written travelogue, it brought back memories when I went to Waterloo as a child, it was dead empty even in the summer.
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Old Mar 27th, 2016, 09:31 AM
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Thanks for the lovely report and pictures. I've always wanted to visit Bruges but haven't made it yet. Hopefully the next time I go to Europe, I'll go.
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Old Mar 28th, 2016, 01:39 PM
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Thank you for your encouragement, Melig and Sue4. It gives me more motivation to update my travelogue.
Waterloo memorials have been renovated to celebrated the bicentenary this year, that's why it's easier to navigate now.

Whathello: so now I have Waterloo beer and Stoofvlees on the bucket list. Not forget to mention chicken Marengo and beef Wellington ^^
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