A Student of the Moment – Bruges, 21 September 2013

Hi Again 🙂


Spent last Saturday traveling with my history class, yet again, to the beautiful city of Bruges: the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium.  I was immediately struck by the beauty of the city: the old architecture, the canals, the swans (Bruges is known for their upkeep of swans- a portion of the city taxes are actually allocated towards the upkeep of the swans!), and the novelty shops.  While we had a wonderful, full day of visiting museums, churches, and monuments, the one down side to Bruges that I noticed was the incredibly large number of tourists: everywhere.  As we weaved through small alleys packed with languages such as English, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish, my group was left to consider the question – how do we define the makeup of our group?

To anyone seeing us chase down our professor, wildly waving something above her head to attract our attention, we were tourists, exploring Bruges like so many others.  However, when you hear many of us cracking jokes in French slang, asking locals questions in French or broken Dutch, and even giving presentations on various artifacts in Bruges’ history, it’s clear that we may be slightly more educated than your typical tourist (minus the fact that we had huge cameras slung around our necks.)  When overhearing our conversation, our teacher posed that we should classify ourselves as historians visiting Bruges to conduct research on Belgian and European history.  And while that is true and satisfied a good number of my peers, this title still created a level of disconnect for me.  Was I really just an academic exploring a country with the motive of pursuing my studies? Was I a tourist, trying to capture the beauty of a city through the lens of a camera?  While I definitely felt disoriented in this new city, I was content and surprised with my ability to get around Brussels, and also thrilled when mistaken for a Belgian and asked for directions. 

Although I would typically argue that labels aren’t important in many circumstances, the question of categorization fascinated me throughout the rest of my adventures; after much deliberation, I realized that there really isn’t one general title that can be used to define the students abroad at Vesalius, let alone my history class. For many students, studying abroad is a chance to travel and explore: to see as much of a city or as many countries as your timeline and budget will allow.  For others, it’s visiting archives, and examining artifacts to learn their relevance in the makeup of a country’s history.  But for a small number students, studying abroad is about total and full immersion. It’s about sleeping in because that’s what people do! It’s about taking photos to capture memories, but not using your camera as a means of separation from being fully engaged in the moment.  It means not being afraid to speak French, or getting lost; and importantly, asking for help or asking questions when they come to mind.  Full immersion is a test, not only of your academic ability to succeed at an international university while balancing a desire to travel, but also of courage and leadership; one must be ready to expose all vulnerabilities in order to uncover new lessons about different cultures, different subjects, and, most important, oneself.  You must be ready to be a student of the moment.


Below, I’ve attached the itinerary and photos from my trip to Bruges. Enjoy!


Trip to Bruges  (Sunday, September 21)

8:40 — Meet in ticket-hall of Gare Centrale.

8:59 — Train for Bruges and Ostend leaves. (Next train for Bruges: 9:21- destination Knokke)

10:01 — Train arrives in Bruges. Walk across the boulevard (the last wall around Bruges) towards Our Lady’s Church.

10:20 — Before  entering the 14th c. St Jan Hospital

10:40 — Get in St Jan Hospital, where we see the paintings by Hans Memling: The triptych with St John the Baptist and the Evangelist, the Reliquary of Ursula (with view of Cologne cathedral’s choir), the diptych of Martin Nieuwenhove with the Virgin, portrait of a woman and two other small triptychs.

11:20 — Across the street, we enter Onze Lieve Vrouw kerk (Church of Our Lady). See the Madonna statue by Michelangelo (1502), then walk in the choir where are the tombs of Charles the Bold and of Mary of Burgundy and the Calvary altarpiece (c. 1534) by the mannerist painter Bernard van Orley.  In a side chapel, the tomb of Lanchals, treasurer of Maximilian of Habsburg, and on the other side of the choir the oratory of the Gruuthuse family who had become rich from the sale of the gruut necessary for making beer at the time, hence their name: ‘house of the gruut’.

12:00 — Walk around the church to reach the Gruuthuse palace. Pass by the statue of 19th c. priest and poet Guido Gezelle (19th c.) and go to Simon Stevin square where we break for lunch.

13:10 — Meet at the statue of Simon Stevin. Walk to Cloth Hall where the cloth used to be sold.  Above the building stands the Belfry

13:30 — Get to the center of the Grote Markt by the statue of Jan Breydel & Pieter De Coninck  (heroes of the Battle of the Golden Spurs -July 11, 1302). Observe the guildhouses, the Kraenenburg where Maximilian was imprisoned in 1488, and the Provincial Government building (previously the Waterhall).

13:50 — Walk into the Hanseatic past of Bruges (House of the Genoese and ter Beurze).  On J.Van Eyckplein, see the Old Toll House and the Poorters’ (merchants) Lodge.

14:10 — Walk along the canal (Spinolarei) to get to Jerusalemstraat.

14:20 — Visit the 15th c. Jerusalem Church.

14:50 — Walk to the Burg. See the location of St Donatian church (first a Carolingian, then Romanesque, finally Gothic church for which Van Eyck painted the Madonna we will see in  the Groeninge Museum).

15:00 — On the Burg stand: the Brugse Vrij (old government for Bruges’ countryside) with its mantelpiece (Lanceloot Blondeel -1528) showing Charles V’s genealogy, the neoGothic City Hall and double church: Romanesque St Basil and Gothic Holy Blood Chapel. We will get in the Brugse Vrij and the double church.

15:45 — Through the Blinde Ezelstraat, (Blind Donkey alley) reach the Fish Market and then Huidevettersplein (Tanners place). Walk along the Dijver passing by the Europa College to get into the Groeningen Museum.

16:00-16:50  — In the museum, we see the “Flemish Primitives” (Van Eyck, Vander Weyden, Memling, Bosch, David) but also paintings from the 16th to the 20th c.

17:00 — Leave the museum and walk towards the station passing by of the Beguinage, the Minnewater (Love Lake) and the Poertoren (powder tower).

17:59 — Train leaves (direction  Eupen) to arrive at Brussels Central at 19:01



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