Sharing borders with European countries like France and the Netherlands, Belgium is a melting pot of different cultures and cuisines. French is spoken in Brussels, but in the northwest part of the country, a variant of Dutch called Flemish can be heard.
Bruges is one of these Flemish cities and is sometimes called at the “Venice of the North.” It’s a beautiful European city that’s surrounded by canals. The name Bruges is probably a derivative of the Old Dutch brugga, meaning bridge.
In the Belgium Box, the beef stew called Carbonnade (Carbonade flamande) originally comes from Flanders. Bruges is also known for its beer, with several being named after the city: Brugge Blond, Brugge Tripel, and Brugse Babbelaar. Other Flemish delicacies include steamed asparagus topped with hard-boiled egg, parsley, and butter sauce, fresh or smoked eel, cooked chicken with rabbit, veal, and herbs (Potjesvlees), and a creamy vegetable soup called Waterzooi made with leeks, onions, carrots, potatoes, and celery.
“Flemish” might be a new word for you, but you might be familiar with “In Flanders Fields” – a poem written by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae during the First World War. It’s one of the most popular war poems and set in Belgium’s countryside. The poem references red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers, and nowadays, the poppy is the world’s most recognized memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict.
Bruges’ city centre is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Around the 1300s, Bruges played an important role in international trade and was part of the Hanseatic League. Its inlet was known as the “Golden Inlet,” and the city was bustling with foreign trade and products like pepper, cotton, spices, and wool.
Bruges is also one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe and most of its architecture is still intact. Buildings reflect architectural influences from neighboring Holland, with distinct edging called gambrel roofs. In the architecture world, this style is known as Dutch Colonial, and homes are traditionally made of stone and brick, with a chimney, outward swinging wood shutters, and oftentimes a double Dutch door. In the US, this 17th-century style of New Amsterdam has completely vanished in New York, but architects are re-instating its aesthetics to recall Manhattan’s Dutch origins.
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