Today we got the opportunity to visit the beautiful cities of Ghent and Bruges. I felt like I was in a time machine that would at times take me to the beautiful treasures of the past and at other times transport me to a beautiful modernized world. Both the cities were really compact and authentic where the past and present could co-exist in a perfect balance. Walking through the city, you turn the corner and just like that, you go from the fourteenth century to the twenty-first.
Our day started off with a great orientation about the College of Europe. That was our first destination at Bruges. The college of Europe is an independent university institute of postgraduate European studies with the main campus in Bruges, Belgium. Founded in 1949, it promotes “a spirit of solidarity and mutual understanding between all the nations of Western Europe and provides elite training to individuals who will uphold these values”. It has approximately 420 postgraduates from over 50 countries and even though it’s situated in the Flemish region of Belgium, a Dutch-speaking area, the college does not use Dutch as one of it’s working languages. We learned about the ERASMUS student network during our lectures but actually learned how beneficial that network is from an ex-student who was giving us the introduction to the course. He was from France and he told us about the great scholarship opportunity he received at the college of Europe due to the network. Right after his informative orientation we prepared ourselves to take Dr. Birchfield’s class’s exam. The exam was actually not that stressful as we were taking the exam in such a calm environment.
Right after our exam we went for a canal tour, that was probably the best tour of the city we could have gotten in the limited time we had left in Bruges. It was interesting learning about the history of this place and getting the chance to see all the fabulous Flemish art and architecture, works of art and structures. The picture on the left is of the bell tower in Bruges. It’s importance was that it regulated the lives of the city dwellers, announcing the time, fire alarms, work hours, and a variety of social, political, and religious events. It is one
of the city’s most prominent symbols; the bell tower formerly housed a treasury and the municipal archives, and served as an observation post for spotting fires and other danger. Similar to this during our walking tour in Ghent we learned that the belfry is a proud symbol of Ghent’s independence. On top of the 95-metre tower the dragon has been watching over the city since 1380. (The dragon never sleeps, so no better animal to have as your guardian) The city’s festivities are still announced by extraordinary carillon concerts. It’s interesting to see the similarities between Bruges and Ghent’s histories but also important to note how history sometimes tells us a beautiful story. If we think about it most of Belgium is flat land so that actually gave both the French and Germans (specially Hitler) the incentive to fight on Belgian land instead of their own land. So in a way to protect their lands, Belgians had many of these tall towers to spot danger. Also another common story that our respective tour guides shared with us was about beer. People who lived in Bruges would drink beer from a young age, as it was really cheap, pepper was more expensive. While people who lived in Ghent would allow their children to drink beer from the age of 6 when they started getting their adult teeth. Again it’s interesting to see that history has played a role to define how alcohol is perceived in Europe today. Due to the acceptance of beer since so many years, today many places in Europe have an open container policy and it isn’t looked down upon when you buy beer. Comparing this to the States, we all know how people look down upon you when you buy alcohol or even cigarettes. Basically whether you realize it or not history plays a key role in determining values today. One piece of work I couldn’t go without talking about is the ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’. It’s without a doubt the world’s most besieged and coveted artwork. The Van Eyck brothers painted this unique altarpiece in 1432. It is the highlight of the Flemish Primitives. It’s just unbelievable that so many years ago people could be masters of the oil medium and use it so splendidly to portray a robust and realistically detailed vision of the world around them.
Finally we got back home and I think this blog wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about the Euros. It is the most anticipated event in Europe this summer. Every country is looking to win the euro and secure their dominance through the game of football. The picture below is of the opening ceremony of the tournament. The game is played with a lot of grace and respect however it saddens me that people would turn it into a violent act off the pitch. The fight between the English fans and the Russian fans just isn’t hooliganism. It’s extremely political! I’m happy that UEFA has taken measures to prevent alcohol near the stadiums and threatened to disqualify both the teams incase of any future acts of hooliganism by any of the teams or fans. The game should be played the way it is supposed to be played with elegance and mutual respect amongst teams and fans.
Visiting Bruges and Ghent and not to forget our time in Brussels has been just perfect! I look forward to our 10-day visit to Scandinavia and hope to learn much more about European integration and European history.