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Three Days in Kortrijk, Belgium (September 2018)

This is the first part a narrative of a trip to the Flanders region of Belgium that my wife Frances and I took in September 2018. This was an independent trip, not a package tour. It was our third visit to Belgium. Our aim was to visit the towns where my paternal grandparents lived, Kortrijk and Waregem. In addition, we planned to visit Ghent, a city we had read about but missed in our previous trips. Our plan was to spend three nights each in Kortijk and Waregem, four nights in Ghent, and two in Brussels before returning home to Alexandria, Virginia. The stop in Brussels was planned for a visit to the Horta (Art Nouveau) Museum and some shopping. However, our plans had to be altered, as you will see in a later topic.

This first topic also includes a description (and a bit of a rant) of our air travel. If you want to skip that part, just skip down to the entry for August 31.

The second part can be found in Waregem, Ieper, and Oudenaarde, Belgium

The final part can be found in Ghent, but not Brussels

Thursday, August 30, 2018 (Alexandria to Brussels)

We are used to these departures, and we were well prepared. The cats were boarded at the vet clinic. Our bags were packed. Everything in the house was turned off. The thermostat was turned to a higher temperature to keep the air conditioning from coming on.

Our ride from the Super Shuttle appeared on time. The company was running a capacity and had to call in extra help. We got a private car instead of a group van. The driver was playing a jazz station on the radio—not my favorite, but easier to tolerate than country or talk. Traffic was no worse than usual. We arrived at Dulles Airport in good time. I gave the driver an extra tip for coming out on short notice.

We didn’t have any trouble checking in. We were in TSA Precheck, which got us through security a little faster and with slightly less inconvenience. Airports have a non-Euclidean topological property that no matter how many gates there are, an no matter who you are, your gate is always at the end of the concourse. All those people that you pass at what appear to be closer gates also walked to the end of the concourse. Your gate will appear closer to passengers arriving behind you. So it was this time for us. We had plenty of time (you always have plenty or none). We found a couple of seats and settled in to wait.

There was a tour group forming up in the waiting area. A guy with a clipboard was walking around trying to check in everyone. Many of them were sitting right behind us, chatting away among themselves. They weren’t doing anything wrong, but it was impossible to avoid overhearing little bits of other people’s lives. It was difficult to concentrate on our reading and sudokus with that in the background.

The time to board finally arrived, with the usual scrum in front of the gate. Of course, the first class, business class, and all the made-up privileged groups got to board ahead of us in coach. We were in Group 4 (out of 5). In a surprising display of rationality, they decided to board back-to-front, beginning with Group 5. However, then they lost most of their plaudits by not calling out the rest of the group numbers.

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Thursday, August 30, 2018 (continued)

Airline boarding is designed to bring out the worst in people. Everyone is anxious to get on board before the overhead bins are filled (and the plane never has enough of them). Most people would be willing to wait their turns if the process were orderly. However, there are always jerks who want to jump the queue. This puts pressure on everyone else to do the same or be taken for chumps. It has the elements of a “prisoner’s dilemma” situation. It’s best if everyone behaves. It’s worse if everyone misbehaves. It’s worst (for you) if you behave but others misbehave. So, you have an incentive to misbehave too. Speaking with others in line, we heard everyone saying the same things. They thought that the airline should set up separate lanes for the groups, so that we would know where to stand and when to board. If the passengers can work this out, why can’t the airlines?

By behaving just within the rules, we boarded near the head of our group. We went back to row 43 and stowed our two backpacks in the same space that one roller bag would take. Then we had a ringside seat to watch everyone else making their own arrangements. We each had an aisle seat, across from each other. This is our preferred seating, because it allows both of us to get up without pushing through anyone else. We were far enough back to be close to the WC. Such are the factors that count as amenities these days!

The cabin was cold; I put on my sweater and the fingerless gloves that I always carry. My reading lamp was way off to the side—when I used it, it would shine in the eyes of the person beside me. United’s food isn’t as good as some other airlines, but at least we got a meal and a snack. I coped in my usual ways. I put on my sound-canceling headphones, plugged into my phone, and put my music on shuffle. I tried to sleep as much as I could. When I couldn’t, I read a book called We Have No Idea, about unsolved questions in physics. Time passed.

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Friday, August 31, 2018 (Brussels to Kortrijk)

We arrived in Brussels early in the morning. There was a very long line for passport control, winding back and forth between the velvet ropes. There were only two stations in use, of the six or so available. It was worse than the checkout line at Safeway. When I looked back, I could see the line getting longer. Eventually, they opened a few more stations (maybe the day shift arrived). When we went through, the officer looked at my name and asked if I was Dutch. I said that my grandparents had been Belgian. She seemed amused by my answer. Maybe nobody says Belgian anymore—only Dutch or Walloon?

Probably because of the delay, the baggage carousel was packed. They had to keep turning it off because the incoming bags jammed against the ones already rotating. Our luggage finally appeared. We walked through the “nothing to declare” gate and into Belgium.

From past experience, we knew the way down the escalators to the railway station. We also knew that we needed to stop at an ATM before going down. We had some confusion about buying tickets. The direct train to Kortrijk that we had been planning to take was cancelled. However, a train to Ghent was leaving in a few minutes, and we could make a connection there. We zoomed down to the platform, where we had further confusion about which track we wanted. It wasn’t difficult be we were seriously fatigued at that point. Our coping skills were depleted, and we were getting cranky with each other.

I took out my new cellphone because I had the app for the train system already loaded. I was disturbed to discover that I couldn’t get any cellular service. The phone detected several networks, but none would accept my connection. We had gone to the trouble of getting new phones and a new plan just so we could use them on vacation. Here they were, failing on first use. This wasn’t a good time to troubleshoot. I just put the phone away.

The train arrived. Off we rolled towards Ghent. We showed our tickets to the collector, he told us that we were in a first-class compartment and we had to move to the next car. We did that—I couldn’t see any difference. Changing trains in Ghent was easy.

We arrived in Kortrijk and paused on the platform to let the rest of the passengers get ahead of us while we worked out where to go next. On our first attempt, we went out the wrong (north) side of the station. We doubled back and identified the street that would take us to the B&B OYO. It wasn’t hard to find. We buzzed at the door and were greeted by Oliver, our host. He gave us the usual barrage of information about the B&B and the town. As expected, our room wasn’t ready (it was well before check-in time). However, we could put our luggage in it while he finished cleaning. He helped us carry the roller bags up to the 1st floor.

The room was bigger than most, bright and airy. The only storage consisted of wooden cubes suspended from the walls with rope. My general impression of the B&B is that it looks the way your college apartment might have looked if you had the money and time to do it up the way you really wanted.

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Friday, August 31, 2018 (continued)

As we put down our bags, Fran noticed that her purse was missing. Aiii! It held her wallet, passport, reserve cash, phone, keys… It was a gut-twisting moment for both of us. I started thinking about how we would have to contact the embassy in Brussels about her passport. She had it on the train. Did she leave it there? On the platform? We went flying back to the station. We couldn’t remember which platform, and so we checked them all—no luck. We then went into the ticket office and asked if a purse had been turned in. A man went behind a partition and then held up the familiar black bag. Our vacation was saved! The cleaners had found it. They had found her Virginia driver’s license and knew that it belonged to a foreigner (no one they could call). We thanked them profusely and asked them to thank the cleaners as well.

Crisis over, we returned to the B&B, giving Oliver the good news. We did a bit of unpacking for our planned three-night stay. Then we went out to have a look at the town. The old part of Kortrijk is on the north side of the railway tracks, while the B&B is on the south. It wasn’t a long walk; Oliver told us a better route to the center than going back via the station. As we headed in the general direction of the Grote Markt, we were on the lookout for a bite to eat. We found a café, the Teaterkaffee on the Schouwburgplein (Theater Square). The menu was entirely in Dutch. We puzzled out enough of it, and I ordered a focaccia with ham. We knew better than to order beer after a tiring flight with no sleep, and so we had cappuccino. Between the menu and the sounds around us, we began to realize that we were in a different environment than the tourist-oriented cities we usually visit. We heard no one speaking English in the bistro. The waitress could speak it, but she was clearly a bit surprised to have to call on that skill. As our stay wore on, we came to understand that Kortrijk does get a fair number of visitors—but they are Flemish visitors on local holidays.

It was turning out to be a warm, sunny day. The outdoor area of the bistro was pretty full. Some children were playing, including some that were running around in a fountain. It appeared that their parents were keeping an eye on them while sipping beer.

Having finished our meal, we continued north and reached the Grote Markt in a few minutes. Along the way we started to notice traffic conditions. There were a lot of bicycles: not as many as in Amsterdam, but a lot more than most European cities—let alone in the U.S. Both the drivers and cyclists honored crosswalks carefully. We learned that we could be confident crossing streets as long as vehicles had enough time to see us and react.

The Grote Markt features a tower on the south end, inscribed with a war memorial dedicated to the city of Kortrijk and her sons, 1914 and 1915, if I understood the description correctly . It houses a carillon, which we heard playing from time to time during our stay. The eastern length of the Markt is line with restaurants and bars, each with its outdoor tables and umbrellas. One can hardly tell which establishment is which. They all seemed to be doing good business on this weekday afternoon.

Kortrijk was in the middle of a city-wide festival with the theme of “fun.” A pop-up playground with a “wild west” theme was set up on the markt. There was a playhouse saloon, bouncy horses, a sandbox made to look like a desert with cactus and totem poles. The markt also featured a yard-long inflated bag that people could jump on and roll around in—much like a bouncy castle but without the theme.

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Sunday, August 31 (continued)

The stadhuis (city hall) is on the northwestern corner of the Grote Markt. It is an ornate building inside and out. I had Fran take some pictures of me with our WIFI-enabled “teeny-tiny camera” so that I could upload them for my family to see that I had reached our grandmother’s town. Kortrijk distributes a detailed booklet describing all the features of the building (we didn’t read it until we returned home). At one time Kortrijk was a regional center, and the stadhuis reflects this. The stained-glass windows in the council room have the insignia of the neighboring towns—including Waregem, which we would be visiting next. Meanwhile, in the gothic room upstairs, a mural depicts the town’s epic Battle of the Golden Spurs (1302). However, the combatants are all depicted as children with toy weapons and improvised armor, and the river is shown as a line of inflatable wading pools. We also took a look at the cellars, which you can reach from an outside door. There wasn’t much to see there. It had barrel-vaulted ceilings, but it looked like most of it had been converted to a bar, which was no longer in operation.

Leaving the stadhuis, we walked north until we reached the River Leie. The view from the bridge showed the contrasts in Kortrijk: To the west we saw modern glass-and-steel buildings, with construction cranes behind them building more. To the east, we saw more medieval and early modern architecture, dominated by the Broel Towers. These twin towers were built to protect the next bridge down from us. We headed toward the towers and noted that the one on the north bank had what looked like a structure covered with a red tarp next to it. Then we saw a child jump out of one of the tower windows and land on the tarp! It was a big air bag (provided by a company called “Big Air Bags”), and this was part of Kortrijk’s “fun” event. Kids and a few adults were line up to enter the tower and self-defenestrate. Of course, at the base of the tower there was a crowd of parents holding up their phones to record the activity. I took some shots myself, using the “sports” section of my camera to get a burst of frames with the press of a button.

We went inside the other tower, on the south side of the bridge. There wasn’t much of a historical narrative, but one could see traces of the different uses of the tower in the walls and ceiling. There were some good views from the upper floor. While up there, I noticed a building site on the bank of the river. The façade of an old building was standing on its own, carefully braced, while the area behind it had been cleared and prepared for new construction. The old building had been completely demolished except for the façade. Maybe many of those “medieval” buildings in the town center were really modern buildings where historical facades!

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August 31 (continued)

We walked further down the Leie. It was a pleasant area of waterfowl, plants, and docked boats. Eventually we reached the Bossuit–Kortrijk Canal, which joins the Leie via a lock. We crossed over the river to Albert Park, which includes a large monument commemorating the Battle of the Leie in 1940, where the Belgian Army held up the Germans for a while during the larger Battle for France. There is a large statue of King Leopold III on horseback . Across from the Albert Park is Buda Island, which is featured in Kortrijk’s tourist literature. It was a relaxing place for a walk on a sunny afternoon. It has some whimsical touches, such as painting the bridge footings to look like athletic shoes and a statue of a woman emerging from the ground. Some older kids were trying to climb along the outside of the bridge across the river. They stopped before it got too dangerous.

We stopped at a little bar and had quarter-liters of beer. There, again, were parents doing the same while watching their kids play. This seems to be a common form of childcare in Belgium.
At this point, it was getting late in the afternoon.

We returned to the B&B to regroup. I once again tried to get cellphone service, without success. I could use the B&B’s WiFi for internet access. I went to the web site of the company (Consumer Cellular) to contact customer support. It was subject to a Catch-22. The primary channel for support was calling an 800 number—which, obviously, I couldn’t do. The web site had a chat feature, but it kept timing out before anyone answered. I looked in the book that came with the phones and found that they had an email address for support. I was hoping that would do the trick. However, my email quickly received the reply that the address was not monitored! While I am not prone to vulgar expostulations, this was a real “WTF?” moment. Why have an email address if no one is going to read the messages? Why ask customers to call you on the phone, when the most likely problem is that they can’t call anyone on the phone? Why have a chat function if there is no one available to “chat?” I ran out of ideas at that point.

We went out to find a place for dinner. We wound up on the Grote Markt and picked a restaurant called Nata. We sat outside and enjoyed the fine weather. I had chicken vol-a-vent with frites and beer. The staff spoke English well. After dinner, we went back to the B&B to settle in for the night.

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Saturday, September 1, 2018

We woke up around seven and were in the breakfast room at eight. Oliver was busy making breakfast. He asked us if we wanted orange juice. It was clear from the subsequent sounds in the kitchen that the juice had still been in the oranges when he asked that. He also made coffee one cup at a time, although I think he was using a k-cup machine.

The centerpiece of the breakfast was a pair of cut-glass goblets filled with slice fruits. Unfortunately, I don’t eat fruit at all, and Fran does so sparingly. I felt bad about the effort he had put into them. There was plenty of other things to eat: slice meat, cheese, nuts, croissants, rolls, and spreads. Oliver offered boiled eggs, but we declined.

We first headed for St, Anthony’s church, which is on the eastern side of the city center. Our route took us through a shopping area, and we saw people heading for work or setting up for the day. There were some attractive meat and produce shops full of delicious-looking food.
St. Anthony’s was worth the visit. It is a Plain brick church on the outside, but inside it is amazing. If you think Baroque meets Art Nouveau, you might get the idea. A side altar is dedicated to the tomb of the Blessed Brother Isidore.

After leaving St. Anthony’s, we headed west and a little north, stopping to look at a statue memorializing the Battle of the Golden Spurs (about which I will have more to say later). The statue features a female figure in armor holding an edged pole weapon. At the food of the pedestal is a fallen French knight and his horse. A pair of six-foot high golden spurs stand in the ground nearby.

We next took a look into St. Martin’s, a large church near the Grote Markt. It is a more conventional Baroque church, including a magnificently encrusted pulpit.

After leaving that church, we passed through the Grote Markt and then followed the Leie west to the Texture (formerly Flax) Museum, crossing over a new cable-stayed bridge to get there.
The Texture Museum covers the history of Flanders’ textile industry. The main part of that industry involved turning flax into linen, but they also wove cloth from English will and, later, imported cotton. The ground floor is all about what flax is and the products that are made from it. Exhibits let you touch all the stages of the process. They proudly point out that American paper money includes flax fibers, which makes it durable and water resistant. They illustrate this with intact dollar bills sloshing around in a washing machine.

The upper floors are arranged chronologically. The story of such an important industry “weaves” history, politics, technology, labor relations, standards of living, and international markets. They tell the story in multiple languages, with the help of audio guides. There is a lot to see: maps, timelines, documents, tools, large machines, and so on. I surprised and pleased to find the name of one Michel Vandenbroucke on a payroll roster from the 19th Century flax exchange. I don’t know if he was a relative, but it shows my family’s roots in the region.

A whimsical touch is that stuffed flax pigeons are scatter around the museum as if they are roosting in the building.

The top floor of the building is devoted to lace making. There are two aspects to this, first, the history of lace making, including examples of different kinds of lace and different objects, from doll clothes to a stunning bridal train. The second aspect is making lace with raw vegetable fibers. This section even includes plant roots that have been intertwined to grow as lace.

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September 1, 2018 (continued)

The museum has a large gift shop that includes books, videos, and (of course) textiles. We considered buying a flax pigeon, but we decided that it was too heavy and bulky to pack. We did pick up some linen dish towels. I also found a shirt with “Kortrijk” on it. It is a bicycling shirt, and I don’t bike, but I wanted a shirt with the town name on it. I decided to forgo he matching trunks.
After leaving the museum, we stopped at the adjacent Café Damast for lunch. We had café macchiatos and, in another adventure of deciphering a Dutch menu, we shared what turned out to be a platter of fried cheese with salad.

Thus refreshed, we walked east again. We went into St. Martins so that we could see it with the sunlight coming from the other side. At the front door we noted a poster for organ concerts in the church, one of which was to take place the next evening. The main door, like many Baroque and Gothic churches, is surrounded by pedestals for statuary. However, the pedestals are vacant: no saints, bishops, monarchs, or biblical figures. Later in our trip we came to understand that the statues had all been destroyed by iconoclastic Calvinists during the wars of religion that swept through Europe in the early modern period.

We next took a walk-through Kortrijk’s Beguinage. The beguins are (mostly “were”) women who lived communally in the low countries and France. The women did not take vows as nuns, but they lived apart from the secular world in a religious setting. The communities have nearly died out (literally, through the aging of their members), but a few still hang on. In addition, their distinctive compounds still exist in Belgian cities, including Bruges, Ghent, and Kortrijk. The Begijnhof in Kortrijk is a complex of one-story white buildings with narrow lanes between them. The buildings are divided into small dwelling units, each with a door and window onto the lane. Some that we saw had clearly been converted to little shops, but I think some were still being used for living.

Some larger communal structures had been converted into bars or restaurants.
Kortrijk’s tourist office color codes of the central part of town: historic center, Buda Island, shopping, Leie banks, and music & theater. The shopping area has the wonderful name of the Winkelwandelbuurt (shop walking district). We decided to wandel among the winkels and see what we could see. There were quite a lot of people doing the same on this Saturday afternoon. I could see why Kortrijk was a local shopping destination, as we passed rows of high-end shops and went inside a shopping mall. We didn’t buy anything. They were selling luxury goods, but nothing distinctively Belgian. It was the same kind of merchandise we could get in Georgetown or Tyson’s Corner back home. Thus, we looked but didn’t buy.

We went back to the Grote Markt, sat down at a café, and had a beer. The weather was beautiful. The kids were still playing in the Wild West playground and the bouncy castle. Flemish tourists were walking up and down. Locals were walking their well-behaved dogs. The carillon was playing. It was a lovely way to end the day.

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September 1, 2018 (continued)

We went back to the B&B to reorganize and get ready for dinner. Rather than just wander around, we decided on Café Rouge, which was recommended by our guidebooks. It is a bit north St. Martin’s, near the Begijnhof. When we arrived without reservations, they told us that they could give us a table, but we had to be finished in three hours. We laughed and said that we be gone in an hour at most. I’ve run into the is sort of thing before. Are they just messing with our heads? Do people customarily take three hours for a meal? Are they just covering themselves in case we plan to drink all night? I had beef brochette with frites and beer. Even with cake and ice cream, we didn’t crowd their deadline. It was another good place for people watching, sitting outside a humanity filtered past or sat down to dine.

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Sunday, September 2, 2018

The next morning, we had a breakfast similar to the previous day’s. There was another couple present this time, speaking Dutch. We had a little chat with Oliver, who wanted to know if “here you go” was the right thing to say in English when he served the food. We asked him how to pronounce Waregem, or next destination. He told us the standard Dutch pronunciation and then the Flemish pronunciation. We couldn’t hear and difference, but we nodded anyway.

Our main objective for the day was to visit the Golden Spurs Museum. We had some trouble finding the entrance, which was doubling as the headquarters of a bicycle race that was about to start. Also, the park we needed to walk through was being set up for a fun fair and a kids’ run. It was fun to see all this activity, but it made spotting the museum more difficult.

This post is about the history of the battle of the Golden Spurs. If you're not interested in that, just skip to the next reply

Aside: The Battle of the Golden Spurs (1302)

I had known about the battle of Courtrai, as an incident in military history, although not in any detail. It is remembered in the wider world because it saw armored knights defeated by infantry. In Flanders, however, the battle has a cultural significance not unlike the Battle of Kosovo in Serbia, or perhaps Gettysburg in the American South. A Flemish militia army stood up to professional French invaders and defeated them—or, at least that’s the conventional narrative. As with most historical events, the real story is more complicated.

The Count of Flanders was a vassal of the King of France. Flanders was a rich area because of the linen (flax) and wool trade (as we saw at the Texture Museum). The Count rebelled against the King, who sent an army to bring him into line. The Count’s forces were soon defeated, and the was imprisoned in France, never to return. However, the rebellion didn’t end there. The burghers of Bruges, Kortrijk, and other towns (but not Ghent) refused to submit. In Kortrijk, the French garrison was besieged in the castle (which no longer exists). The French sent a force of knights to raise the siege. The Flemish responded by sending militia and a few trained soldiers from the surrounding towns.

The battle was fought just outside Kortrijk. The Flemish had streams on their flanks and front, with the Leie behind them. The French had to cross the stream and attack across muddy ground. Many horses stumbled in the mud, unhorsing the knights and disordering their formation. Thus, the could not build up momentum to attack the Flemish, who presented a thicket of pikes to the oncoming horses. After the French charge foundered, the Flemish troops waded into the muddy field, pulling knights off their horses and killing them on the ground. The Flemish were armed with a weapon called the goedendag (“good day!”) that had a spike designed to slip between the overlapping plate of the knights’ armor. Unlike most battles of the period, the Flemish were not interested in capturing the knights for their ransom value. Thus, an unusually high number were killed. The Flemish also beat back a sortie by the garrison.

At the end of the battle, the Flemish troops gathered up the (supposedly) golden spurs stripped from the French and piled them up in the Church of Our Lady. (The church is still there, but the spurs are long gone.)

Although this was a significant and historic victory, it did not end the war. The burghers eventually lost the war and had to submit to the King of France in 1305. However, the battle looms large in the narrative of Flemish nationalism. This contributed to the Belgian independence movement in the early 19th Century but also to the Flemish separatists who want to split from the French-speaking Wallonians.

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September 2, 2018 (continued)

The museum tries to cover both the history of the battle and the politics of memory in later years. The audio guide is narrated by the monk who wrote the first history of the battle. This historical part takes place among exhibits that include a three-dimensional map of the surrounding area and displays of weapons and armor. One room has wooden statues of the dramatis personae, with audio entries explaining the parts they played.

The memory part beings in an early period, with a carved wood chest showing scenes of the battle and illuminated manuscripts (including the “narrator’s” own volume). It continues to the present day, with photographs, films, and posters concerning commemorative events. Some of these tie in with Flemish separatism and use a style reminiscent of German propaganda from the wars. (It should be noted that the separatists cooperated with the occupation in both wars, in the hopes of favorable treatment with the conflicts ended.) The final exhibit is a film in which actors portraying participants in the events discuss the myths that arose later. I am usually impatient with museum films that tell you what you are seeing, but I thought that this one was well done.

After leaving the museum, we stopped again in the Groet Markt for some lunch. I had spaghetti carbonara with beer. We decided to follow a walking tour concerning Kortrijk in World War I, in a booklet that we picked up in the B&B. It took us around the town to sites that were in some cases unchanged and in others totally rebuilt in the past century. After doing this for an hour or two, we decided to just sit and watch the world go by while drinking another beer. After that we went back to the B&B and started packing for the next state of our trip.

When the time came, we went to St. Martin’s for that organ concert that we had seen on the poster the day before. The audience was small. Of course, the program was in Dutch. The organizers seemed surprised that American tourists were attending. Everyone turned their chairs around to face the organ loft. The sound was majestic, and the guest organist knew his business. Organ music isn’t a subtle sound. The notes tend to pile up on your ears as they echo all around the church and hit you from different sides.

After the concert we had dinner a café. I splurged on filet mignon with bearnaise sauce. That done, we returned to the B&B to finish packing and settle in for the night.

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Wow! What a great start to your trip! I loved your recounting of the Golden Spurs battle.

I also love your going to the organ concert. That’s one of my favorite ways to make a local connection and my experience is like yours...mostly locals and few tourists.

Looking forward to the rest of the trip!

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Thanks for posting this - a good review of one of the towns I like very much. I'm glad you do too.

When you get a table it is yours so there is no rush to turn the table and move you on. Clearly the table was already reserved so he "slipped you in" but you needed to make room for the person who had reserved. I'm glad that 3 hours didn't make you rush.

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Thanks for your report.

The reason I said was looking forward to your report is that I have Flemish ancestors too (they moved to the Netherlands around WW1), so I read it with interest. What you describe so well is very recognazible for me, glad you enjoyed your visit to Kortrijk and have now an idea where your family comes from, allways enriching isn’t it? Actually nothing can replace as an experience than a visit to the region were your family has it’s roots. I know that the family name Vandenbroucke is well-known and widely spread in Belgium.

If of interest: Broucke refers to “broek”, meaning fertile grassland along a stream. Vanden means coming or originating from, depending the name it’s combined with. Likely one of your ancestors were farmers and had a good piece of land and were doing well.

The Battle of the Golden Spurs is "the symbol" of Flemish emancipation, that once the most well developed region of Northern Europe was overrun and abused many times by belligirent imperialistic powers, resulting in the complicated nation Belgium nowadays is. Despite winning the battle they didn’t win the war and that characterizes for a major part Belgium’s history.

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Extremely detailed however surprising that you don't carry your valuables like a passport, money credit cards in a neck pouch under your clothes or money belt that way you don't lose it in a purse or bag that you sit down

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Wil, my Flemish grandmother (who lived in Kortrijk) always claimed that our name meant "from the pants." We never knew what that meant, but that's what she said. Google does translate broek as trousers. We have been told by others that it means from the swamp. Yours sounds better!

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Dav - Have to say I am not an expert, nevertheless hope that this will help a bit: Swamp is possible too, but according this Dutch Wikipedia article is fertile land specific for Flanders. See if you can read if you like the text above the content with Google Translator, translation is not 100% correct so keep replacing pants with “broek”. Pants or trousers is indeed broek too in Dutch.