Belgium’s long and rich history is on display in its cities and towns. Join author Steve Kaffen on a photographic journey to historical Belgium.
The capital Brussels is home to the magnificent Grand Place, a medieval square and open-air marketplace from the 11th century. It is surrounded by historic buildings, notably the Town Hall, the square’s centerpiece; King’s House, home of the Brussels City Museum and its fine tapestries; and ancient guild houses of artisans and merchants. Steve visits at a unique time when, on even years in mid-August, it is covered with begonias. The floral presentation, called the Flower Carpet, is created by volunteers using pre-determined designs.
The adjacent pedestrian zone of cobblestone streets contains buildings of earlier eras, and street-level shops strive to outdo each other with elaborate window displays and inviting interiors. On a side street is an old Theatre de Vaudeville that is rentable for private occasions. Among the many museums, the Musical Instruments Museum showcases at any one time a thousand ancient instruments from its collection of 9,000. It is housed in the former Old England Department Store, itself a part of Brussels history.
Leuven was an important trading center during medieval times. The 15th century Town Hall contains several hundred exterior statues and, inside, the portraits of the town’s mayors spanning the last 200 years. Leuven is home to Belgium’s largest university and the world’s largest brewing company. It seems appropriate that the popular center-city statue Fonske is of a student holding an open book in one hand and pouring liquid (possibly beer) over his head with the other.
The entire town of Bruges, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is medieval. The best way to explore the Venice of the North, a description it shares with Amsterdam and St. Petersburg, is by canal boat. Along the canals are residents’ backyards, Dutch row houses, churches, small bridges, and a pond filled with some of Belgium’s happiest swans spending their days gliding past water lilies and under weeping willow trees, watching the passing canal boat traffic, and enjoying constant dining from passersby. The journey ends with an obligatory stop to purchase a box of Belgian chocolates.
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Steve Kaffen brings an unusual diversity of life and travel experiences to his writing. He has explored most countries and is a long-time member of the famed Explorer’s Club. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Russia ( 1994-96) and later as the Assistant Inspector General for Auditing at Peace Corps of its worldwide operations.
Among interesting experiences, the author has monitored elections for the UN, written the soccer World Cup’s operating procedures, reviewed UNICEF and USAID programs and National Endowment for the Arts grants, managed a start-up Coca-Cola bottling plant in the middle of winter, without heat, and served as an advisor on Washington, D.C.’s 2019 Bus Transformation Project.