England 40 Years Ago — January 12, 1982

We drove in rain up the coast to Ostend and went on to Bruges without getting out of the car.

I think we did two days’ walking in one, following suggested tours of Bruges. The city as I remember it, is a kaleidoscope of narrow buildings topped by interesting weather vanes mirrored in canals.

We noted many niches above doors of homes that had statues of the Madonna. Many window frames are red, the windows sparkling and the wooden doors polished. Post boxes are often in doors as in England, but we also saw many built right into walls of homes! Everywhere were interesting rooftops with tall spires of churches showing above them. Many windows have stained glass, others have medallions of colored glass, and still others have small clear green panes.

We went in several very old churches that were full of art works. I was amazed at two wooden pulpits in similar style – a central elaborately carved figure holds up the pulpit while two curved sets of stairs behind balance the whole thing.

We went in one museum just to see the van Eyck paintings and ones by Memling and Jerard David. Posted outside churches were death notices: John noticed them because they had black borders and RIP on them. (RIP must stand for Requiescat in Pacem.)

Dutifully we bought lace, some made with bobbins and some with needles. In one shop we saw a lady using bobbins – she just threw them around carelessly! She obviously knew what she was doing, but it looked chaotic.

Often during the day we heard the Carillon softly playing. It has 47 bells from the 18th century, and the belfry is the finest in Belgium – the most prominent feature of Bruges since the 13th century.

At different times during the day we bought little apple pastries in the open market, chocolate confections from a pastry shop, and went in an ice cream parlor to get warm. There had been snowflakes dancing around in short showers under blue skies until afternoon when a fierce black cloud covered the sun. The wind kicked up as we looked at two preserved windmills, and suddenly we felt we were in a blizzard. We took refuge in the ice cream place, ordering hot chocolate and pancakes. The chocolate came in tall glasses with a lump of sugar and a cookie on the side. Pancakes were two crepes each with a tray of sugar, chocolate sugar, raspberry jam, butter, and whipped cream. [Too bad Lise didn’t have her iPhone back then. She would have taken pictures of the lovely food.]

Front doors have little squares cut out and a metal muzzle protruding so that from inside you can open a small window and talk without opening the door.

We made one quick stop in Ghent, finding a parking space right in front of the cathedral. Inside we saw van Eyke’s Mystical Lamb. How on earth can paintings be so brilliant when 500 years old? The whole altar piece was breath taking. Also in that church in another side chapel was a Rubens.

Between Ghent and Brussels we saw any number of thatched roofs so very different from those in England. They are greenish – John thought they had a green net covering the thatch. We wanted to take a picture of one, but couldn’t find one when John could pull off the road.

In Brussels John guided us on the tram/subway at rush hour; he was in his element with excitement shining in his eyes. I felt the familiar rush of sheer panic being at the mercy of public servants and crushed among people whose language I couldn’t understand – just like my early days in New York!

We saw the Grand Place in the center of Brussels – a large square of Medieval buildings beautifully preserved. We also found the cathedral which made us aware of the good repair of so many. This one had police barricades to keep everyone in the front quarter of the building. Above our heads were safety nets, either to catch falling debris or for practicing high-wire artists.

The leisurely drive to Liege was along pleasant agricultural land where we found hills for the first time since leaving Dover. We looked for three castles, but the road markings were so poor that we found only one.

The battlefield at Waterloo is gently rolling farm land. It’s hard to imagine such a bloody, muddy battle occurred there.

Most of the areas we saw in Liege had lively modern shops. We walked from the cathedral to a palace and the town hall, also seeing the National Theater.

We started out for Luxembourg, but snow was accumulating fast. We ate at a lovely café in Bastogne, saw the monument to the American soldiers involved in the Battle of the Bulge, and crept back to the hotel. [Still a happy memory after all these years is my first taste of Béarnaise sauce in that café. It was served in a gravy boat to go with the beef we ordered. After we got back to England, I searched through my cookbooks and made my own recipe from a combination of the instructions.]

On Sunday we made the easy journey to Aachen, Germany, where we worshiped in the church built by Charlemagne!! His bones were in an elaborate gold coffin at the front of the church, and his throne in its original position in the gallery. As for the present, we thoroughly enjoyed the precise choir in their lively sanctuary.

We woke to heavy snow falling the day we were to return home. The expressways were barely open, usually with only one lane plowed. John drove us safely to Calais where our hovercraft flight was cancelled. They gave us a ticket on a ferry, instead. There was snow on the ground in England, but the roads were clear. Clear, that is, except side roads. Walton was a winter wonderland and our drive under five inches of snow. I think this is the seventh major storm to hit England this winter – most unusual.