About half an hour by car from French-speaking Tournai is the Flemish or Dutch-speaking city of Kortrijk (or Courtrai in French), located in Northwest Belgium. I happen to love both the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia and the Dutch-speaking northern parts of Flanders even if there is strong tension among the two parts that divide the heart of this country.
I’ll start today’s tour with some background as it leads into the next blog entry about what’s consumed my time this past week. The first visit I made upon arriving in Europe some two weeks ago was to see the grandmother of my host family at the hospital…
Unfortunately I’m not a stranger to hospitals for a variety of odd maladies (and we’ll leave it at that :-D), so hospitals feel somewhat familiar to me even if in foreign countries. Anyway, after a few hospital visits, she was released to her daughter’s home.
Now where was I about Kortrijk? It was known in the 1700s for being the center of flax, with its linen and damask industry leading to its economic boom. Historically it was also marked by the Battle of the Golden Spurs, an event in July 11, 1302 that took place at this spot,
during which the small Flemish army defeated the then powerful French cavalry to reclaim its land. The Kortrijk 1302 Museum cum Visitor Centre
is a good place to start any tour in this town that’s now both a mix of medieval history and modern design. The information center also provides one of the best information guides I’ve ever picked up around the world. And it’s free in several languages.
In Flemish Kortrijk you will find a smattering of old, beautiful churches
juxtaposed against modern, chic complexes like at the Buda area comprising of the Budascoop and Buda Tower:
So it’s entirely possible to be at the medieval Broel Towers one minute,
and run into some modern office building or shopping mall the next:
But what I will always remember about this city is this very spot, because just as I turn this corner to reach the entrance to the Baggaertshof and snap this photo,
we receive a phone call that the grandmother has just been rushed back to the hospital. We are told not to cut our tour short, so we continue to visit this beguinage, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was established in 1638 to house destitute women. It is a small rectangular “subdivision” of 13 tiny houses swallowed by a verdant herb garden of some 200 varieties:
This is probably a fun town to visit over a leisurely weekend, but I am able to compress some of it in a short afternoon. Here are some parting shots of Kortrijk:
See you in the next town…