Monday, June 04, 2007

Bouillon, Belgium

Everyone is probably familiar with bouillon cubes, those 50% plus chunks of salt and pan scrapings used to add some zing to insipid, but otherwise nourishing meals. Well, as you might have guessed, those malodorous morsels are in no way connected with Bouillon in Belgium. The most popular local urban myth, in fact, suggests that the name is from Godfrey of Bouillon who sold the castle back in 1096 and went off to fight the Crusades. It transpires that he won the fight, because in 1099 he was offered the job of King of Jerusalem but turned it down in favor of becoming the Warden of the Holy Sepulcher. Too bad for him though, for he died the next year, in 1100 aged 39, and was buried in the St. Sepulcher's church, close to the Calvary. In hindsight, he might have done better to have continued Duking in Belgium. About the size of Maryland, Belgium has a population of 10 million or so and has remained organized as a constitutional monarchy since it was established in its present form in 1830. One is left with the impression however, that having being tromped over several times by invaders and liberators alike in WWI, with their flotilla of tanks and other armaments, and then several times more in WWII, the national psyche is also quite trampled. One inconvenient legacy of the tumultuous history of the country is the official recognition of three national languages - French, German and Dutch - with English making an unofficial, but widely spoken fourth. Our route took us through southern Belgium and, apart from Bouillon which seemed to be prospering as a tourist resort, northern Luxembourg and everywhere we visited in Belgium seemed to be in pretty poor shape. This general aura of impoverishment, we were to discover, remained with us for several days as we crossed the war ravaged and somewhat forgotten areas of northeastern France. Bouillon however, was delightful. The huge rock on which the castle is built is almost encircled by a broad meander of the Semois river and the town is built along both river banks below. Across the river, behind the narrow strip of buildings, the Ardenne forest rises steeply on the hillsides.

View from the castle

View to the west behind the castle showing the river meander

Tourist Central - area of hotels, tat stores and restaurants

Like so many towns and cities through this area, the
churches is disproportionately large for the community

Interior of the church

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