Our last two days in Belgium were spent in Brussels and Tournai. We took the train from Bruges to Brussels and got a hotel near the train station. Since we had an early flight out we wanted to be closer to the airport. Once we arrived, we walked around the Grand Place, ate, and of course we had a beer.
The next morning, our final day in Belgium, we got up and took a train into Tournai, about an hour away. Tournai is in the region called Wallonia near the French border. Tournai was one of the main creators of tapestries during the Middle Ages and when I read that they had a tapestry museum I really wanted to visit. (Side note: I have been intrigued by the method of creating medieval tapestries since seeing The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries at the Cluny Museum in Paris several years ago (amazing! Go see them if you have the chance) and reading The Lady and the Unicorn and The Seventh Unicorn)
Tournai is the only Belgian city to have been controlled by the British throne (Henry VIII in 1513). It has changed hands several times; it was important in Roman times, then seized by the Franks in the 5th century (the birthplace of Frankish King Clovis) and was a Bishop’s see in the early 6th century, it was controlled by the counts of Flanders until it was recovered by France in 1188, then Henry VIII in 1513 and returned again to France in 1518, the Netherlands in 1521, then a Spanish Habsburg province, then the Austrian Habsburgs in the 18th century, and then back and forth between France and Austria.
We thought Tournai to be utterly charming. We might have been the only tourists in the town, which was so refreshing after the hordes of tourists in Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels. Everyone spoke French. No one spoke English, or very limited English. There weren’t English translations on the menus or street signs or museum displays. This might bother some, but we loved it. (Apparently I still retain enough of my high school French to be able to communicate (together with hand gestures, ha!) and decipher menus.)
I was disappointed in the Tapestry Museum. They had a few medieval tapestries and an old loom, which was interesting. None of the tapestries were as intricate and beautiful as The Lady and Unicorn tapestries in the Cluny Museum in Paris, or even the Vatican Museum in Italy. I didn’t mind that the placards were just in French and Dutch. I was just disappointed at how limited the displays were. My favorite thing in the museum was a series of maps…
In spite of the disappointment of the Tapestry Museum, we adored Tournai. Wandering around and exploring, enjoying the challenges of navigating with…language challenges. It was a fun and relaxing day. We were sorry not to have been able to see the inside of their Cathedral of Notre Dame (11-12th century basilica and UNESCO world heritage site) that was undergoing renovations, nor the Pont Des Trous, a medieval bridge on the outskirts of the town which was originally part of the city wall. It was blown up during World War II and reconstructed.