On this atypically hot day with temperatures reaching into the 90s, our guests divided into two groups and braved the bright sun for a day of exploring Brugge and Ypres. During its glory days from the 12th to the 15th centuries, Brugge was one of the world’s most important commercial centers. Often called “The Venice of the North,” it was a top trading partner in the Hanseatic League. After the channel that linked it to the ocean began silting up in the 1500s, Brugge entered a long period of economic decline and stagnation, which is one of the reasons the city remains so picturesque. Much of its historic architecture survives. For that reason, it has been a popular tourist destination since the 19th century.

We spent our day marveling at Brugge’s beautiful buildings, winding cobblestone streets, and beguiling canals. Our marvelous lunch featured delicious cod fillet, a fitting dish in a Hanseatic city. Along with wool, spices, and salt, cod was one of the main financial drivers of trade during the city’s economic glory days. We spent our free time shopping for chocolate and lace at the many purveyors of these local products.

Another group guests headed to Ypres, an ancient city once renowned for its linen trade but now more familiar as the site of one of the main battles between the German and Allied forces in World War I. Guests visited Cloth Hall, a majestic building that was constructed mainly in the 13th century and completed in 1304. The original structure was partially destroyed during World War I, but a 35-year effort was undertaken to rebuild this important UNESCO World Heritage site.