Thursday, January 7, 2010

Beer, Blizzards and Frites, Part Quatre

On my (almost) last day in Belgium, we decided to take a day-trip to Ghent and Brugges. I specifically wanted to see Ghent for two reasons. The first is that I used to waitress at an Irish bar in a neighborhood of Norfolk, Virginia called Ghent. But more importantly to see this:

This is called (quite unimaginatively, but the name we learned in Art History class, The Ghent Altarpiece) or the older name of The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.

I love art, especially Flemish and Dutch art. In a previous life I applied to grad school to get my Master's Degree in Art History. Luckily for me, Bryn Mawr turned me down since that would have meant I probably would have spent my life locked in a museum and not met my wonderful husband.

But I digress. This altarpiece, by Jan Van Eyck, is one of the world's masterpieces. And let me tell you, it is huge! The amount of detail and realism the early Flemish painters can convey with simple brush strokes is nothing short of amazing. You really see the swirls and the embroidery on the textiles come to life. You can see the sheen on the dewy pearls and feel the breath of life in the shadows of the robes.

Ghent is a beautiful city bisected by two rivers and many canals. Primarily a student city, it didn't feel nearly as touristy as Brugges. I really enjoyed myself here and also got my first (European) taste of frites, which were the most amazing thing ever!

There was a frites shop in Philadelphia when I lived there, but I don't remember it being all that. And as consequently it went out of business, I guess I wasn't the only one.

During the Christmas season, there is a special "shopper's train ticket" to Ghent from Brussels that was, I believe, 9 Euros.

The downtown tourist area is quite a ways from the train station and I'm not sure how I would have done it if I hadn't been with people who knew how and where to take the tram. If you plan a trip to Ghent, be forewarned it's a good 10 minute tram ride at least to downtown.

My friends didn't want to accompany me to Brugges as they said they had been there a million times on school trips and they had things to do, so I carried on alone. In preparation and in the spirit of research for my trip, I had rented the Colin Farrell movie, In Brugges.
I have to admit, I couldn't understand his whining about how much he hated Brugges until I actually got there. What a shame. It seemed to me like a Disney version of what a medieval city is supposed to be like. It is definitely not one of my top pics.

While the architecture is beautiful, it's almost ruined by the blase attitude of the people who work there. I mean, c'mon, I know you work in a tourist city but that doesn't mean you don't have to give a damn.

No one was rude, but it was definitely an assembly-line feel. Kind of like, keep it moving. No matter where you're from--Zimbabwe, Iran, Malawai--it was like "We've seen a million like you and we'll see a million more, so on your bike and good day to you all!"

That didn't stop me from get

ting some great pics though.
There was one thing that saved Brugges in my opinion. I encountered it as I was stumbling back along the cobblestones, trying to find my way back to the train station (BTW, everyone tells you the train lets you off downtown near all the tourist stuff. It doesn't. Rather, prepare to walk a good half-mile as the crow flies or a good mile or two fumbling your way along ancient alleys and churchyards until you randomly come upon the main tourist area. Or conversely, you can try to find your way back to the train station by following a family, loaded with Christmas purchases, for over a mile along the river only to discover they were going to the car park. As I unfortunately did).

The one thing that saved my trip was the Groeningemusem, where I encountered another of the world's great treasures, hidden in this little museum in a back alley. What gives Belgium? Anyway, it was another van Eyck and I won't bore you with the details.

After a rather uneventful train ride back to Brussels, we met up with another former student and friend of mine, Julie. We went to an apparently up and coming neighborhood of Brussels called Place Flagey. We went to an Irish pub with the unlikely named of de Valera's. We originally wanted to go to Michael Collins (which is referenced in the link to de Valera's) but due to scheduling conflicts we couldn't make it). If you go to Place Flagey, just know that there is seriously NO parking in the area.

But it was nice to see another of my students (poor girl, she came to the language school in early June when apparently Spain has its school holidays, so it was her, the 1 Belgium and a class of 7 Spanish people).

This picture was taken by a really drunk guy who fell off the stoop as he was taking our picture and I have no idea who the guy in the background is, but I do know he's friends with the drunk guy.


  1. Ghent sounds great. I'm going to add that to my must-see in Europe list!

  2. ancient art, following random people because you're lost, and photobombs? Sounds like my kind of trip! :D hahaha