Saturday, August 6, 2016

Ghent (Gent), Belgium - May 8 - 11, 2016

Belgium is an interesting country. There are different sections and different languages.  North Belgium is the area of Flanders and Wallonia is in the South. The language in Flanders is Flemish and the language in Wallonia is French.   There is also a tiny region in the east of Belgium where they speak German.  Small, but lots of great things within their borders.

I sure didn't have enough time in Ghent.  It was delightful because I stayed at the B&B that my friend, Chantal, owns and that made my time there extra special.  I met Chantal while learning to scuba drive in Cancun.  It was my second ocean dive and her first so I was able to reassure her a bit.  We talked and just hit it off and have stayed in contact for several years.  Such a wonderful plus of the internet.  So when I was going to Europe I wanted to go see her and I'm so glad I did.  If you ever get to Ghent, I recommend staying with her.  She treats her guest like royalty.

It was nice to be with someone I knew after 13 days of being alone. Her home is beautiful with a huge yard, nice dog and a cool turtle, over 100 years old, that they rescued.  Her husband and two children were very welcoming and I felt at home there.

I had ordered breakfast with my room and oh my gosh, I could not believe it.  I ended up keeping half of my breakfast every day in my little refrigerator in my room and then I would make dinner for myself.  I never ate any meal out in Belgium since I had plenty of food from my breakfast each day.

Lovely room, in suite bathroom, 

Nice big tub

Morning 1.  Enough food for 3 people.  I 
kept the bread, cheese, meat, tomato, and 
cookie and had that for dinner.

Another beautiful breakfast.  I loved the
tin foil chicken that held a boiled egg.

So adorable.

The canal is about 3 houses down from where I 
stayed.  People live in the barges.  Quite picturesque.
See the walking path along the canal.

These little dog potties were all along the canal.

Another gray day in Europe.  Where is the sun?

One of my favorite things I saw in Europe. If you look closely you will see sheep across the canal. This shepherd is hired and takes his sheep to "cut down" the grass as needed. It is steep along canal and the sheep do a perfect job.  Great ecological idea.

Early Monday morning, with my trusty map, I started walking downtown along the canal in the wrong direction.  As I walked the area started looking sort of industrial and just not like where I was headed.  I stopped two ladies after about an hour and pointed to the map and said, "Am I here?"  They both looked at each other like I was crazy and nicely said no.  The look of their faces was priceless and just cracked me up.   They said they would take me to the bus to go to the downtown historical area.  Bless their hearts.  So they got me on the bus and I told the driver I wanted to get off in the historic district.  He said don't worry, you can't miss it.  Just look for the yellow "M" - which, of course, was McDonald's.  Smack dab right in the middle of Gent historic district.  I thought that was horrid, but I did find it and got off where I needed to be.

Church of St. Nicholas (in Flemish: Sint-Niklaaskerk. One of the oldest and most important monuments in the city. It is quite impressive. They were doing renovations on it when I was there. It is right next to the Graslei Canal.

Cobblestone streets, no high heels here.

Typical architecture in the downtown historic area

Belgium was a major trader and guilds were formed for the various trades.  I guess these were the first unions.  Along the canal are examples of guild houses that were built.  I think the history of Belgium is very interesting, but won't go into detail here.  If you want to read a little, check this info which is brief:

More of the scenic historic district:

This is spectacular.  Canal, boats, flowers, the architecture and
people sitting along the banks eating, drinking and talking.

 The Masons' Guild house.  Very ornate.

Belfry of Ghent.  The dragon, put on the tower in 
1377 didn’t only keep an eye on the city, but was 
also the symbolic guardian 

Roman charity - great act of pietas. This is the Memmelocke Statue. A classical sculpture on the top of a building which was once the entrance to the city prison and also the wardens house.

The town hall in Ghent was built over a long period of time. The late Gothic right side was built by Rombout Keldermans and Dominik de Waghemakere from 1482-1539. The left side, which is simpler and more classical, was constructed in 1635, with eighteenth century additions. It does look odd and disjointed.

Front of the Town Hall.  Impossible to get a better photo of 
the entire building as road work was blocking off areas and it 
was so crowded with buildings I couldn't get back far enough.

Graffiti Alley.  Fun place that makes you smile.
Glad this stuff is here and not all over the city.  In fact, I don't recall
seeing graffiti.  In Rome it was EVERYWHERE!!!!!

Friday Market Square. Statute of Jacob Van Artevelde

I love this fountain.  Water in levels for dogs, horses and birds.

About 180 breweries in Belgium.  I had several very 
tasty beers.  A national passion.  They also serve the beer 
brand in matching brand glasses.

I enjoyed the architecture so much.  Much of the city's medieval architecture remains intact and is remarkably 
well preserved and restored.  The center is car free.

Cast-iron cannon weighs 12,500 kg and is known in popular parlance as the ‘dulle griet’ (evil woman). It does have a big mouth but that’s as far as the evil goes, as it has never been fired. It was too often used as a rubbish bin or a bed for drunkards (the eponymous cafĂ© De Dulle Griet proudly sells more than 250 types of beer) the barrel was permanently closed a few years ago. Our tour guide told us the university used the cannon for hazing and required their pledges to sleep in the cannon over night.

Gravensteen Castle
Built 1180

At the Design Museum of Ghent, only saw the outside which was interesting.

Literally, it means “to go on the loo”.  But it's
never used in that way. The other meaning is, “screw you” – which is how the term is usually used.

The bathroom wing, built after a lost battle with city government 

to approve a museum expansion, constructed an outside set 

of bathrooms in an enclosure made to look like a giant roll of 
toilet paper.  Flemish sarcasm at its best.

Along the canal.  One of my favorite views in Europe.

This doesn't even look real.  More like a Disney movie.

Huge Mural - for the movie Monuments Men. A fascinating true story, made into a movie, about rescuing many great works of art that were taken by the Nazis and hidden.  This work was largely forgotten until an art scholar, Lynn H. Nicholas, read an obituary about a French woman who spied on the Nazis’ looting operation for years and single handedly saved 60,000 works of art. That spurred Nicholas to spend a decade researching her 1995 book, "The Rape of Europa", which began the resurrection of their story culminating with the movie, "The Monuments Men", based upon Robert Edsel’s 2009 book of the same name. 

While the old days are remembered, and the historic buildings are treasured, Belgium is a very progressive country.  They are very "green" with recycling bins everywhere.

The first town in Europe and probably the western world to try to make the entire city vegetarian for a day every week. The day is Thursday and it is called "donderdag Veggiedag. Tom Balthazar, the Labour party councillor pushing the scheme, said: "There's nothing compulsory. We just want to be a city that promotes sustainable and healthy living."Every restaurant in the city is to guarantee a vegetarian dish on the menu, with some going fully vegetarian every Thursday. From September, the city's schools are to make a meat-free meal the "default" option every Thursday, although parents can insist on meat for their children. At least one hospital wants to join in. Ghent also has the world's largest number of vegetarian restaurants per capita.
In the city center is the second largest car free area. Public transports, taxis and permit holders may enter but not exceed 5 km/h. Belgium is No. 9 in the world for having the most bicycles per capita.

One university's bike parking.  There are 
bikes everywhere.

For my birthday, Chantal made me Stoverij, a classic Flemish meat stew that was served with homemade French fries.  It was delicious and very hearty.  It was fun because it was also her daughter's birthday the same day.  Chantal made her daughter's favorite which was macaroni and cheese.  We had a lovely birthday lunch and I really appreciated the nice celebration.

Birthday lunch, what a great treat with a
lovely family and friends.

Chantal's yard, quite a place.  Not every yard
has a life sized statute.

They even had a rescued turtle so I felt at home.

...and a very friendly, sweet dog.

Chantal took the afternoon off and we rode the trolley downtown to the art museum. 

Great public transportation.

Park outside the museum.  I saw several of these
plant forms in Europe and they are so pretty.  I looked it up 
and I think this is what it is:  An espalier (pronounced
 “es-PAL-yer”) is a plant that has been trained to grow in a
 flat plane against a wall, fence, or trellis.

Chantal in front of the Music Kiosk.

Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium, on the East side of the Citadelpark.  Holds a large permanent collection of art from the Middle Ages until the mid 20th century.

Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent and our reflection.
A great museum with many masterpieces.

Some abstract art here which just made me appreciate
the rest of the museum more.

This was interesting.

We spent several hours viewing the art work.  The museum 
was organized beautifully and it was just the right size, 
all displays were very well done.

Belgium is known for its beer, so I had lots of sampling to do.

Chantal called a cab for me to go to the train station and time was ticking and they weren't coming.  She had to call again and they said it would be half an hour, when it had already been an hour.  Good thing I like to be early.  Cab finally came.  I was getting so worried I was going to miss my train to Paris, but it all worked out.

Train station in Brussels

First Class Brussels to Paris.  Fun to take a train ride.

Brussels security, serious folks and there was security
everywhere that I went in Europe.

Free beer in first class, and I also had a delicious pastry.  
I just wasn't sure about which class to take, but next time 
I'd just buy a regular seat.  Live and learn.

Out the train window.  Good bye beautiful 
Belgium, headed to Paris, France.

Looking back over my photos to write this blog was fun.  Ghent is so picturesque.  I absolutely did not have enough time to see this fantastic city in detail.  I will never forget the canal area with the boats, barges, sheep and astounding architecture.  So happy I was able to visit my friends, see some of the city and have a wonderful experience.