Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ghent, Belgium

I try to take my work days off around Husband's four day weekends. Sometimes it doesn't work... sometimes the planets align and everything falls into place.

Last Monday, the kids grumbled because they had to go to school on Martin Luther King's birthday. All their friends in the states were lolling about in their PJs while my two trudged off into the cold dark morning. I was secretly (well maybe not so secret) happy to have them on some sort of mission that involved a) getting up at a decent hour b) putting clothing/shoes on and c) doing something productive rather than stinking up the environs around here.

With the kids out of the house, giddy with freedom, Husband and I decided to get out of the house ourselves and visit Ghent.

The drive took one hour. There was cheap parking galore. We parked in an underground garage with FREE TOILETS! (that means a lot around here). Off we went. My pockets overflowing with tour book, kleenex, ID/money cards, granola bars and toilet coins. My-Army-Guy carried the camera.

Besides soaking up the famous beauty of Ghent and it's canals, I was determined to see two sites in this city; St. Bavo's Cathedral and the Gravensteen Castle.

My Fodor's Belgium tour book said that St. Bavo's was very humble looking on the outside but one was not to be deterred by appearances.

True dat! We forged onward and inward tripping over a beggar on the church steps.

Outer appearances aside, I was completely impressed with St. Bavo's and it now ranks as my all time favorite Belgian church,

Here's what it has going for it as far as cool-factor:

1) A really awesome crypt filled with luxurious robes, markers and crypts and graves from as far back as the 15th century. 15 and 16th century frescos on the walls. Handwritten Bibles and songbooks that were several hundred years old.
2) The very famous polyptych* Adoration of the Mystic Lamb painted by the van Eyck brothers... yours to view for the low, low price of 4 euro each. That 4 euro includes an informative audio guide that lasts about 45 minutes if you have the patience for it (I did not).

3) The richest, most intricate and fabulous pulpit I've ever seen made of white Italian marble and Danish black wood. It was amazing and other worldly.

4) Last, but not least, a Rubens masterpiece, Saint Bavo's Entry into the Monastery is right across the chapel from the entrance into the crypt.

The church was CHILLY. I froze my butt off and I was dressed warmly. It must be lovely in there on a hot summer day.

I haven't been in many European castles. Gravensteen does not disappoint - if for nothing else but the view of the city from the top. The actual castle is modeled after a Syrian crusader castle and was built in 1180 by the Count of Flanders.

You tour the castle on your own, following the numbered placards that are easily visible.

In Gravensteen Castle, there is a creepy couple of rooms featuring implements of torture. Turned my stomach but let's be honest here... this girl read every single display with morbid fascination. If you love that kind of thing.... you'll love Gravensteen. 8 euros each to enter. Not sure on the price for kids.

We tried to do some shopping but almost all the shops were closed on Monday. I was surprised and wondered if it was some Belgian holiday (the answer: no). I did manage to find a few places to browse while Husband got restless. We grabbed a sandwich and a coffee on our walk back to the car.

Husband and I both felt guilty as hell touring a castle without P-Diddle so I'm sure we will return to Ghent soon - it's not to be missed.

*okay, I had to look this word "polyptych" up because I've never heard it before (I know - me, the Scrabble Queen). It means: an altarpiece consisting of more than three panels, set with paintings or carvings, and usually hinged for folding


maggie g. said...

What a great day! SO fun that you and Thom had such a cool day of adventure. I love your photographs... amazing that you can just dash away for a day and get those kind of views- Thanks for sharing!

edith said...

Wish you were here Maggie and Karl!