Brussels, Belgium: Another fun day trip! Our hotel is so close to Brussels Central Train Station, it was easy to plan a day away. My research found Friday was the main market day in the Ghent city square, so off we went. You know I just love big city markets... or small city markets... or any Farmer Market big or small (and DT doesn't mind tagging along), so off we went. We caught a train at 9:30a and were in Ghent around 10a. After arriving, we caught the city tram to the city center (about 1 mile away).
We found Ghent's most famous candy even before we reached the food market in the city square. Cuberdons are jelled candies, conical (some say shaped like a nose). They were originally raspberry flavored and locals insists only the raspberry flavor is proper to consume, and the other "colors" are only for tourists.
As we entered the large square we were amazed at the variety of items for sale. Food, yes, but also flowers, clothing, household goods, textiles, phone cases, purses, a crazy mixture of stuff. I will post a lot of (so many, sorry) photos below with captions. It was all a bit over-whelming with the scope of foods for sale.
After the market... and sadly not purchasing a thing, we walked to the nearby Castle of the Counts, also known as Gravensteen Castle, which began in 890! Never really used as a fort at all but was used to intimidate foreigners from invading, it seems to be most famous for a local uprising when the university students took-over the castle for four days to protest the rise in beer prices.
Our next adventure was to - what else - go on a boat tour of the canals through pretty Ghent. It seems to be the thing to do. There were several tour companies, traveling the same routes and charging basically the same fee.
Isn't Ghent just so pretty? And the weather was so lovely. It was a Friday, but people were out like it was a weekend, so many students hanging-out together in the sunshine.
One of the first sights on our boat cruise this afternoon was past an old monastery (above photo). Notice the out-house-type-looking bump-out addition to the building? It was an outhouse, and it emptied directly into the river! No flushing needed! Hundreds of monks lined up every morning to use this toilet. This caused the water to become unsafe to drink (along with everything else that went into the river), so the locals began brewing beer as an alternative beverage to water. I have heard this tale over and over again through the years and also knew children drank beer. Today I learned they brewed a "safer" version for children: ONLY 2% alcohol. Geesh.
Our boat trip also took us by a famous brothel in Ghent. Two swans facing each other resemble a heart - a symbol of love. Two swans facing opposite each other symbolize a brothel. Now you know.
The most famous thing in Ghent (besides nose-shaped candies) is a magnificent altar piece in St. Bavo's Cathedral called the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. It is the prize possession of Belgium and one of the most precious art pieces in the world. The altar piece was commissioned by a wealthy Ghent family for their private chapel in St. Bavo's Cathedral and was painted by Flemish painters, brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck. We only learned of this painting when we were at the Manneken Pis costume museum yesterday while talking with the curator about our planned trip to Ghent the next day. He told us to not miss the painting of the Mystic Lamp in the cathedral. When he said lamp, my mind went to Aladdin and his magical lamp. Lamp, no. He was saying LAMB. This painting depicts all the saints, clergy, sinners and everyone else (Adam, Eve, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and more) gathering together to sacrifice a lamb. This painting is so famous and precious, it has been stolen several times, coveted by Adolph Hitler, depicted in several novels/films, and was hidden in an Austrian salt mine during World War II to stop Hitler for stealing/destroying the panels. It is one of the first painting to be completed in oil and is said to be the birth of Renaissance painting.
It is glorious in detail, showing single strands of hair, dirt under fingernails, and expressions on faces in the crowd. Meticulously restored recently, the colors are bright. As beautiful as the panels are, the church is also a work of art. Massive in scale, the sides of the cathedral are lined with art-filled personal family chapels.
Just saying, I know not much about churches (though we have been in many in our travels), but this cathedral seemed more like a museum than a church to me... except for all the dead people buried in crypts in the private chapels lining the sides of the cathedral. Who has a Reuben above their great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather's crypt? (NOTE: it is free to visit the cathedral, but 12.50 euros to see the panels.)
Time for lunch! It was 2p, and we were ready for some food. One of the best Chicken Waterzooi soups in Ghent was situated only a few steps away from the Cathedral, so we found a table at t'Vosken (the fox).
One last photo of Ghent before we caught the tram back to the train station - this is the city (watch) tower. It plays music on the hour and citizens get to vote annually to choose which songs are played. This year, Bohemian Rapsody (Queen) is on the playlist.
We caught another 30 minute train back to Brussels and had a nice rest before heading out for our evening entertainment. (I lie. I edited photos for this blog and DT worked out in the hotel fitness center.) There was a whollotta of stuff going on around town this evening about the famous Pisser. Some sort of bag pipers were involved in the changing-o-the-costume and they paraded up and down the street outside our hotel. We asked the hotel staff, but they had no idea, giving us a "everyday it is something else, we don't know, we don't care, we can't keep track" look of disinterest. Later, after we found ourselves at yet another street-side café, the bagpiping band marched down the street outside:
After parading past, they stopped down the street/alley and played Auld Lang Syne with bagpipes. Always good.
We were only looking for a light snack after our big lunches in Ghent, and only chose tonight's restaurant because they offered Zot (crazy guy or court jester in Flemish?) beer. We first had this beer in Bruges, Belgium in 2005 and still remember it well. It is so good! (I am still a bit miffed ZOT is not an accepted word in Words with Friends.)
Enough excitement. We hit the road in the morning.
Until my next update, I remain, your zot correspondent.
Pedometer: 15,000 steps. Lots of walking in lovely Ghent today.