Monday, May 23, 2011

Bruges and Ghent, Belgium A New Experience!

So we arrive in Belgium, another place I have ever been.  (Actually until I reached England the only other place I had visited prior on this cruise was the Azores so this trip was a real treat for me.)

This time Carolyn and Alice joined the other five of us and we hired another private driver.  Danielle was a real pro and turns out she updates Rick Steve's Belgium book with him and has been a visitor to his home.  She was waiting for us when we disembarked and off we went for a full day of sightseeing.

First stop was Ghent, a university town similar to Bruges but not as pretty nor as touristy.  This is a picture of the ladies in the group including Jane, Marsha, Carolyn, Danielle and Alice.

Note Jane's hand under chin.  That's a little trick she uses to cover a double chin and works beautifully although now it is a standing joke that every time I take her pic I tell her to put her hand under her chin.  Happened to see a very old picture of Queen Alexandra, Elizabeth's grandmother, and guess what, she had her hand under her chin so this has been an old trick dating back to the beginning of photography!

Also note Alice.  She was among the walking wounded that day having stayed up drinking and gambling the night before.  She is a hoot, maybe a little nuts which is a compliment in my book.  Jane had run into her the night before on the ship while Alice was looking for her room and asked her is she should call her a cab!  Need I say more.  A Fulbright scholar, she studied in India when she was younger and wanted to go home as soon as she got there. (Must have been drinking when she made that decision!)  Anyway, she was one hurtin' gator that day but stayed the course.

So here's some of the architecture in Ghent.  It was a flourishing merchant city and each house was headquarters for a particular trade.  Unfortunately I forgot which ones but I think the one with the boat was the one for merchants who did not have their own ships.

And here's a photo of Fat Margaret.  (After 10 days on the ship I resembled that remark.  Oh hell, I resembled that remark BEFORE I got on the ship!)  Anyway, it was a large canon that one of the royals used to blow his enemies castles to kingdom come and named it, unflatteringly, after another queen.

Then it was on to Gravensteen Castle.  Built by Philip of Alsace in the 12th century, it was modeled after the castles he had seen during an earlier crusade.  It was the seat of the Counts of Flanders until the 14th century and now houses a museum of torture devices which we gladly skipped.

Ghent is a city of canals which served the many merchants.  Here is a photo of one of them with the large merchant houses lining it.  We skipped the canal cruise here opting for the gorgeous one we took later.

There is little graffiti in Ghent and here is why.  The city provides this alley for the use of the "street artists" and here is a sample of some of their "artwork".

Next stop was Bruges and what a gorgeous city it is.  Instead of running commentary, I will just let you feast your eyes on this beautiful (loaded with tourists) city and its beautiful canals.

And this must be the most photographed dog in the city.  He spends his days lounging in the window!

Besides the picturesque buildings and canals, Bruges also house the only Michelangelo sculpture that left Italy during his lifetime.  Someone didn't pay him so he sold it to a wealthy merchant in Bruges.  It was stolen during the Nazi occupation but returned when the city could prove ownership by providing the original bill of sale which had been kept in the archives.  Lesson: Always keep your receipts!

Here is the church that houses the sculpture, St.Mary's.

And here is the famous and gorgeous Michelangelo sculpture.

And of course before leaving the city we had to capture one of the last remaining windmills.

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