So having made a decision to travel a little quicker, here we are in Belgium! Granted, it’s just around the corner, but even traveling on Sunday on large freeways saw traffic backed up or even brought to a halt. I’ve no idea if Monday would have been any better, but I’m happy we’ve made the call and moved on. We arrived at the public parking area at the Yacht Basin – a very complimentary term for a spot next to the canoe club, and at the head of the straight used for rowing – and to our surprise, the roads were packed. How were we to know the Ghent Marathon was on? In any case, found a nice spot overlooking the grass and water and settled in for the night.
Woke to a freezing cold morning! By the time we had walked into town, about 30 minutes from here, my eyes had teared up, so any out-of-focus photographs are to be blamed on that (exclude the instamatic nature of the camera!) The walk took us through perhaps less salubrious parts of town, and on rubbish collection day. Feeling less than enthused we reached the Old Town and – Goodness, there is so much of beauty to see!
Stopping at Info (very helpful!!), housed in the old fish market, provided us with a map with a tour of the old town, highlights and background information on the key sights. True to form, we dawdled, and the day passed in a haze of exquisite buildings, town squares, and exhibits that were simply breathtaking. Having had little intention of stopping here – well, so happy to have done so.
A couple of highlights:
Best for us was the St Bavo’s Cathedral: Built on the site of a previous church dating from the 10th C and a Romanesque church dating to the 12th C, the Cathedral has incorporated those elements in its present form. Stepping down below the cathedral floor into the Romanesque church, still with frescoes in quite vivid colours, was just astonishing – I literally stood with my mouth hanging open.
The church houses a range of rich art treasures, including paintings by Rubens and a host of Flemish masters. The guide book notes one particular treasure, the Ghent Altarpiece, as follows: ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb is arguably the most influential painting in history, and is also the most frequently stolen artwork of all-time.’ The most recent theft, in WWII by art connoisseurs Hitler and Goering, and the successful repatriation by the Monuments Men is detailed in the cathedral.
Too much to note in a blog – this is a place to visit yourself, and again, pictures just fail to capture the sense of immensity, beauty, historicity, oh goodness a range of really good feelings!
A sense of what the town looked like can be gained from the old port part of town. Ghent has frequently lost access to the sea due to silting of the rivers, but this area played a critical role is Ghent’s rise to power as a merchant city, second in size only to Paris, focused on the wool industry. The stately buildings around the Graslei & Korenlei streets on the Leie canal were reminders of this.
And then some individual gems: This building has the oldest stepped gables in the world. Given its size, and its very imposing neighbours, how did it survive)
Vrijdagmarkt must hum in summer – what a great place for a Belgian beer – and a quick look at the 12500kg Mad Meg cannon.
I could go on, but you get the idea!
With rain teeming down, temperatures dropping close to freezing, we are going to drive to Bruges and decide on whether to stay overnight or move on – probably the latter. After looking at our road atlas, deciding that endless autumn is not where we’re at, we are going to increase our pace and try to get to Morocco in December. First up then, is to aim for St Malo, taking in some of WWII sites along the way. Given that Morocco is almost 3000km away I’m sure we’ll have things to distract us.
What is brought home over and over again is that a year seems like a bit of a rush ….