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more Ghent....

Gent, Belgium

Well, still feeling grotty, but after enjoying breakfast, I went and looked at the castle. It is quite plain inside, although with several displays about medieval torture (the counts weren't entirely nice people!)

The castle does also give some great views over the town.

permalink written by  martin_b on July 2, 2007 from Gent, Belgium
from the travel blog: 10 days in Belgium
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Slightly wet...

Kortrijk, Belgium

I had to change train at Kortrijk on the way to Ieper. It's smaller than the big cities I'd been visiting, but with hidsight, it would have been nice to make space for smaller places like this. The town square has a nice bit of modern art, and there's a museum of some sort in the building behind. Sadly I didn't have time to explore, both because of train times, and because of that innocuous looking cloud. I got VERY WET INDEED.

permalink written by  martin_b on July 2, 2007 from Kortrijk, Belgium
from the travel blog: 10 days in Belgium
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a fine cold...

Brugge, Belgium

For the next couple of days I was really really suffering...I think it was just a cold, but it was really getting to me, very chesty. So I'm a bit vague, and didn't enjoy things as much as I could have.

Anyway, I went by Arentshuis, which has these classic Battle scenes carved into it.

Then I went in the Groeningemuseum, which has a small but perfectly formed art collection, before heading to the station...and Ghent.

permalink written by  martin_b on July 1, 2007 from Brugge, Belgium
from the travel blog: 10 days in Belgium
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Gent, Belgium

I didn't really get my head round Ghent, partly because I was ill, partly because I didn't spend enough time there. It's a funny city: if I was going to buy a house in Belgium, this would be the place, because it seems to be on the cusp between being a run down partly historic city and being the Manchester of Belgium. It's got history...maybe it's as nice as Bruges...it's got bars and student life, and modernity...and yet it's neither faceless like Brussels, nor defined by history.

And it definitely can't be seen in a day and a half! Not if you really want to understand it.

A quick tram in from the station got me to the main square: usual stuff, cathedral, belfort, really fancy buildings...

Here's the belfort, which I went up. I got in the way of a rather fast moving bunch of German tourists with a stroppy guide at the top. Personally, if I see someone enjoying the view, I wait until they have finished...not this guide. Anyway, it does give a very good view of a very big city.

And Ghent also has the most amazing hostel...it's brilliant! Right in the centre (2 minutes from everything), with a view you'd pay a lot of money for, modern clean rooms with only 4 beds a room, and a very nice breakfast the next day. Friendly staff too. These are views from the bedroom window.

Just round the corner, well a couple of corners, there's the design museum.

Quite dramatic, and it's pretty good inside too- I liked these art deco rooms.

And just round the corner again (lots of corners!), there's the famous Castle Gravensteen, which is pretty dramatic.

There are some stunning canals about as well: I didn't take the classic views, so you get these slightly less good ones instead.

In the evening, I found a particularly snooty Italo-Belgian restaraunt near the Brabantdam...the waiter clearly didn't want me there :-) It was very average, he had nothing to be snooty about.

permalink written by  martin_b on July 1, 2007 from Gent, Belgium
from the travel blog: 10 days in Belgium
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More Bruges (ok I've run out of inspiration)

Brugge, Belgium

Well, this was the first thing I saw today...I stll can't figure out how these guys thought they could get this pane of glass, in a huge wooden frame, through the window they were trying to fit it to. It just didn't fit- I stayed aroudn a while watching the free entertainment, and waiting for it to break, but sadly it didn't, it just reached a stalemate with the glaziers.

This is a godshuis...sort of like an almshouse, Belgian style. They are still all over Bruges, although not all as cute as this one.

Just behind the cathedral there's another quiet spot: it's amazing how like sheep most visitors are, they never go off course.
It's quite beautiful, with the canal, little gardens and sculptures, and old buildings like these. This sort of wooden building is how Bruges used to look...but unsurprisingly it all burned down, so this one is about all that's left. They aren't allowed now.

I went into the cathedral after that. There's a museum bit at the far end, which not many people pay to get into, but it has these incredible early medieval painted tombs.

Like all of Belgium, Bruges has an impressive square, well two squares, with a big tower, which gives great views. Nuff said :)

I thought I'd see some of the less-known bits, so I went North East, along the canal. Boules was just an added bonus! It's quiet, but scenic.

Eventually I reached the canal round the edge of the city (sort of a wet ring road: I guess it started as part of the city's defences), and found this windmill. Quite nice, but a bit noisy: there's a real ring road just outside the wet one.

I went along the cnal for a bit and then went back towards the centre. I was feeling a bit hungy, so when I found a sweet shop it seemed a good opportunity. It turned out the owner only spoke Flemish...well, she was about 80. Nice lady, and her daughter helped. They had a curious and unsanitary sweet procedure. You had to pick the sweets you wanted out of the jars, and put them in a not very clean looking plastic container. She was so nice I felt obliged to buy some anyway, as she rambled on I think about how if I was canadian I'd have been able to speak French or something.

Anyway, the sweets were bloody awful! I guess the moral is don't buy sweets from sweet shops in Bruges that look like they are as old as the cathedral.

I felt quite ill as the evening went on, and struggled to eat what should have been a very nice north african meal. I later found out I had a stinking, chesty cold, so I can't really blame the sweets.

For the evening, I walked through a park in the South of the city, where there was a free festival on. It wasn't up to much though, so I carried on South, toward the cinema that the nice lady at the theatre had told me about the previous night.

She had her directions spot on. Unfortunately she didn't have a clue about distances so I was walking for aaaaages....and aaaages...and aaaages....

When I eventually got there it was (again) a superb facility. I saw Ocean's 13, which was just ok.

Walking back...11pm on the outskirts of a belgiam city, in the dark, few streetlights...I took a "shortcut"...it wasn't...I walked back again...I did reach the hostel eventually.

permalink written by  martin_b on June 30, 2007 from Brugge, Belgium
from the travel blog: 10 days in Belgium
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left overs...

Antwerp, Belgium

Well, good riddance to that hostel!

I made my way straight to the station, but had a while to wait for the train to Bruges, so I took around the streets to the North. I hadn't realised there's a whole new area up there, and I managed to find a fabric shop where I bought some fabrics for Wendy, very reasonably priced, and very Belgian I think.

Anyway, Bruges beckoned...

permalink written by  martin_b on June 29, 2007 from Antwerp, Belgium
from the travel blog: 10 days in Belgium
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Brugge, Belgium

Well, it soon became clear why this is the city tourists come to. It may not have more attractions than the other cities, but they are nicely squashed together: Bruges only has one industry, and it's tourism. Quite right too mind, every street is a historic delight.

It often feels like you're in Holland: they have clogs, canals, windmills, cute steppy roofed buildings...not much difference between my perceptions of the two, really. Which I suppose makes sense historically.

The hostel (the Europa) was a great improvement on Antwerp's...and while it's outside of the centre, as soon as you cross the canal you're in a really nice historic area, on a direct route to the centre.

And that's where I went...and found the beguinage, which is a sort of monastery. Every town seems to have one, but this one is special. It's so quiet, so calm and relaxed it almost makes you want to be a nun. Almost. There's a great round common in the middle, filled with slanting trees, and around it all these little old white houses. And the odd nun. Luckily not too many tourists make it round the corner, although we did have one exceptionally loud party of germans who were being very ignorant and taking no notice of the signs asking for silence.

Yes, a very special place, and there's also a little museum showing the insides of one building. Inside there was also a lady making lace, which is quite astonishing to see. the speed with which she moved the little bobbins is amazing, and how she kept track of where they all were I don't know.

Over the bridge out of the beguinage, the canals start, and views of the centre of Bruges start to appear. The cafe nearest to the bridge does excellent crepes!

Also special is Sint-Janshospitaal, the next place I got to. It was a huge complex, I think connected to the knights of St Johns, and inside is a fantastic pillared space, which was the hospital and now houses various treasures and artworks.

It seemed only proper to do the tourist thing and get a canal tour...this is the back of our driver/guides head...and that's me...the only pictures from the boat that didn't come out blurred, but it was definitely worth it anyway: it gives a very different perspective to the city.

This is the Smedenpoort, one of the gates to the city. I ended up here after a walk through the centre. It's a nice slightly upmarket area, and I had something to eat here in the early evening, and then thought I'd find a cinema. Now, there were meant to be two cinemas. I found the first one, but couldn't find the second. I eventually figured out this was because it had been turned into a theatre...and a curious one at that.

It's called The English Theatre of Bruges, and all the plays are in English. As I was the only customer at that point, I had a chat to the lady running the ticket office, who knew Stockport...small world isn't it. She had impeccable taste in music, and eventually we reached Scott Walker, who she knows better than I do! But then liking Scott Walker is a bit like being in some sort of secret club (like driving a Reliant Robin or something), so it didn't really matter. I'm not sure her marketing technique to new arrivals was the best though: "don't go into the theatre until the last minute, the music is awful".

Anyway, eventually the audience arrived/ reached double figures (just), and we all went in...she was right, the music was awful.

The play was called The Joy of Wine...it started off a bit dead, maybe because it's difficult to warm up an audience of 11 or so. But then somehow the offbeat very British humour started to make sense...and people started to laugh...and by the time we had reached the wine tasting I was cracking up. 10/10 for the play, and I hope the theatre succeeds, but the numbers are a bit worrying!

permalink written by  martin_b on June 29, 2007 from Brugge, Belgium
from the travel blog: 10 days in Belgium
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Printing and stuff

Antwerp, Belgium

Think I've already mentioned breakfast. I sat next to an American woman who had checked in at the same time as me.

It quickly came clear this was a very large mistake. She didn't like the hostel. She didn't like Begium or Belgians. She didn't like France. In fact, I'm not entirely sure she liked anyone in Europe. There may be some Americans she liked, but if so the list certainly didn't include an embassy staff who she seemed to think were engaged in some sort of conspiracy against her.

I did try to cheer her up with some positive comments, but I was pissing in the wind. God knows why she was in Europe, maybe she dislikes Americans even more.

Anyway, I eventually dragged mysef away from the nourishing breakfast and the eloquent uplifting conversation, and walked into the South West bit of Antwerp. A nice sunny day, and eventually I found myself at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts.

It's a mix of modern art downstairs (an excellent Belgian biased collection) and old stuff upstairs. While the new stuff was good, the old stuff was typically overblown Rubens and the like. No, I don't know what this represents...but at almost twice life size it's quite imposing!

After a slightly random further walk, very atmospheric though, I reached the Museum Plantin-Moretus.

This for me was one of the unexpected highlights of the whole trip. It's a courtyard house, that was the headquarters of one of the oldest printing houses in the world. And they kept everything. Every book, every receipt, every woodcut, and it seems almost every printing press even.

This place is astonishing, unlike the rebuilding of Rubens house, this is all original, down to the gilt leather covered walls in some rooms. Every room has some new wonders.

Below is the oldest print room in the world, filled with original printing presses, including the two oldest surviving in the world.

I spent a long time here. It's wonderful. Very hidden away though, you'd hardly know it was there from the outside.

After a further wander round the squares in the centre, that was about it. Some cinema in the evening (another wonderful Belgian cinema: I never realised we had such crap cinemas in England.)

permalink written by  martin_b on June 28, 2007 from Antwerp, Belgium
from the travel blog: 10 days in Belgium
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Mostly cartoons

Brussels, Belgium

Well, the last day in Brussels, before moving on. I got a visit from another cat as I was packing up. It wanted to go out of the window, and sit on the balcony looking at the world below. Or maybe that was just the cat equivalent of borrowing a cup of sugar and it was just being nosey.

Anyway, I left it happily on the balcony, and went to round off a couple of last bits in Brussels. The main thing was the Comic Museum (Centere Belge de la Bande Desinee): there is a rival one, but I think this is seen as the best.

Once again, it's in an art deco building, not as dramatic as the music museum but still good. There are obviously cartoons everywhere, but it's very vibrant, and there are also some life size figures, which is quite fun.

There are also some little models of scenes from the life of cartoonists/animators. I think they're really well done.

And then there's the decor itself, of course.

Although many bits are obviously in French/Flemish, it's still well worth a visit: the humour and feel of the things comes across well, most of the time.

permalink written by  martin_b on June 27, 2007 from Brussels, Belgium
from the travel blog: 10 days in Belgium
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A twerp in Antwerp

Antwerp, Belgium

Well, sorry to sound really geeky, but Antwerp has a far nicer station that Brussels. It looks like some sort of classical building, but inside it''s been seriously modernised, so a nice mix.

Antwerp is a very fashionable, shopping city. It has statues everywhere, for some reason, and clearly there's a lot more here than just tourist stuff. These elephants are on their way to the zoo :)

I walked down the main shopping street: it is impressively grand, as are the prices in some of the shops. I hadn't really read up on what I wanted to see, but I quickly found Rubens House.

This was very impressive, remarkable even, until you learn that it was almost completely rebuilt in World War 2. Only a few bits of the outside are real. Equally remarkable, but in a different way, and it did take the edge off.

The more I saw and heard of Rubens, who Belgians are very proud of indeed, the more I became to doubt the basis of the art we see in galleries. Rubens over-eggs his work, not because it's useful, but because that was what the rich wanted. The result is a style so overelaborate and contrived that any talent he might have had is concealed. He was clearly a man who was at home with politics and commerce, and worked the world to his advantage, but there must have been many more talented artists who didn't, and are forgotten today.

Anyway, I carried on down in the direction of the main squares. The cathedral here, which is also in the last shot, is way more impressive than that of Brussels: it soars up, and inside it carries on soaring, with even impressive ceilings. It is of course filled with overdone work by Rubens and his ilk, but never mind.

The main square is impressive, in the same vein as Brussels, but can't qute compete. It has a good try though! Nice fountain too.

I kept heading in the direction of the river, and eventually got there: it's called the Schelde, and it's roughly Thames size, perhaps. Quite impressively big, and the fact that the city is only on one bank makes it more striking still.

There's a maritive museum on the front, housed behind an impressively fairy tale castle.

Anyway, by that time it was getting wet and late, so I hid in an Italian restaraunt for a bit, then took a tram to the hostel. It looked quite good form a distance, lakes around it, and lots of greenery. Appearances can be deceptive, because it's a complete dump. The whole place smells, there's one internet machine, showers are miles from the rooms, and there's only one per sex anyway, dorms are huge, and as for breakfast, it might as well not be there. Bread and jam and cheese and tea basically.

While a lot of the faults are down to the location, so many of them could be solved by better management, very simply. There's no vibrancy at all. I could run it better.

permalink written by  martin_b on June 27, 2007 from Antwerp, Belgium
from the travel blog: 10 days in Belgium
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