Monday, April 22, 2013

Ghent: The red-headed stepchild of Belgium

Ghent was a Belgian city I was not overly excited to check out.  People talk about how it is not as lively as Brussels and not as beautiful as Brugges.  I would have to disagree with that completely.  I found Ghent to have the beauty of Brugges, with a totally different energy.  While Brugges is beautiful, its main source of economy is tourism and it shows.  It is a tourist city in every sense.  Ghent is a living city.  I felt it had the energy of a big city with the charm and feel of a small town. 

My only "to do" for our visit was to check out the Saint Bavo Cathedral (or the Flemish, Sint Baafskathedraal).  This church is a "must see" because of its famous altarpiece, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, thought of as one of the greatest Belgian masterpieces.  This altarpiece faced many challenges over the years, but lives on.  First, during the Protestant Revolution the altarpiece was hidden in the tower for safekeeping.  Later, during World War II, the altarpiece was on its way to the Vatican for safe keeping when it was confiscated by the Germans and swiped by Hitler.  It was later rescued by US Forces (go USA!) at the war's end. 

Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures of the cathedral.  The outside was under construction and I never feel comfortable taking pictures inside cathedrals.  I did pull this two photos of the altarpiece and the outside of the cathedral off of Wikipedia. 

The Adoration of the Hold Lamb, closed.  The altarpiece could be displayed opened or closed.  This is the closed outside, which was traditionally displayed on weekdays and Saturdays.
The Adoration of the Holy Lamb, opened.  The inside was only shown on Sundays.  During the 19th century, Adam and Eve were given clothes to wear. 

This photo was most likely taken from the Belfry which is located directly across the square from the church.  Here is a photo of the Belfry.  You can get to the top via some stairs and an elevator, but we didn't feel it was worth the 5 euro price tag.  The Belfry has stood in this location since the 14th century, but the top sphere was added for the World's Fair of 1913.  The Belfry was originally built to house and protect the parchment record of the privileged class.

The dragon on the top symbolizes not the Devil (which was typical in the Middle Ages), but a protector who watches over the city's rights.
After leaving the church, we ducked into an alley, which once was used to drain water from the high ground.  Its nickname is Graffitistraat (graffiti street).  This street is designated by the city as a legal place for graffiti artists to display their work.  Halfway through the lane is a "hidden" fenced-in park.
Dan and Ava are looking into the park.  I thought it was so interesting juxtaposed with the graffiti. 

The rest of the day was spent wandering around pedestrian streets, shopping and marveling at the city's beauty. 

In the summer I would like to take one of the boat tours
Ava looks thrilled; she had a great time, I swear.

The Castle of the Counts (Gravensteen).  This castle was built in 1180 not to protect the people, but to intimidate the city's people.  If you go inside you can see a torture museum as well as the dungeon (all part of the intimidation).  We plan to head inside on a return trip. 

Saint Michael's Bridge
You known you are in beer country when you see a tour like this one.  The riders are all around a bar with beer on tap.  It is hard to tell, but the riders are actually moving the car by peddling at their barstools.

On our way to Saint Michael's Bridge we stumbled upon this awesome market where we sampled quite a bit of cheese and some delicous Italian pastries.  We were so distracted by this market that we never made it to the bridge.  Oh well, maybe next time. 

French cheeses- Side note, Ava is turning into a major cheese snob.  She turns her nose at American and Cheddar cheese, preferring gruyere or gouda.

That man is slicing prosciutto and cheese to make sandwiches on the bread you see.  Heavenly.

Who needs Dunkin Donuts?  That is a cream filled donut. 

Are you feeling hungry yet?

Dan and I look forward to making more visits to this city as we feel we barely scratched the surface.  We even spotted a hotel where we we like to stay for a date night.  Maybe that will be something we can do when Grandma and Grandpa visit (hint, hint). 

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