Sunday, 4 March 2007

BELGIUM - Brussels, Brugge, Ghent & Oostende

With a cheap Norfolk Line ferry crossing from Dover to Dunkirk, we were to make the most of a two night trip to Belgium, where we would soak up the atmosphere and Belgian beer. It was an early start so we had time to stop at Hazebrouck, to visit a first world war cemetery to find a relative's grave. After visiting a couple, we were still not sure whether we had found the right one. We would be visiting Brussels first and then work our way back to the ferry. We were expecting Brussels to be disappointing (not really sure why either), but turned out to be a fantastic old town centre, with an excellent town square, the Grote Markt surrounded by the ancient guild houses of the tradesmen and the town hall. The cobbled square was a marvelous view as we relaxed in a cafe to one side and watched it snow. We strolled the outer area, visiting the Mannekin-Pis and chocolate shops for gifts. The Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudule and the Royal Galleries of St Hubert (an early in-door shopping centre) completed the day.

Awaking to find the roads covered in snow was an unexpected surprise - we had not thought it would settle. Fortunately, the car was in an under ground car park so within no time, we were on the motorway to Ghent. We were only to visit this old town for a few hours, so had a walking tour of the centre, visiting Sint Baafskathedraal, the Belfort, stadhuis and St Niklaaskerk, which are contained within the central area. St Baafs contains an amazingly detailed altarpiece, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb dating from the 15th century. After lunch in a canalside bar, we rejoined the motorway to reach Brugge.

Having checked in at Brugge, we strolled the half mile or so into the cobbled town centre, the Markt and climbed the Belfort - bell tower for panoramic views of the city. With many beers stops to sample the broad array of dark, light and wheat beers, we strolled the canals, the Burg and the Church of Our Lady which is host to Michaelangelo's Madonna and Child, a sculpture dating from 1505. The evening meal also introduced us to kriek and cherry beers...

After a comfortable night, we were to revisit the Burg and see the Stadhuis museum and buildings, home to the astonishing Charles V fire surround, an ornate wood carving dating from the 16th century. A boat tour of the canals followed before being forced to depart.

With time to spare prior to the ferry departure, we stopped for an evening meal and stroll at Oostende, which has it's own impressive cathedral and harbour. After the obligatory supermarket stop to load up with beer and wine, the ferry was late and we did not get home until very late.

No comments: