If This is Wednesday, We Must Be in Belgium Again!

Trip Start Apr 27, 2014
Trip End May 17, 2014

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Where I stayed
Crowne Plaza - La Palace

Flag of Belgium  ,
Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sandy had a wonderful day yesterday and you could tell.  She went to bed about 11:00 pm and woke up this morning at 11:36 am!!!  Yep!  She was tired and I think still a little jet lagged.

 Anyway, we were up and at 'em by the stroke of Noon!  We headed out with backpacks and bags only, and made our way the 6 minute walk to the Brussels Train Station - North, unlike the 30 minute walk (with luggage) we made yesterday from the Brussels Central Train Station.  Caught a slow train to Ghent, but was only an hour.  We took the tram to the historic district, 3.6 Euros after meeting a nice lady in the bank where we got coins (thinking we might need them for the tram...we didn't)...she gave us a ticket worth one fare.  And as Sandy said thank you, she said, "That's what we're here for, to help each other."  What a great way to start our visit to Ghent.  Now, I don't know much about Ghent except for a dirty limerick I learned in high school.  (LOL!)  But we were there to see one of the most beautiful paintings in the world.  

But, back to the tram. It worked on a ticket system where you put it into the slot and it deducts the amount of money from the ticket to where you are going.  Worked well going there.  Noticed lots of young people.  Thought there must be a University in Ghent, and that was later confirmed by a young lady I spoke to on the return tram ride. 

  After first going into another church which was absolutely beautiful on the inside, we headed for the Cathedral with the painting I mentioned above.  The Cathedral was called St Bavo Cathedral. Massive and beautiful, but the key attraction was the painting entitled "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" by Van Eyck.  Cost to get in, 4 Euros, but you get a headset for a audio tour with it.  It is a gigantic two sided painting in panels.  With 10 panels on the front and 8 on the back.  They are in the process of restoring the painting and have removed some panels (fortunately for us, only from the back right now...October of this year they begin removing some of the front panels).  But they replace the panels with photographs.  Very well done.  It's one of the most fascinating paintings I have ever seen.  I recall saying the same thing 40 years ago.  Well worth the price of admission.  And elsewhere in the church is a great painting by Rubens. Those two paintings made the whole trip to Ghent worth while.  

We stepped outside the cathedral and there were several outside restaurants from which to choose for lunch.  We sat in one and order a beer, a diet coke, a croque monsieur (ham and cheese) along with some Belgian Fies. It was the start of a good day.

Then we headed back to the tram, again filled with lots of college students, and tried to put our tickets in the machine.  It wouldn't work.  I asked a man nearby, and he said, all the machines are down, we're either riding free or all going to jail!!!  We rode for free.  I gave the two extra tickets to a student who uses the tram almost every day.  Paying it forward just like the lady did for us.  That's what it's all about.  

Back to the train station and caught a train to Brugge.  Great little town.  Lots to see and lots of tourists.  We were looking for another Cathedral with a sculpture by Michelangelo called "Maddona and Child."  We were not sure we could get in to see it, as it was after 6:00 pm.  Turns out we could not.  It was closed for the day.  We went into a little shop to buy some postcards where a nice English lady who was managing the place told us not to fret, the statue is only about a foot tall and at the current time, it's being refurbished, so we couldn't see it anyway!  What else could we do?  Sit on the large town square and share a Diet Coke and some Belgian Fries...with 500 of our closest friends!  It was a very European day!  

Then we headed back for the 10 minute walk to the train station.  One wrong turn by me and an hour later, we finally got to the train station.  My usual keen sense of direction failed me this time! 
We hopped on a train at 8:01 pm that got us to Brussels North at 9:00 pm.  And it was still light out.  Sunrise here right now is 7:15 am and sunset is 9:02 pm.  Strange.  We stopped in a little bar/cafe that served food and beer.  Ordered spaghetti bolognese...actually very good.  Guy couldn't speak a great deal of English.  First he just brought me a plate instead of both of us.  He finally understood the word "sharing."  It worked out.  We also learned about tipping from Wendy and Chris last night.  I was thinking the usual 15-20 percent like in the US.  No, said Chris.  The expectation is that if it's good service, just round up to the nearest Euro or maybe add one more.  Sure doesn't fit with my way of tipping, but when in Rome, or Brussels, or whatever...you know what I mean.  

Plan is to catch the train to Paris tomorrow.  All the fast trains (2 hours) take reservations and up-charges.  We'll take one that leaves at 7:55 and arrives and Noon.  We'll see some of the French countryside as well.  So, tomorrow, we take Paris!!!

Been a great trip so far, and expect more of the same as we go along.      

Take care my friends and family!


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