Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Boats, Windmills and Tulips… Bruges and Ghent

Day 7 - Ghent and Bruges
Our next stop was the city of Bruges. The city is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in Belgium.
At one time, Bruges had a strategic location at the crossroads of the northern Hanseatic league trade route and the Southern trade routes. However, starting around 1500, the Zwin channel, which had given the city its prosperity, also started silting. The city soon fell behind Antwerp as the economic flagship of the low countries.
During the 17th century, the lace industry took off, and various efforts to bring back the glorious past were made.
The maritime infrastructure was modernized, and new connections with the sea were built, but without much success, as Antwerp became increasingly dominant. Bruges became impoverished and gradually faded in importance
However, Bruges was able to keep most of its medieval architecture intact. 
Many of its medieval buildings are notable, including the Church of Our Lady.
The church's brick spire reaches 122m (401ft), making it one of the world's highest brick buildings.
The sculpture Madonna and Child, which can be seen in the transept, is believed to be Michelangelo's only sculpture to have left Italy within his lifetime.
The historic centre of Bruges has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.
When walking around some corners in Bruges, I felt like I was walking back in time.
This building's claim to fame is that it has the worlds smallest gothic stained glass windows. You might say that these two windows do not look that small.
But look at the two little windows in the upper right hand corner of the structure.
The people of Bruges freshen up the old spaces with fresh flowers.
Does Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life?
You be the judge.

We walked by this building that somewhat stood out from the other surrounding buildings.
These little characters were standing in the windows. I thought that they were perhaps examples of Belgium characters.
But then I saw these statues of Laurel and Hardy - two comedians from the USA.
And then there were these guys… a golfer, a waiter and Blues Brother John Belushi. I found out that this building was a curiosity museum.
Today, the town is a mix of medieval structures and modern lifestyles.
Hmmm… what is that I smell?
Belgium waffles anyone?
Two guys relaxing with their dogs.
Two guys performing their act.
Bruges seemed to be a city of Rivers, bridges, churches…
Arches and alleyways...
Steeples and spires...
Tall gothic buildings...
And clock towers.
Bruges was once known for their elaborate hand made lace weavings.
Now they are more known for this...
Handmade Belgium chocolate
Lots of chocolate in every size, shape and flavor.
I ended up buying $125 of chocolate as souvenirs for my family. OK, honestly… I bought most of it for myself, but I probably will share some of it with my family. 
We went for a little walk around a lake, over a bridge...
Through some gardens.
We arrived at this grouping of white houses. The béguinage (French) or begijnhof (Dutch) is a collection of small buildings used by Beguines. The Beguines were a religious movement of women or sisterhood of the Roman Catholic Church who sought to serve God without retiring from the world. 
This Beguine compound was founded in the 13th century. A béguinage is typically comprised of a courtyard surrounded by small dwellings. It is often encircled by a wall and secluded from the town proper by one or two gates.
The béguinages differ from a convent. These béguinages evolved due to a surplus of women occasioned by violence, war, military and semi-military operations, which took the lives of many men. Poor and elderly beguines were housed here by benefactors. Great numbers of women had no option but to unite and collectively live together.
The flag of Bruges against the backdrop of one of the first hospitals in the city.
I took one last look back at the city of Bruges and its exquisite scenery.
By early afternoon, it was time to move on to the town of Ghent. Along the way we passed by some green pastureland.
This farmland and most of these cows were raised for dairy products like milk and cheese.
Ghent started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys.
In the Middle Ages the city became one of the largest and richest cities of northern Europe
United States history buffs may recall that the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States ended with the signing of The Treaty of Ghent. 
Within the city there is an interesting mix of medieval and modern architecture juxtaposed next to each other. 
The Saint Bavo Cathedral (also known as Sint-Baafs Cathedral or the Dutch Sint Baafskathedraal) is the seat of the diocese of Ghent. It is named for Saint Bavo of Ghent. 
The building is based upon the Chapel of St. John the Baptist. It was consecrated in 942 by Bishop Transmarus. Construction was considered complete June 7, 1569.
The cathedral is noted for the Ghent Altarpiece, originally in its Joost Vijd chapel. It is formally known as: The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Hubert and Jan van Eyck. This work is considered Van Eyck's masterpiece and one of the most important works of the early Northern Renaissance, as well as one of the greatest artistic masterpieces of Belgium.
The cathedral contained many works of art including the baroque alter, a rococo pulpit, a painting by Peter Paul Rubens and other liturgical vestments
Out on the town, the young people in Belgium are just like young people everywhere… they like hanging out with friends and sharing photos that they have taken on the mobile phones.
This youngster was just interested in making a transaction with his money in exchange for an ice cream cone.
And these ladies were about to enjoy a Belgium waffle.
As we were preparing to leave Ghent, I caught a parting glimpse of these silhouettes of merry jesters dancing in the sky.

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