shewhomust: (bibendum)
That previous post from Bouillon took me by surprise: until I sorted through the photographs, I didn't realise how much I had to say about that evening walk. What had stuck in my mind was the following day, the Monday - Easter Monday, in fact, and it happened to be my birthday. This wasn't a big deal. We hadn't particularly planned to be on holiday on my birthday, it just so happened that when we looked at dates, the period that worked best for us had my birthday in the middle of it. So we were on holiday, every day was a special treat, and a birthday, well, that's just another day.

I woke up, however, feeling every bit of a year older - more than a year. I blame hotel pillows, I can never find the right combination of 'enough but not too much': for whatever reason, I woke up with a painfully stiff neck, and spent much of the day moving very cautiously, and not looking up.

Easter Monday, say my notes, is the new Sunday. We'd been surprised the previous evening how much was open; now we were surprised all over again how much was closed. Specifically, the pharmacy: there was no chance of replenishing my supply of paracetamol. But the Castle was open, which was the main thing, and we enjoyed our explorations - in the rain.

Then a longish drive to our next destination. Birthday: a day for crossing borders with no observable difference on the two sides, between one year and the next, between Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. The best thing about the drive was something we saw trice on the motorway, a heavily wooded bridge carrying a strip of undergrowth to allow wild animals to cross the road safely. This is a Wildbrucke in German and a passage à gibier in French; if it has an English name, I don't know what it is.

Then we reached Trier, and it stopped raining. There are many things to say about Trier, but for the moment what matters is that it was a major Roman city and doesn't intend you to forget it, so [personal profile] durham_rambler celebrated my birthday with the Roman menu at Zum Domstein.
shewhomust: (Default)
Of the places we visited on our spring holiday, Bouillon was the odd one out: a small town rather than the 'city break' centres of the rest of the trip, which makes it a much more typical stop for us. My Routard guide says it is one of the major tourist centres of Wallonia, a boast whose modesty delights me. But - again, according to Routard - it has the biggest castle in Belgium, and the history to go with it:

Swans on the Semois

want to know more? )

Time to take the road to Germany.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
I posted at the time about how we spent Easter Saturday morning: we went to church. That is, it was grey and rainy and seemed like a good opportunity to visit the cathedral, and admire the famous altarpiece. Later in the day we found ourselves back in the cathedral square, and I took the classic photo of the building head on, and glowing in the evening light, but I prefer this shot from the morning, as we navigated through the back streets - the not very many back streets, because our hotel was so ridiculously central - towards that tower:

The back way to the cathedral

Rest of the story behind a cut to spare your bandwidth / patience )

We hadn't registered our cards until quite late on Friday morning; we could have fitted in another museum visit before we left Ghent on Sunday. Instead we went to the book market, and I don't regret it.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Our first evening in Ghent had given us a taste of the city. Now we had to decide whether to buy the much-advertised City Cards. Our reasoning was that this was unlikely to save us money, but it might encourage us to do things we would not otherwise have done - and this turned out to be the case. I'm particularly glad we took the boat trip, which was worth doing for its own sake, and doubly so because it gave us angles from which to approach things, as well as ideas of things we wouldn't have known we wanted to see. It also made traveling by bus much less daunting (no need to ask for a destination, just show your card). So while the card isn't necessarily the cheapest option, it worked very well for us.

All our explorations of Ghent started with the same view: turn left out of the hotel, and this is what you see from the end of the street:

The Belfry in evening light

This is the classic view, in evening light, but feel free to imagine it as we set off on an overcast Good Friday morning to visit the Tourist Office and purchase our cards.

It turns out you can see quite a lot in 48 hours - and take a lot of photos, too. So much so that I've decided to split this post in two! )

And that was Good Friday.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
I've already posted the condensed version of our day in Bruges: here's the longer version, with illustrations. As I said, we parked in the car park next to the station, which gave us free bus travel into town - and this is what we saw when we got off the bus:

Two towers">

There's more, under the cut: )
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
At the last bookstall of the market, up by the bridge, there was a fine collection of English-language poetry. In among the Yeats, and the Rattle Bag, there was Ode to Bully Beef, a collection of unofficial poetry of the Second World War, edited by Rosie Serdiville and John Sadler; Rosie Serdiville is a friend of a friend of ours, whom we know well enough to stop and chat when we run into her, but we had not expected to run into her here. We were discussing this with sufficient animation for the stallholder to notice, and comment that we had come a long way to buy English poetry. We said nice things about her stock of English poetry, which deserved them, and she repeated them to her partner, who, it turned out, was English - and not just English but with roots in County Durham: his father was from Stanley and his mother from - Tow Law, I think it was. They had visited Durham a few years ago, and enjoyed Beamish .

What Durham and Ghent have in common is that they are small cities with big universities, but they were positive about this. The students, they said, kept the town lively: compare it Bruges, which is beautiful but closes down at 8.00 pm. Though I note that they don't live in the city, but just outside; we had heard Ghent's vibrant night life from our city center hotel, and were less enthusiastic. I'm not sure how far the similarities go, either - but interesting, all the same.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
All the bells were ringing as we set off this morning for one last visit in Ghent, to the Sunday book market on the Ajuinlei; and somewhere a pipe band was just audible above the clamour of the bells, which tells you something about bagpipes.

I wasn't hoping for much in the way of English books, even though we had found English very widely spoken in the city. I did hope that, books being books,some French might have seeped into this very Flemish territory. As always, I was underestimating the extent to which Belgium is divided by its two languages: there were a few French books, but not as many as there were English. One stall, specialising in old comics - collectable old, and being checked through by a man with a grey pony tail - had adjacent cases for 'Tintin' and 'Kuifje' (both the same person).

So I ended up buying more than I had planned. First off, Photographic Pilgrim's Progress, being the memoirs of Charles Duncan ("one of the best known and most beloved veterans of photography", says the jacket copy), published in 1954. Then we came to a stall offering books at €2, 3 for €5, so when I had picked up a collection of Zelazny short stories (it's called The Doors of his Face, the Lamps of his Mouth, but the back says, in block caps "INCLUDES STORIES NOT IN THE ORIGINAL EDITION", so what's a girl to do?) and Maurice Maeterlinck's La Vie des Abeilles (because I had discovered that that tree that failed to light up should have been displaying blue birds in homage to Maeterlinck, who was born in Ghent, and besides, how could I resist a book of which Sam Goldwyn once said: "My God! The hero is a bee!"?), Roger contributed a Colin Dexter Inspector Morse, and our threesome was complete.

Serre d'ennui

One last Maeterlinck moment: Roger pointed out to me that the building across the river had a poem inscribed in a blank doorway, and we could make out the title, La Serre d'ennui. And here it is, in the original, and in an English translation which is accurate rather than atmospheric.

ETA: How could I have forgotten?

That mission accomplished, it was time to move on. We have left Flanders, and after a very pleasant drive through the forests of the Ardennes, we are in French speaking Wallonia, in Bouillon, with a view of the castle from our hotel bedroom.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
It rained overnight, and was still overcast and damp when we went out this morning, so we started the day with some indoor sightseeing: where else but the cathedral? For one thing, it's a cathedral, and for another it's the home of the painting which I have always thought of as the Ghent altarpiece, which we are now apparently to call 'The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb', which the tourist guides agree is one of the most important paintings of all time (I'm pretty sure I read someone claiming that it is the best painting of all time, but I can't track that down, and anyway what does it even mean?).

Somewhere inside all that baroque ornamentation is a gothic cathedral, but what caught my eye was all the black and white frills and furbelows, black wood and white marble (and, I suspect, a lot of paint, but I was reluctant to touch) like an ice cream sundae with licquorice sauce and billows of whipped cream. I don't have many pictures: a noticeboard as you enter greets you with illustrations of all the things you must not do, and of course photography is one (no, two - still and moving) of them. My initial reaction was "Must photograph that!" and then, of course, "Oh. No." In fact the prohibition was widely ignored, and once I had reached peak irritation, I too began sneaking shots. Here's one of them, showing a seriously over-the-top pulpit by Laurent Delvaux (thankyou, Routard guide, for this information). I'd love to have taken more details, but hope this gives some idea:

The Triumph of Truth over Time

In contrast, the adoration of the Great Work is performed in a small side chapel (which will ultimately, when the renovation is complete, be a separate designated display space). You pay your money, or hand over your City Card, and go in past a desk where, for another euro you can have an audio guide, and then you join the crowd in front of the painting, whose multiple panels fill almost the whole height and width of the room; everyone else is also listening to the audio guide. I'm very bad at taking in information aurally, and after a bit I handed the listening task to Roger, who very kindly gave me edited highlights. I am also not good with crowds, but this process allowed me to squeeze through to the front and look for the details we had picked out as of interest (as far as my eyesight allows). What this preamble is saying, I think, is that I have gone through the motions of adoration, but somehow failed to adore. I saw details which were pleasing, but I never saw all those panels as a unity, the parts did not add up to more than their sum. Your mileage will probably vary, but I am generally a person who likes detail. who does not believe that less is more. Generally.

There's one thing, though. By chance we were there at midday, when the attendants close the wooden shutters of the triptych, so that you see the scenes painted on the outside, and the middle tier is a wonderful Annunciation, the angel Gabriel and Mary facing each other across a bare, wooden room, with a window looking out over the city, and a jug and towel ready for use - it's almost in trompe l'oeuil, and I loved it as I did not love the gem-like symbolism of the interior. But I did wonder what it would have been like to see the process in reverse, to arrive when the shutters were closed, and to see the lamb revealed?

After this we went for a much needed beer at the theatre bar.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Roger found information about a walking route to explore the illumination of the city, and he was keen to try it out. The sun was low when we set out in search of dinner, but nowhere near set, and I was happy just to enjoy the evening light on the Belfry, and on St Nicholas', and on the view back to the three towers from St Michael's Bridge...

We ate at Balls & Glory, which does what it says on the tin: they serve meatballs. Giant meatballs, admittedly - imagine a Scotch egg in which the egg has been replaced by some kind of sauce - but meatballs, and nothing but. Well, OK, there's a choice of four balls, two pork, one chicken and one veg - and since Thursday is officially vegetarian day in Ghent I should probably have gone with that, but it was aubergine and tomato, and you never know with aubergine... Where was I? Balls & Glory wasn't our first choice, but it was fine, and cheerful: you choose your ball and whether you want it with stoemp (which is mash, and traditional) or salad, or bread and a little salad. There's beer or lemonade to drink, and wine as well if you want. There's one long table down the middle of the room, and little tables for two (or four if they squeeze up), and there's a carafe of water on your table and a bowl of apples for dessert, and we sat back and watched the Deliverooo drivers coming in to collect their orders.

By now it was dark, which was fine, that was the plan. I wasn't keen to do any more walking than we needed, but we did need to walk back to the hotel - and as soon as we set off, we found ourselves on a swing bridge, looking back to St Michael's Bridge:

Ghent at night

and what we should have done, obviously, was head for those lights (maybe we will - we still have one night left); instead we followed the original plan, and saw a couple of public buildings lit up, which weren't very exciting. What would have been exciting would have been if those birds in my picture had been illuminated as they were supposed to be, and for a while this made us wonder if we had misunderstood and the circuit was not in fact illuminated at the moment. But we asked at the Tourist Office this morning, and the lady said it's all working, and she would report the problem with the birds.

For a catalogue of 'we didn't really get we'd we'd been wanting from the evening', we had a surprisingly good time anyway. There's probably an uplifting moral in that.

In Bruges

Apr. 13th, 2017 04:56 pm
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We spent today in Bruges. After breakfast on board, it didn't take long to disembark and drive to a car park Roger had previously identified, next door to the railway station, not excessively expensive and whose price includes a bus ticket in to the centre. In fact it's close enough to walk, and we ended up walking back - but that's another story. Anyway, we had a splendid time not doing any of the deeply cultural things people had recommended to us, just admiring the streets and the buildings and the many, many chocolate shops... I hope there'll be a post that relives that walk, when I get home and can sort out the photos. But for the time being, just two silly pictures: oh, all right, then, under a cut )

After that - but no, I said I'd save 'after that' for another post. Eventually we returned to retrieve our car, and it wasn't a long drive to Ghent, where we will spend the next few days.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
In a more leisured world, any one of these could have been a post on its own; this post is like showing you the bookmarks, but not letting you read the pages they are marking.

  • If it's February, it must be time for a re-release of Casablanca. One day I will write about the paradox of this movie, product of the studio machine (in which the actors are not the first choice casting, and struggle to perform truthfully without knowing the end of their story or even sometimes the meaning of a scene) and the most dubious of sexual politics. Despite which we continue to love it. There's a clue in Peter Bradshaw's Guardian review, in which he selects a favourite quotation: "I bet they're asleep in New York; I bet they're asleep all over America."

  • We had a guest to dinner last night: Farmers' Market was this morning, so it was a meal constructed from whatever I could find in the house - it ended up a meatloaf, beef mince seasoned with almost all the harissa that was left in the jar (I should have used it all) and leavened with beetroot (three small ones, coarsely grated). The beetroot was a good addition, but another time, two would probably have been enough. A few walnuts might be good, too - in fact, a few pickled walnuts might be even better.

  • From Saturday's Travel supplement: where to eat in Ghent. Also links to a the blog of some Flemish foodies capable of taking quite disproportionate pains over a cherry tomoto.

  • Went to the Lit & Phil yesterday to hear Anne Fine talking about her books, her writing, her life - the first time I'd heard her speak to an audience which included both children and adults, and I was impressed how smoothly she included both groups in the conversation. There's a ruthlessness to her humour - her daughter, learning to play the violin, sounded like someone hammering a nail into a small gerbil - and I laughed immoderately.

  • Jeanette Winterson proposes the occupation of Valentine's Day in an article of which pretty much every line is quotable: "Love is an ecosystem. You can't neglect it, exploit it, strip-mine it, pollute it, and wonder what happened to the birds and the bees."

  • It's not that I'm dissatisfied with the photos I took in Spain: they document the trip and help keep the memories fresh. But I'd been wondering why there weren't more of them that stood alone, that I could appreciate purely as pictures, without context or associations. So I was quite relieved to come across this one:

Lucky 13

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