One thing that Nana and John requested we do while they were here was visit a brocante. Mostly because I talk about them like it’s the best thing to do while in Belgium. Forget the architecture, the museums, the gauffres, Mannekin Pis… I mean, how else can you wrap up history, recycling and shopping in one fun package? Brocante for the win!
It was a sunny Sunday, so off to Waterloo! It didn’t take long for my mother to spot a super bargain. Poisson plates! A set of four for three Euros. Good deal. Even better deal that they only took one home. The other three will reside in my kitchen until the Navy moves them back to the states in two years, or so. I picked up a slightly rusty but classically Belgian chocolate mould, then had to carry it around with me, rubbing up against my white jacket for the rest of the morning. Also, a giant green bottle. Anyone know what was originally kept in these? Wine? Ben found an old Piedboeuf bottle crate with slightly larger than beer bottle sized openings that now resides on our bar.
After a leisurely lunch at a brasserie, we headed home to prepare for an evening soccer game. Mons vs. Leuven. We were gifted some very nice tickets in the business class box section so this game had a very different feel to it than the usual rowdy, loud, chilly games. Comfortable seats, quiet fans, smooth jazz wafting from the speakers overhead. All in a glassed in, climate controlled section with easy access to the bar. And then Mons won!
Once school and work started again for the week, we had planned to take a trip to Paris. We had it all organized, train schedule memorized, route mapped through the city. Then, while reading through some blogs that I follow from people who actually live in Paris, I discovered a problem.
Evidently, Paris was going through a small (large) problem with smog. The air quality on the day we were planning to go was expected to be in the Beijing range. A hundred million billion particles per square inch. Or, you know, however they measure smog levels. Paris had been, and would be, off the charts, making the Eiffel Tower impossible to see until you actually run into it on the sidewalk. So, in theory, Paris was fermé! Plans were scrapped. New plans were made. We went to Ghent instead.
Our main goal when we got there was to find St. Bavo’s Cathedral. You wouldn’t think that it would be difficult to locate a cathedral, but with so many of them within the city, we had to really study the map in order to pick the right one. “There it is! Or, wait. Is it that one over there?” We finally found it. The one that is completely covered in scaffolding. Oh, no! Is it…..fermé? Or in this case….gesloten? (They speak Dutch in Ghent) But, no! It was actually open! (Or open in Dutch). So we cruised on in.
Our reason for tracking down this cathedral was for the painting housed inside. The Ghent Altarpiece. Now, I never took an art appreciation class in college and my mother and John have completely forgotten theirs, but they have seen The Monuments Men. And this painting plays a role in the movie. Art history has never been my jam, religion even less so, but the story behind this painting is fascinating. See here. Crazy, right? Also crazy, no pictures allowed within the cathedral. So I’ve got nothing to show you. That’s a first for me. So here’s my banner from above in larger form. The building, right bottom center, covered in scaffolding is St. Bavo’s.
After learning a lot about a painting I had never heard of before last week, it was time for a walk and some lunch. I really like Ghent. It’s beautiful everywhere you look but it’s also a working city. The streets are full of college students, tourists, business men, visiting school groups. Though I can’t read a menu to save my life, the waiters are happy to translate for you in perfect English, and while I’m constantly throwing out the mercis out of habit, they counter with you’re welcome. I could live here.
Beloeil was our last day trip. Beloeil Chateau is often called “The Versailles of Belgium”. We’ll have to take their word for it, as the chateau and the grounds were, say it with me, fermé. We actually knew about this one ahead of time. We finally started checking these things. Still, it’s beautiful from the outside. The other experience for the day made up for it, though. Joan and John’s first pita! With frites, of course.
So, to wrap up, things that are closed in March that we attempted to see include:
the belfry in Thuin
Paris (well, for us anyway)
the chateau and grounds in Beloeil
But the monkey? He’s always open for us!
Come back soon, Nana and John!