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BELGIUM: Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, and back to Antwerp
Today was another eight-hour touring day. Carol and I got our signals crossed on whether to go to Bruges or Brussels. You can see by the description above what we decided to do.
After talking with our guide who initially said that it would be almost impossible to get into Bruges because of a huge marathon plus some major road work, we decided to take our chances and go to Bruges anyway (the marathon wasn′t going to start until 1 p.m. and we would be there just before 10 a.m.). If we went to Bruges we could also tour Ghent and Antwerp but we couldn′t easily see those three and Brussels as well. Also factoring into the decision was that since it was Sunday and the end of a 4-day weekend, it meant that people would be streaming back into towns and cities, especially Brussels, meaning traffic jams were quite possible, which was a problem since we had to be back on board by 4:30. Our final plan turned out to be not only very interesting but one that beat the traffic as well.
First we drove through the countryside from Antwerp to Bruges. Bruges is called a "medieval" city and deserves that description. There are ornate buildings and canals everywhere. We had to cross over a bridge which turned out to be a drawbridge and waited 15 minutes while a couple of river barges and a passel of pleasure boats went by. Along with the old buildings, a number of which had been refurbished (historically accurately), I found the most interesting feature to be old windmills which were once used to pump oil. One of the noticeable features we saw along the way were dozens of wind turbines. There were hundreds more along the river banks on the way out as we sailed to Amsterdam.
I don′t know where the fad started but we have seen at least two large permanent Ferris wheels in two different cities so far on this trip.
From Bruges we traveled to Ghent through the little town of Damme. Our guide told us that the canals and the roads right beside the canals had been built by Napoleon who then decided to shade both of them with poplar trees. You′d almost think Napoleon′s real calling was landscape architect.
We then went to Ghent. This town had a great deal more in the way of tourist attractions (and a great deal more tourists). This city also had a numbers of canals that made it, like Bruges, look like Venice North. The canals were lined with churches, cathedrals, guildhalls, and then more churches and cathedrals, plus large merchant homes and lots and lots of cobblestone streets.
It was clearly a successful town, from medieval times forward, with wealth in evidence everywhere.
We passed thru a Sunday street fair (mostly food trucks) that was packed with people out for the day.
And a design museum. The photo on the right shows something really amusing. It is a water closet/toilet that looks like a roll of toilet paper (probably 12 feet tall on the left hand side) complete with TP dimpling in the outer concrete wall. It′s a functioning bathroom. The facility, I guess I should call it an art installation, services the design museum that′s right next door.
Finally, we returned to Antwerp where our ship was docked. Antwerp is a cosmopolitan and modern city. I think we must have seen a good 3/4ths of the population along the docks as our ship headed out this afternoon. It′s in the mid-70′s today, so everyone who isn′t on the highways returning to town from their 4-day weekend was out for a stroll or a beer or sunbathing along the port walkways. In addition to the various buildings, we saw the Antwerp City Hall (left photo below) that was clearly copied from, inspired by, or done by the same architect that did the Joan of Arc church in Rouen (right photo).
Antwerp was alive with activity. People all over the place. Street music and dancing. The people gathered at the edge of the river hanging their feet over the edge. As we left port, the crowds on the bank would let out a unison yell. Our fellow passengers, gathered on the various open air decks on the ship, would unison-yell back. On two occasions this back and forth was apparently audible on the navigation deck because the captain, or whoever is allowed in his absence to sound the ship′s horn, sounded the ship′s horn. The on-land crowd went wild. A totally understandable two-way ship-to-shore communication with yells and horns — fun.
We never got to Brussels.
Legendary Cultures 2011 | Greece & Turkey 2012 | Circle The Arctic | France-Denmark 2016 | Helsinki-Norway 2016