Geo: 51.2094, 3.22523
Finally! I slept pretty much all through the night. I did wake up a little early, but at least it was already 6:45. Now if I can just keep that going …
We left the hotel at 8:45 and walked back up the hill to meet our coach and the driver, Paul. This Heidebloem coach is newer than the one that Rene drove, but I don't think the footrests are as good.
We drove by the royal palace where Prince Philippe and his wife live; the king and queen live in another palace on the same grounds. We also made a quick photo stop outside the Atomium, a much better symbol for Brussels than a little boy who needs potty training. It was built for a world's fair in 1958 (I think) and was renovated just a few years ago. It represents the atomic structure of an iron crystal, and it really looks like something that belongs at the base of the Space Needle. More importantly, there were bunnies in the nearby park.
Our lunch stop was in Ghent. I don't know what I expected from Ghent, but it was a really lovely town and I think we could have stayed longer
there. In fact, Rolinka says she is trying to get the tour department to change the starting city of this tour to Ghent, and Brussels would be a day trip. I've got to agree with her. The town is built on a narrow river with offshoot canals and is filled with medieval buildings. It was a beautiful day, and the banks along the river and canals were filled with people enjoying the sun. It's a university town, so we saw a lot of young faces.
Rolinka took us on a short walking tour, and we ended up in St. Bavo's Square. Some of us elected to go up the belfry, and some of us, including me, went to the Cathedral of St. Bavo to see Jan and Hubert Van Eyck's altarpiece "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb." It's in a tiny little room, and it was packed. There's a very good audio guide, and if you listened to the whole thing it would take about 40 minutes. I think a lot of the people in there felt compelled to listen to the whole thing, which only contributed to the crowding. Since it was painted in the early 15th century, no photos
are allowed. The monitor had to whisper-yell at a bunch of Japanese tourists. I know I come off sounding pretty awful about the Japanese in these blogs, but I really don't think they understand the concept of not taking a photo. Why see something if you can't commit it to pixels?
After I wriggled my way out of the room, I went to Van Hoorebeke chocolatier and bought a bar of chocolate with chili pepper. Beautiful creamy chocolate on the way down, and then the heat hits the back of your throat and spreads. Marvelous!
Had lunch at Exki with Kathi, Karen, and Dawn, who was left behind way back at the beginning of the walking tour. The buddy system only works if everyone pays attention. Then we were taken on a boat ride in the river; I sat at the back and couldn't hear the guide over the engine, but it was such a sunny day I didn't really mind. At any rate, the highlight for me were the ducklings paddling around with mom, and a really pretty bird (no idea what it was) sitting on a nest under a willow tree.
[I was just interrupted in my typing by two carriages
pulled by what looked like Clydesdales trotting (cantering?) past my window. There's something attractive about the sound of horseshoes on cobblestones.]
We arrived in Bruges and Paul maneuvered the coach over a little bridge and into the canal-side street in front of our hotel. We provided quite the show for the locals! We are in the Hotel Adornes, and if we just stayed here for the rest of the trip I'd be happy. I love my room. I've got a two-single-beds-pushed-together bed with white linens, a desk with a flat-screen TV, two large windows, a large bathroom (no shower curtain), and a built-in wardrobe. The best thing is that it feels really clean. In Brussels, I didn't feel like the room was dirty exactly, but it didn't feel clean either. We were greeted by the owner, Natalie, and her enthusiastic front desk man, Rik. Apparently, there's a dog somewhere as well. He had been banished to the courtyard during our arrival, and we could hear him calling.
We went out right away for a walking tour, taking in the Markt (which I think is prettier than the Grand Place) and its bell tower (from which Brendan Gleeson jumped in "In Bruges"😉, Burg
square, and the Church of Our Lady. We ended back at the frites stands in front of the bell tower, and Rolinka made us find our own way back to the hotel. Since we all showed up in the lobby later on, I guess we're all smarter than she thinks we are.
Dinner was at Tom's Diner (not a particularly Belgian-sounded name, but there you go) in the upstairs dining room. I sat with Carolyn and the two couples from North Carolina, as well as Rolinka. We had chosen our menu yesterday morning. I had beef carpaccio as a starter. It was good, but I'm trying not to think about the fact that I ate raw beef. My main was beef "stew" with frites, and dessert was a hazelnut and vanilla mousse, all washed down with a Brugse Zot. Just thinking about dinner makes me sleepy!
It's 9:00 now and still very light out, but I think I need to get some sleep.
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