Hubby and friend headed off early to Ypres to see the Menin Gate. The last post is played here every day at 8pm but they did not stay that long. The town of Ypres was apparently very beautiful itself and will require a more extensive visit. It was obliterated during World War II and then completely rebuilt in character to the original town. Photos show little difference between the original and the rebuilt.
Menin Gate itself is an arch that straddles a road, much like the Arc d’Triomphe (but without the traffic chaos). The road is closed each night before 8pm for the last post to be played. A huge day will be coming up for the town with ANZAC day.
They also visited the war cemetery of Tyne Cot. We visited many war cemeteries in Normandy on our last visit and they are very moving.
My friend and I caught a train to the town of Gent which is halfway between Brussels and Brugge. However, it was the all stops, very slowwwwww train so it took as long to get there as it did to get to Brugge…I still enjoy train travel though.
I loved Gent. It is set around canals like Brugge but the buildings are a little larger and it has a more spacious feel to it – probably because there are far less tourists and it wasn’t a Sunday. We walked along the canals and were amazed by the apartments backing onto the outer canals. Every gap between buildings has been filled with a smaller building – I like to think of it as being organised by the Stop Gap Real Estate Agency – see a gap an fill it. This results in some very narrow housing!
We went through two very spectacular churches and a castle. The volume and ornateness of the churches in Europe never cease to astound me. The artworks are incredible but I enjoy looking at the architecture of the buildings more and thinking about how on earth they managed to design and build them. Then I wonder if they tendered for their artworks and if someone spent a lifetime creating them!
The Castle of the Counts was originally built in 1180 and had been completely demolished. Restoration began in the late 1800s and how they rebuilt it from the pile of rubble that we saw in photographs, I have no idea! Living conditions looked very rustic and the ‘long drop’ toilets recessed into the castle wall fascinated me!
The room of torture implements was just plain horrifying. They ranged from thumb screw to racks to the guillotine. I don’t even want to think about the bits in between or the artworks that depicted the use of them. Horrific, barbaric days!
When Googling images of Gent, I had found a beautiful photo of Rabot’s Gate. However, when we Googled Rabot’s Gate to find out where it was in Gent, all we could find werelinks to the photo. We began to wonder if it was real. Then while we were browsing a tourist brochure over lunch we spotted the real thing and were able to walk to it. Guess which photo is mine and which one is the professional one…
We strolled the canals and market places and finished with a glass of Prosecco overlooking one of the canals. Delightful.
We then took the tram back to the station and had a much quicker trip back to Brussels. We met up with the guys at one of our friends’ favourite restaurant – known to them as Hagrid’s because the jovial owner looks very much like a shrunken version of Hagrid from the Harry Potter movies. I spotted him straight away.
Seating is at communal tables and I sat next to a very friendly Irishman and his companions – a French guy and a Catalan lady. The French guy had an Australian friend that he had visited last year – in Wagga Wagga!!
After an aperitif of Ricard (aniseed flavoured liqueur recommended by Hagrid), three of us ordered the same dish – pig’s knuckle – an old favourite of our friends. It was extremely tender meat falling off the bone, smothered in mustard sauce and flanked by a large, fluffy baked potato. Our friend offered to pay if I could finish it but he was safe – it was like trying to eat half the Christmas ham – delicious but very rich!
We had a couple of glasses of wine with dinner and watched our new friends next to us (lady included) complete the same meals down to the bone! Impressive!
I then felt compelled to use the toilets (since they were free) and found that the toilets do not have an initial door. There is a door on each cubicle but the entrance to the toilets is open. The men’s toilet of course uses the entry to house the urinals! Like most toilets that we have come across in Belgium, you seem to have to walk past the mens’ to get to the ladies and in this case that meant seeing the men lined up at the urinals! Oh yah!
We then headed off to a local bar and found our way upstairs. The windows opened out into the outdoor seating below.
We decided to have some cocktails and the ladies started with B52s. When we saw the waitress firing up the flame thrower, we knew we were in trouble! The flames were pretty frisky and before hubby knew it, he had lost the hairs on his thumb! The waitress promptly provided iced water which didn’t go to waste afterwards as it is nearly impossible to get free tap water in a restaurant or bar in Belgium.
The B52 and another cocktail went down well but I called it quits there.
The toilet in this bar is found on the bend in the stairs and given how shallow the toilet room is (ie sitting would bring your knees to the door) it is a bit unnerving to think how close the other patrons pass you by as they go up and down the stairs… You hope that the lock is secure!
We realised that we hadn’t actually had a Belgian chocolate since being in Belgium and wandered off towards Grand Platz in search of a chocolate shop. We found several and I settled on a florentine with white chocolate ganache on top. Yummo!
The Grand Platz was lit up with lights of various colours which provided multiple photo opportunities (unfortunately none of which I can access at the moment) and ‘European moments’.
We then caught the Metro home and the headache set in… It was probably still only a 10km day but felt much longer!