Sunday, July 31, 2016

Middleburg and Veere

We have arrived in Zeeland, in the Netherlands and although the weather forecast was for a cold, possibly rainy day, it was lovely sunshine and a cloudless sky.  This is the area that Abel Tasman came from so hence "New Zealand" was named for this area.

We walked around the small laneways of Middleburg and the pretty quays and even scurried across a small bridge just before it opened for a boat to go through.

It was Sunday so the town was very quiet, not like in former times when the East India Company used it as am important trading post and shipyard.  Some of the apartment blocks are named after ships of the East India Company because a shipbuilding yard used to be there.

We walked through the Abbey courtyard and admired the huge tower named "Tall John".  Unfortunately we could  ot peep inside because it was Sunday.

                                                                     The Abbey

                                                                        Town Hall

                                                         Rob meets one of the locals

After lunch our boat moved on to Veere, close to the North Sea.  From here we went by bus to the high tech "Delta Plan".  This is a series of dams and devices to preserve the country's coastline from the sea.   It was developed after many dykes were breached in 1953 with the loss of 1800 lives in 1 night.  Completed in 1986, The coastline was shortened by 700 km. It is one of the Worlds most impressive engineering feats.

                                 To the left is the North Sea and to the right the River Schelde.

There was a long series of these gates that are closed when storms on the North Sea would flood the country.

Most of the windmills are modern style like we have for wind power. Tomorrow we will see lots of old windmills. If they stopped pumping water then half the country would be flooded in 3 months.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Bruges : Canals and Michelangelo

Our visit to Bruges was most impressive. It is a beautiful city but packed with fellow tourists.. The medieval buildings were impressive but it is hard to tell the originals from those constructed in the past 100 years. The city has UNESCO World Heritage status.

We visited the Cathedral and the Church of Our Lady that contains one of the very few sculptures by Michelangelo outside Italy. It is said the he argued with the pope so when the church did not pay his bill he withheld the sculpture and sold it to a rich merchant from Bruges who smuggled it out of Italy.

                               The Madona and Child Michaelangelo 1504-5. Carrara marble

We also took a canal boat ride. Touristy but the only was to see some of the sights.

                                                   The two oldest bridges in the city.

                                               No I was not swimming to take this shot!

A few more photos on a lighter note!

                                                                      Lace maker.

Ghent: city of medieval wealth

Ghent is a town that attracts a lot of tourists but we started before any out of towners had arrived and before the locals were awake! We were a few hours ahead of the rush.

The architecture is interesting with guild halls, chapels and cathedrals. The power of the trade guilds was still very evident. We visited several. The meat workers had lots of hams hanging from the rafters and every street name told a tale about the original purpose of the area.

                                    Two of the special buildings. Both were owned by unions.

Ghent is also a city crossed by canals. We were shoreside in the Industrial area and large ships cannot get into the old city centre but the small canals are very picturesque.

                                                     Just to prove that we were there!

The wealth of the cities of this region was such that there are wonderful buildings all over the city. Churches, convents, town hall and even a castle.

We climbed the bell tower and it gave a birds-eye view over the city.

                                                The Cathedral taken from the bell tower.

                                                 St Jacobs church from the Bell tower.

                           We were standing on the small walkway directly below the clock.

We also visited the Cathedral and it is very impressive. It contains one of the worlds most famous paintings, the alterpiece by van Eyck.

                               It has great detail and some was painted by a brush with one hair.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Diamonds and Old Masters

Antwerp is the world centre of the diamond trade. Today the wholesale side is securely locked away but there are still artworks everywhere.This city was the largest in the world in the 12 th century and was the headquarters of the Hansiatic league. The guilds each tried to outdo each other with their halls and chapels.  As a result many buildings look like cathedrals from the outside.

We saw castles, the impressive town hall,  Peter Paul Rubens house, the massive cathedral, local parish churches that would be the cathedral anywhere else and artworks everywhere.  When we visited Ruben's house where he lived for more than 25 years, it was obvious that he was never a struggling artist who starved in a garret.

The cathedral had so many of Ruben's paintings on display, it was quite mind boggling.  Many of these paintings were designed as altar pieces for the various guilds as a display of their power.  The Fine Arts Museum is under renovation at present so their artworks are back in the cathedral where they were designed for.

Our boat was moored in the river right along the old town so it was very convenient for us to explore the town.  Our room is very comfortable but being a river boat, it is much smaller than the one we had on Windstar.

                                               The impressive castle on the River Schelde

                         The town hall and the main square were both wonderful

                  In front of the town hall is the fountain. It represents a Roman era story.

                                               View through the narrow streets of Antwerp.

We have hundreds of photos of churches and artworks. We promise not to show them all to you!
This one is by Breughel but we also have lots by Rubens.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Best place to drink beer in Brussels

We managed to fit in some of the special sights of Brussels between our search for the best place to drink beer in Brussels. In the morning we again visited the main square and booked a guided visit to the Town Hall as it is only at 2.00 PM today and again on Sunday. Then it was on to the Royal Palace. It is open from mid July till early September and it was room after room of  grand sitting rooms, chandeliers and beautiful furnishings.

                                        From the Palace looking back to the main square

                                                        One of the small rooms.

                                            Rob in gardens heading back to town

We were ready for a drink but had a booking to tour the Town Hall. It was great with it still operating as a city administrative building but every section of wall was covered in works of art and every corner revealed new treasures. No photo rule!

                                                           Outside the Town Hall.

At last it was time for a few drinks. Two places rich in history were recommended. Our first was the A la Mort Subite. It takes its name from "sudden death" but we survived a few of the strong brews. The name comes from a game played by workers about to return to work in the afternoon.. The place has not changed since the 1920's. We expected to see Hercule Poirot come in at any minute. We ordered cheese  and first had to select between new or old. Then it was served with sides of celery salt and mustard. The beer was better than the cheese!


                                 They hadn't even changed the waiters since 1920!

Most places you sit outside to drink a beer at least at this time of the year, but at these historic venues you should sit inside for the full atmospheric effect.

We needed a rest! Later we headed out for drinks a few inspections and dinner.
Our second venue was similar. The A La Becasse had an entry via a narrow passage. You only went there if you were a local. We saw no tourists! It is the only place in the world that still makes a white lambic beer. It was served in a jug and you pour it into your glass at the table. They had lots of interesting beers but we did eventually make it to dinner and back to our hotel.
There may be time for one more establishment for lunch tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Beautiful Brussels

Our ship docked in Barcelona this morning and we took a taxi directly to the airport. We were ticketed on BA but it was operated by Vueling. It took us over a half hour to queue to check in, another half hour to get through the xray and another 15 minutes to walk to the gate. Just as well that we were early! Cramped seats, poor food for sale etc so it was not our best flight.
By the time we reached our hotel we had trouble deciding if to have tea, something stronger or a rest! We had all three.

When we finally went out at about 7 pm we fell instantly in love with Brussels. In no time we had seen most of the things that the city is famous for...Pis Mannekin, lace shops, chocolatiers and beer shops. The only thing was we have yet to meet Hercule Poirot!

We walked up to the Grand Place or Grote Markt. This is one of the best squares in Europe. Stunning. We will be back for more tomorrow.

There are great restaurants around the city but we went to a non touristy area around St Catherines. Good food and wine and great beer.

All this in our first few hours. We are looking forward to tomorrow.