From Michelangelo to Picasso in one day. Brugge day three.

Monday 03 August 2015 – Brugge, Belgium and back to Walthamstow, London.

Lessons learnt yesterday meant we did not rush out of bed seeking breakfast anywhere outside the hotel and we succumbed again to the offered glass of champagne along with our omelettes. We faffed a bit after breakfast and then checked out of the hotel, leaving our bags behind, for one last tour of the city.

We wanted to visit the Church of Our Lady, as it did not open until 10:30 we walked around the local canal again. Breakfast needed to be taken out for a walk.

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This seems to be one of the most popular places to hang out and take photographs, when ever we passed by here over the weekend it was jammed with people.

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My main reason for wanting to visit the church was it contained the only Michelangelo sculpture that left Italy during his lifetime. It was bought by two brothers from Brugge in 1504 and was donated to the church in 1514. The sculpture was looted twice and fortunately returned both times, the last time by Nazi Germany in 1944. It is a lovely lovely piece of work, and I am constantly amazed at the detail that these artists from so long ago where able to attain with what must have been quite rudimentary tools.

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The church is nice, as seems to be the way for me these days, it is under serious renovation, so most of the outside is covered in cloth and half the inside is boarded up. There is supposed to be a gruesome Bosch painting as well, but I am assuming it is away for its own protection during the work.

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I particularly liked this fresco taken from the tomb of Mary of Burgundy who died in 1502. The tomb was only discovered in 1979 during renovation work. I get very excited about these recent discoveries and find it remarkable that after over 450 years new things can still be found inside churches and other ancient sites.

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We wandered over the road from the church to the Picasso Expo and the Oud Sint Jan (Old St John) an 11th century hospital building – that has been expanded over the years and is now used an exhibition centre. We really enjoyed the Expo, there were a lot of minor works by Picasso as well as a small collection of related artists like Magritte, Matisse and Jean Cocteau. They were all quite simple, lots of line drawings and etchings. Small, yet perfectly formed you might say.

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Magritte

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Matisse

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Jean Cocteau – I have not knowingly seen any art Jean Cocteau. I have heard the name but not in that context. I must do some research as he looks quite interesting.

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I really liked this small Degas sketch.

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And this early Signac. I like the rudimentary nature of it, that a famous artist can do something not much better than I could,  is quite illuminating. Well, I doubt I could do anything this good either to be honest…

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The Picasso collection was really interesting, unusual and minor works, there was nothing I had seen before, even in the two Picasso Museums I visited in Spain. It was interesting to see them, and some of the works that influenced Picasso as his career progressed. This was definitely my favourite. I like the bizarreness and the simplicity.

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There was also a large Chagall exhibition as well, which was interesting(ish) he is not really my cup of tea artistically, but seeing so many sets together put them a bit more into perspective.

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There was quite a nice view over the rooftops from the upper floors. I do like getting up above the roof line if I can, though we didn’t have much of an opportunity to do so on this trip. We could have taken the 336 step walk up to the top of the Belfry, but we didn’t – maybe next time.

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We had a bit of a look around the outside of the hospital and I found a couple of interesting doorways…

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There was also quite a nice cafe there and we finally succumbed to the temptation to have a waffle, a Belgian speciality. We have sorted of avoided the worst of the big heavy foods here, but a fresh fruit waffle sounded not too bad, and it was way better than that. We shared one, and even that was a struggle, but it was really nice !

On the way back to the hotel, the long way, we came across this sculpture by Chinese artist Song Dong, another piece for the Bruges Triennial. It is made from old window frames and was really cool.

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And that was pretty much it. We stopped at the hotel for a final glass of champagne – and the accompanying plate of cheese and snacks before taking a slow stroll back to the station. On the way we stopped at Godshuis St Jozef & De Meulenaere, an alms house that I meant to explore earlier but had forgotten about. It was a lovely peaceful place and I wished we had time to explore it further – a place for next time. There are 45 alms houses in Brugge and they will be high on my must do next time list.

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The train journeys back to London were uneventful, thankfully ! While they are always welcome, the journey home is never as exciting as the journey out, and I just want them to be over as fast possible. The 45 minutes it took from getting off the Eurostar at St Pancras to walking in the door at home seemed to last longer than the three hours getting there from Brugge. Naturally after three days of sun and warmth in Brugge it was grey and drizzly in London.

It was a fabulous weekend away (another one), we are very lucky that we can have them and I should appreciate that fact more. It was also a great start to four weeks off work !

Beer, canals and windmills. Day two in Brugge.

Sunday 02 August 2015 – Brugge, Belgium.

Yesterday was such a good day, so we were keen for a repeat today. Breakfast was not served in the hotel until quite late – by our standards, so with the sun shining and a busy day of walking planned we were up and out the door as soon as we were ready. Which wasn’t that early really, those massive nightcaps last night slowed the day down a wee bit. Almost straight out the front door we saw some of Brugge’s famous swans, swanning their way down the canal in the Rozenhoedkaai.

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We had a brief walk immediately around the hotel looking for somewhere to eat and nothing seemed to open until 10:00am (they are missing a trick here) so we ended up going back to the hotel for a really nice breakfast, that came with a glass off bubbles… Yep, a good start to the day!

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I had consulted the guidebook over breakfast and came up with a bit of a plan for the morning. There are lots of things to see in Brugge and I wanted to fit as much in as possible as we had a full day to do it. With tomorrow being a Monday I had in mind visiting some of the really popular touristy things then and avoiding them as much as possible today, so today was a walking day.

Our first stop was Sint Annakerk, which was up one of the ubiquitous canals. Walking along the canal was interesting enough as it was. It was made much more enjoyable as the only sounds were Sunday morning church bells, one was ringing ‘Ode to Joy’ and the occasional rumble of tyres on the cobblestones. It was very peaceful.

Excuse the lens flair. Not supposed to be photographically correct, but I do love a bit of flair!

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Sint-Annekerk was built in 1624 and is quite lovely on a sunny Sunday morning.

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The Jerusalem Church was my favourite in Brugge, and has the best story, as well as a wonderful wooden cupola at the top. The church was constructed in the mid 15th century by the Adornes family, and is one of two privately owned churches in the city. The Adornes family came to Brugge after the father had been on a holy pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The church is modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in that city and unlike most ancient churches is unchanged since it was first built. Most have been renovated and modified since their first construction. Anselm Adornes, who finished the church his father started, was murdered in Scotland while on a diplomatic mission and while he was buried in Scotland his heart was brought home and interred here. It is a lovely building and it was a shame we could not go inside – it being a Sunday.

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I also liked the square outside. You can see how so few people make it this far from tourism central, they do get to miss out on some good things!

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The church and square were just inside one the edges of the city, and on one of the main entry and exit points. Each of these are guarded by large gates, with bridges over the canal. This is the Kruispoort Gate and this version was constructed in 1400, after the first two had been destroyed in previous wars. This was the gate used by both the armies of Napoleon and Adolf Hitler when they first entered Brugge after invading Belgium. I really wish I had gone across the bridge to photograph it from the far side, but it was up to let some boats pass through.

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One thing I remembered from my last visit to Brugge in 1987 was that there were windmills, and I wanted to see those again today. Luckily (it was actually down to good planning) the four remaining windmills are all located just up the canal from the gate.

The first windmill we came across was Bonne Chieremolen from 1844.

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The second is the most famous of the windmills, the Sint-Janshuismolen built in 1770 and it is still working today.

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The third was my favourite, De Nieuwe Pappegai which was rebuilt in 1970, 200 years after its neighbour!

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And finally Koeleweimolen De Coelewey which was built in 1765, but moved from its original location.

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I loved the windmills, a shame all 29 of the original mills are not here to be seen! They do make for great silhouettes on a sunny day. Just past the last windmill the main canal that runs up one side of Brugge connects with the Langerei canal which heads back into town. We followed this wonderful waterway, surrounded by some beautiful old buildings back into the centre of Brugge.

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There are a lot more buildings with icons above entrances and on corners.

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Closer to town we crossed over the canal and walked down a smaller, more residential canal – so reminiscent of Venice.

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I wonder how long the buildings will last, like Venice and other canalside towns, the water erosion on these foundations and walls, that must be hundreds of years old, must be taking its toll.

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I loved this apple tree growing in someone’s garden. A reminder that this is a living breathing town, where people live normal lives. It is not just a museum piece.

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The city centre was heaving with people, after an hour of meandering slowly down the canal bank it was a shame to be back into the throng – inevitable, but still a shame. It was a good place to find a cafe for a much needed sit down, a cup of coffee and some gooey pastries. After the breakfast we had at the hotel we didn’t really need a big lunch!

On the way to the Beguinage we passed the entrance to the oldest alms houses in Brugge, we should have stopped in hindsight, but it was on a very busy shopping street and these things always make me want to run and hide. The entrance was lovely – and very old.

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The Beguinage is entered through a gate built in 1776 and features the image of Elizabeth of Hungary who is the patron saint of Beguinages.

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From Wikipedia – “The word béguinage is a French term that refers to a semi-monastic community of women called Beguines, religious women who sought to serve God without retiring from the world.” The beguinage in Brugge is named “The Vineyard”, as this was what the land was prior and it was started in 1244, perhaps by widows left when their husbands were killed during the crusades and they needed a place of safety and comfort. The buildings that make up this peaceful enclave were mainly built between the early 1500s and the 1700s. Given its location it was remarkably quiet and deserted across the bridge. It is now a Benedictine convent.

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I initially thought the huts in the trees were places where people went to contemplate, or to live a particular vow. But when researching for information when I was writing this post I discovered they are an art installation by the Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata and are part of the Brugge Triennial.

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From the beguinage we popped out on to the edge of Love Lake, which was our final planned destination for the afternoon. We walked around the edge of the small lake and then popped into the run down bar on the far side for a drink and a relax.

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Later in the afternoon, my football team, Arsenal are playing Chelsea in the Community Shield, a pre-season “friendly”, not that there is such a thing when we play Chelsea. I took this as a sign of good fortune. Not having the game on TV here, was probably a good thing. We did win it too, Yay Smile

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There are quite a few alms houses in Brugge, most of them extremely old.

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We went back to the hotel for a rest, and another large glass of bubbles in the garden while we consulted the guide book for some ideas for the rest of the day.

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We decided on a visit to the Groeninge Museum, which is an art gallery showing only Flemish painters and others who came to paint or resided in Brugge. The museum is not directly on the street so there were a few interesting things to see just to get to the museum itself.

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The museum was interesting, it is in a lovely light and airy building and is nice and quiet. There are some really nice pieces from local artists like Jan Van Eyck and Gerard David. I mostly wanted to see a famous Hieronymus Bosch piece but it was not on display sadly. There was a very cool Rene Magritte – ‘The attendant’.

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I also liked this piece from the Brugge town hall building from the late 1300’s.

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After the museum we headed off to find a beer bar, Staminee de Garre, which had been recommended to us by some friends. We walked through the Burg, passed the lovely old town hall building, though none of my photos were post-worthy.  I do love the letter boxes which I cut into the walls of the houses – or the town hall in this case.

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After a bit of map reading we found de Garre, which is hidden away down a small alley way.

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The place is small, and old and a bit rickety and seemed to be evenly populated with local regulars and tourists. All the tables were taken so we were about to head out when the barmaid moved a few people out of the way and found us a spot on a table with a couple of Americans and a local guy. We were given a very extensive beer menu to choose from. I was about to choose a trappist ale, when a Belgian guy at the next table told me to try the Garre, which was the beer brewed for the bar. A wise choice ! El is not a beer drinker at all, but tried one of the fruit flavoured beers – Raspberry in this case. She didn’t mind it, but I don’t think she will become a real ale drinker any time soon. After the Garre I tied a trappist ale from the Rochefort Abbey. Trappist beers are brewed in abbeys, there are 11 abbeys in Europe certified as trappist breweries. I thought the 6 was representative of the alcohol percentage – and this was the lowest in the range, but it wasn’t, this one was 7.5%. It was very nice too! One of the features of Belgian beer, is that they all have a special glass, shaped for the style of beer, with a few hundred beers on the menu, the glass selection must be massive. There was only one barmaid for this small but busy bar and she was like a machine, clearing tables, selecting glasses and bottles and pouring the correct way for the type of drink chosen. Made my life as a barman seem very easy !

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We left soon after in the search for somewhere nice to eat dinner as we had not really eaten anything much since breakfast. After a while walking around we ended up in a bit of a tourist restaurant near the hotel. It was nice and not overly expensive but not as good as Est.

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And that was the end of day two. A lot of walking, a tiring but very enjoyable day out. Brugge just gets better the more I see of it, and we saw a lot today.

Bruges, glorious Bruges

Saturday 01 August 2015 – Brugge, Belgium.

Wahoo – I have almost four weeks off work, and loads of holiday plans to fill the time as well. The last week of work was not too stressful considering the things we had to do, it had its moments but I left yesterday feeling pretty relaxed about taking the time off. A good way to start a holiday, especially as this morning El and I are heading off early to catch a train to Bruges, or Brugge, in Belgium for an extended weekend away

As English speakers we use the French spelling and pronunciation of Bruges, though the local Flemish speaking Belgian’s use the Flemish Brugge. I will try and use that spelling throughout my posts about the city. I do not understand why we do not honour how the local people spell and pronounce the names of their countries and towns, and why we have to anglicise everything, and vice versa as well. I suppose I do understand, though I do not like it.

Brugge is an ancient place, probably named by an old Dutch word for bridge. It was first recorded in 840 though the location has been occupied since at least 1500 years BC, the earliest remains are from the Roman occupation from about 100 BC. It is a UNESCO heritage site and the buildings, mainly from the 14th-17th century, have been incredibly well preserved or renovated. Brugge is a canal town, it was a key trading centre for many decades and was the economic capital of Europe for a long time. Canals and rivers surround the entire old town, cutting it off from the rest of the city and leaving it relatively car free. It is just the sort of place I love to explore and I was really looking forward to returning after a day long visit as part of a tour of Europe way back in 1987.

As we were going somewhere photographically interesting I decided to take my big camera, a Canon 5d Mk1 rather than the smaller G16. Earlier in the week I got the camera out to charge batteries, give it a clean and all the other pre-trip things I do. I discovered my spare battery had totally died, so I contacted a friend who I knew shot Canon to see if he had a spare battery. He didn’t, but he very kindly offered me the use of his 5d MK3 instead. Wow, a dream camera for the weekend ! Thanks Andy.

As is our way we were up early and at St Pancras station well before time to check in. We decided to breakfast at the station so got there quite early. It is a very busy place on a Saturday morning.

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As we were there early I went off for a quick explore of the station, I have been here a couple of times before, but have never seen ‘The meeting statue’, so was quite pleased to find it upstairs outside the Eurostar platforms.

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It was a bit of a process getting through security and immigration control, as this is an international journey; it is like passing through airport security, with the usual lack of staff to manage the volume of passengers. I was glad to get through, and get a coffee and a muffin on the other side. The flight train left a bit late, but with enough time for me to get up to the front to take a photo, I love these high speed trains.

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We did not have a great window seat unfortunately, but it was still good to be thundering through the Kent countryside, heading for the channel tunnel and out the out the other side into France. Though the landscape did not change much at all !

England

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France

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At some unknown point on the journey we crossed from France in to Belgium and changed trains in Brussels.

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Three hours after leaving London we were arriving in Brugge, the station is just outside the old town and with the help of a guide book map and a printout from the internet with directions we headed off into the warm and sunny Belgian afternoon to find our hotel, which was very close to the centre of town.

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Even though it was early afternoon on a Saturday in July, the outer layers of the old town were quite empty, something I have noted in other places I have been. It seems some visitors just like to see the key attractions, leaving the exploring to the likes of El and myself. Love it !

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We stayed in the Pand Hotel, which was just lovely, very close to the centre of the action, but very quiet and comfortable, and a view of the window towards the Church of our Lady, which we visit on Monday.

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After dumping our bags, and sun blocking up we were out the door and on to the streets, we didn’t have a plan this afternoon, just a wander around to see what we saw, and we did see a lot. The hotel is about 50 metres from the Rozenhoedkaai, one of the most popular – and photographed parts of Brugge. Over the next couple of days I took a few photos here myself !

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We then headed off towards the Markt, the main square. I love it that, while there are cars around, Brugge is a cycling city, and bikes and pedestrians co-exist seemingly quite easily. The old market hall, and the back of the Belfry.

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I also like it that most of the bikes are not low slung road ‘racing’ bikes and most of the cyclists are everyday folk and not the lycra clad road warriors that we see too much of in other countries.

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A lot of the houses in the centre of Brugge are constructed in the ‘brick gothic’ style and were built from the 16th and 17th centuries, with major renovations being carried out in the late 19th century when Brugge started to become popular as a tourist destination. Some of the houses had icons of Mary and the baby Jesus on them, I liked this – a lot, and took many photos of them over the three days.

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The Markt is surrounded by lovely old buildings, the 12th century, 83 metre high Belfry is particularly nice.

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There was some weird mirror sculpture in the square, so El and I used them for some selfies.

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We headed off for a bit more of a wander, and wonder at some of the things we were seeing, before finally stopping for a beer for me, and a wine for El as she does not like beer. Brugge is world famous for its beer, so I had to try some while I was here.

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Brugge is also famous for it’s lace and there are a number of lace shops around the main tourist areas.

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We finally ended up back at our hotel and decided to make our way to the small garden out the back for a glass of bubbles. Drinks in Brugge all come with small snacks: cheese, olives and small biscuits were the most common and was hugely appreciated. The champagne in the hotel came in massive flutes – also much appreciated !

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On our afternoon walk we had reserved a table at Wijnbar Est, and after a wee rest we took a slow stroll there for an early dinner.

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We had a great time, it is a lovely little restaurant, great vibe and really nice food. The main surprise for us was drinking a bottle of Belgian wine from the Landgoed Dorrebeek vineyard. I had no idea they made wine in Belgium, it was really really nice. A recommended place for a drink or a meal – and to try something different !

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One of the many joys of using this great camera is the lowlight capabilities are so much better than my old version. While none of these are fantastic these are all hand held photos taken on a stroll around Brugge to walk off dinner. The Rozenhoedkaai at night.

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Belgium is of course famous for its chocolate, so I had to take a photo of the chocolate boobs seen on the way to the Markt. .

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The belfry and the 18th century provincial court.

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There was a free music festival on in the Burg square as we walked through, none of the music interested me at all, but it was full of families and young people having a good time and had a really nice vibe to it.

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We strolled up the side of a canal for a while, crossing over a bridge before heading back towards the hotel.

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The magnificent Church of our Lady at 133 metres is the tallest building in Brugge and the second tallest brick building in the world and was built from the 13th to the 15th centuries. It looks stunning at night.

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We also had a quick peak at Sint-Salvator Cathedral, which we didn’t visit during the day. This was made the official cathedral of Brugge in 1834, soon after The Netherlands allowed Belgium to become an independent nation and a new bishop was installed in Brugge. The steeple was rebuilt in the 1830’s after the church as almost destroyed in a fire.

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Back at our hotel we had an unexpectedly large night cap before finally putting our feet up after a long day of aimlessly strolling about one of the world’s loveliest cities. We were really looking forward to doing it all again tomorrow!

A photo from Bruges.

Monday 03 August 2015 – Bruges, Belgium

El and I went to the beautiful Belgian city of Bruges for a long weekend trip away. I took a lot of photos and will not get time to edit them and write a post before I head off on my mega walk on Wednesday.

So here is a taster – the most photographed part of Bruges – and probably the most photographed part of Belgium as well.

Did we love Bruges ? Oh yes…..

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