Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Belgium - Land of Chocolate, Beer and Waffles

Welcome Back Readers,
After we spent a couple days at home washing the laundry and resting our feet we set off again for Belgium.  Belgium is actually one of the closer countries to us but we weren't sure when we would be able to fit it into our vacation schedule until we decided to go to Croatia over the Christmas break.  The kids were still off school after the new year so we decided to squeeze one more vacation in before everyone begrudgingly moved back into the rut of everyday life.  Lori had to take some vacation time but it was a pretty easy to twist her arm. 

Me: If we go to Belgium after New Years Day you will have to take va-
Lori: Okay.
Me: -cation time.

Book it Dan-O, we're going to Belgium.

Wednesday the 2nd - We started out by taking the East Midlands train from Derby to London St. Pancras, the Eurostar train from St. Pancras to Brussels, then a Belgium train on to Bruges.  While in Brussels we checked out a few of the attractions before boarding the train to Bruges.

Walking along Avenue de Stalingrad from Gare du Midi (train station) towards Grand Place (the central square of Brussels).

Still walking.  I love checking out the building architecture in the different countries we visit.

Rouppe Square.  Still walking.

We've arrived!  Our first attraction is Mannekin Pis (Little Man Pee), Brussels' answer to Copenhagen's Little Mermaid.  World famous and pretty disappointing.  Little Mermaid was a tad larger but Little Man is a fountain so its a "Who is the Lamest Statue" draw.  You can read about him here on Wiki.  The statue dates back to 1619 when it was used as a fountain and has taken on a cultural significance since then.  The kids were not impressed.  I knew we were in the right place because of the mob of people and constant camera flashes going off.  Karl looked at the statue and suggested maybe the real statue was somewhere else.  This is after they were warned that it would be like seeing The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen which we saw last Christmas.  I guess our new Christmas tradition is visiting overrated famous statues. 

Little Man Pee close up.  I was hoping he would be wearing one of his 800 outfits but I was disappointed.  I also found out that there are a handful of the little men around Belgium but none as famous as this guy for some reason.  Not only is this guy a lot on the lame side he isn't unique.

Dana Johnson Pic - We had to "get us some" Belgian Waffles.  Kalle's nutella drowning victim is on the left, my powdered sugar delight is on the right.  Lori and Karl passed.  "Get us some" is a variation of an English expression "give us some" that KJ's mates use and is actually used in the singular reference when used properly not the plural that "us" implies.  Properly translated, it means may I have one.  A little confusing but you get used to it after a while.  Poor Aunt Joanie would have an aneurysm listening to the teenagers talk over here.  

The Maison du Roi (King's House) in the middle and Guild Halls on each side in the Grand Place.  The King's House is a museum now and the Guild Halls seemed to have businesses like stores and restaurants in them now.  You can read about the Grand Place here on Wiki.

The Grand Place is a UNESCO World Heritage sight and was beautifully deserving.  Much better than watching a (hopefully) inebriated woman spitting on her hand then rubbing it all over some good luck statue near the Hotel de Ville that people were walking past and taking turns rubbing.  Even worse was the people who rubbed the statue after the woman did.  Call me whatever you want, I'm not touching any good luck charms after drunk people molest them with spit covered hands.

Another Nativity scene.

The Brussels Town Hall, also called the Hotel de Ville, was putting on a light show for us.  Maybe this is Cruella's family home?

The light show was mesmerising.
After watching the light show for a bit we walked to Gare Centrale to catch a train to Bruges.  After talking to the over matched information worker and figuring out the train schedules we found a train that was departing in six minutes so we made our way down to the correct train platform.  There was a train at the platform but wasn't ours so we watched it go and waited another minute while Karl went to look at the train schedule.  He came back and said he wasn't sure.  So Lori went to look and came back quickly saying "train changed to platform 2".  Not the words you want to hear when your train is scheduled to depart in two minutes.  So Lori and Kalle take off while Karl and I grab the luggage, run up the steps, across to the next platform section (where Karl inexplicably stops and says he lost sight of Lori - then RUN FASTER), down the steps and onto the waiting train where we asked another passenger if this was going to Bruges.  She said yes so we finally breathed again.  A few seconds later the doors closed and we were on our way.  We arrived at the Bruges and end up taking a taxi to the hotel because I misunderstood my travel notes to self that we were supposed to take a bus to the Centrum, or centre of town.  The driver did give us a few restaurant ideas so the couple Euro extra we paid for the taxi was well worth it.  Not really but that's what I am telling myself.        

Poor Kalle.  The taxi stops and we get out.  Kalle looks at the huge five star hotel with the flags and extravagant doors across the street and asks is that our hotel?  No honey, we are here at the plain brown brick building across the street.  She wasn't way off base as we have stayed at a few five star hotels on our European adventure but not this time.

Our family room at the hotel.  Everyone had their own bed in a big room (the queen beds are actually two doubles pushed together).  Decent place overall, great location for walking around the city attractions and near a bunch of restaurants.
For dinner we took our taxi driver's advice and walked around the corner and down the street to Restaurant Row.  There were about ten places to choose from but we were late arriving so most places were full.  We finally picked a place called 't Brugs Pithuis which I would guess translates to The Bruges Pita House.  They didn't have English menus but one of the waiters spoke English so we were set.  I had two disappointing beers, Brugse Zot and Leffe Blonde.  They tasted okay but I was expecting more, initial impression was the beer in Norway and Denmark were both better.  Although those results may be skewed as that was our first international trip after drinking UK beer for three months.  UK beer does that to you.  At least the food was really good.  We ate, walked back to the room and relaxed for the remainder of the night.

Kevin Coleman Pic - The Brugse Zot or Fool (link) was not impressive.  The Belgian beer was a little disappointing to me but I will whine about that later.

Kevin Coleman Pic - The Leffe wasn't any better than the Zot.

Dana Johnson Pic - Some sauces for our crackers and pita breads.  I really liked the Southwest like sauce and the kids liked the ranch type sauce.

Dana Johnson Pic - My schwarma, fries and salad.  Slather some southwest-like sauce on it and it tasted great.  This trip again made me question why everywhere off of the island has good or great food and they don't.  Even the expensive vacations are worth it to get a decent beer and good tasting food.  C'mon Brits, you can do better.

Dana Johnson Pic - Karl had the burgers and frites.  Surprisingly the frites were much better in Amsterdam than here in Belgium.  I figured they would taste the same but not surprisingly I was wrong.
Thursday the 3rd - For our trip we had two days to explore Bruges and a few hours to explore Brussels as we switched train terminals on the way in and out.  I was excited to visit Belgium because of their chocolate and beer reputation plus they have a few UNESCO World Heritage Site designations so I figured we would have a fun time.  I never did taste the chocolate which was disappointing.  With all of my chocolate/nut allergy problems over here we asked a couple of places if their was hazelnut in the chocolate sauces and they said yes it was in all of the chocolate sauce so scratch that off of my list.  The beer on this trip was my "Dan Stine extreme self restraint in the face of surmounting adversity moment of the week".  Belgium was pretty expensive which I wasn't surprised at so paying 6 Euro for a bottle of beer was on par with my expectations, my real problem was that the beer didn't taste any better than what I can get as imports over here.  Plus the import bottle beer prices is the same as I was paying in Belgium.  Shouldn't it be a tad cheaper?  To top off my disappointment sundae, when I did order a draft beer it was about three quarters beer, one quarter head.  I'm not that excited about beer foam Belgium.  C'mon Belgium, you can do better. 

The front of Hotel Malleberg (link).  A nice three star (sorry Kalle) base for our Bruges wanderings.
After breakfast we walked to the Burg square looking for the tourist information office to buy a couple Bruge City Cards, pick up a local tourist map, and ask a few questions.  We had a poor map that showed the tourist "i" in the Burg but after walking to/around all of the buildings on the square we couldn't find it.  Everything seemed to open at ten so I had planned on getting to the info office at 10:00, pick up our cards and map, then start exploring.  That plan was thwarted by us not finding the office.  We finally found a place that directed us to the Markt square which was next to the Burg.  So we walked to Markt and still didn't find it.  So we stopped in the post office and asked for directions again and were directed to the office which was a few doors down.  We finally found it and the semi-concealed "i" which was attached to the face of the building.  A lot of places we go to have a street side sign with the "i" on it or have the "i" attached perpendicular to the building so you can see it from a distance but not here.  You have to literally be in front of the building entrance to see the tourist information sign.  Not a great start to our trip.    

The Stadhuis (Town Hall) in the middle.  We will be coming back here to check out the museum after picking up the City Cards.  More beautiful buildings in Bruges.

Shops in the middle, Basilica of the Holy Blood in the left corner of the buildings and the Belfort towering in the background.  As you will notice the fine English weather followed us.  Temperatures straddling 50 F with rain threatening us today and following through with its threat tomorrow.  No complaints though as most of our trips have had decent weather. 

The view of the beautiful Markt (WIki link).  In the middle was the holiday booths and a stage that workers were tearing down while we were there.

Another shot of Markt, Belfort is on right.  Sun is hiding.

First stop, Heilige Bloed Basiliek (Basilica of the Holy Blood) which you can read about here.  Call me sceptical but this church claims to have a cloth that was used to clean Jesus Christ's dead body and thereby contains his blood.  I guess it is possible but seems a bit far fetched to me that some religious zealot hasn't stolen the blood by now.  According to the first link and this Wiki link the church was built in the 12th C and is comprised of two chapels.  The 12th C lower chapel is Romanesque and supposed to be quite plain but it wasn't open for us to view.  The upper chapel was built in the Gothic 16th C then rebuilt in the 19th C and was dark yet colourful. 

Dark and colourful, there weren't many people here early in the morning which was nice.  The church had a few fine side altars and not much else as it was a small chapel.  Check out the globe shaped pulpit on the left side of the picture.  On the right is where the blood relic is shown but we were too early so we would have to come back later to view the relic.

A glitzy gold and marble monument.

Required stained glass pic.

The main chapel.  I think this where the normal services would be held.  We'll be back to see the relic and check out the church museum.  The museum was compact and had fascinating tapestries, relics, paintings, and other treasures but no pictures allowed so sorry.
After the quiet church we went to the Stadhuis (official link) which is the old town hall building turned into a museum.  Per the link the building was built in 1376 although the murals in the hall are from the 19th C.  The handful of paintings were okay and the great hall was very impressive.  There were some neat artifacts in the museum but not everything was in English so I wasn't sure what stories the artifacts were telling us.

The bright and impressive great hall.

One of the walls with the impressive murals.

Mural and statue close up.

Murals on the other wall.  I am sure all of the murals told interesting stories but the audio guide didn't go into details on the individual murals.  Would have been nice to have a posted docent in this room.

This was funny.  Check out the guy on the right with the belly chain.  We saw a theme here of people in the paintings wearing shirts with ripped abs.  I think I need one of those fake ripped abs shirts.

Some more facial hair of the month ideas?  Lori did not see the humour in my comment for some reason.

Jay Seppanen Pic - This poster would look good in our house, right Lor?

This old map looked interesting.  Probably would have been better if I could have understood the words.

Final mural close up.

This was interesting.  If you stood in the right spot the glare highlighted where this guy's head was cutout at one point.  The painting is of Baron Replaced Head meeting Napoleon.

The arquebus holster on the horse was interesting.  Pre-cursor to the western rifle holster, I don't see many of these on paintings.  The arquebusier is Leopold Wilhelm somebody.

After the Stadhuis we passed this finely detailed window decoration in Burg.  So much amazing building artwork here.

Next up was the Belfort (official link) or (Wiki link), a medieval bell tower which is also a World Heritage site.  According to Wiki it was built in 1240 and has been rebuilt a few times over the years thanks to some fires and a lightning strike that smote St. Michael who was atop the spire.  We had to wait in line to climb all 366 steps to reach the panoramic view.  Not a great view since the weather wasn't sunny but still some nice views.

Belfort history.

Interesting bell trivia part 1.  Sorry for the rotated picture.

Interesting bell trivia part 2.  From another info board the carillon is comprised of 47 bells.

View of Burg square from the tower.  Our hotel is just to the left past the square.

View of Markt square.

One of the uses of the tower was for town meetings and another use was storing the city treasures.  That was until the tower caught fire a couple times and the town folk decided that maybe this tower wasn't the best place to store valuable city documents like the city charter.

Some of the 366 steps.  This is one of the wider stone stairs sections with the unique handrail.  Near the top were the narrow wooden claustrophobic stairs that we are all so fond of climbing.   There was also a story in the tower about Habsburg Ruler/Holy Roman Emperor (countries and their rulers were so confusing back then as the country boundaries and/or allegiances changed with each war) Maximilian I locking himself in this tower as the angry town folk revolted against his rule by killing some members of his retinue.  Eventually he was rescued but apparently the Habsburg (Wiki link) ruling period over Belgium was not very popular.  This ties into Charles the Bold and Mary of Burgundy that we will see later.
At the bottom of the tower was the XPO Salvador Dali (link), a gallery containing some of Dali's works.  I thought it would be a good cultural/art stop for us but apparently I was not well enough acquainted with his works.  I knew he was a little "out there" but didn't know so much of his work was so sexually related.  We have seen a lot of artistic nudes on our travels but there were a lot of graphic anatomical art that made all of us uncomfortable.  He had a lot of excellent PG rated artwork but I wish they had segregated the museum into an adult section and a general public section.  We were all a little grossed out by some of his graphic pieces.  All of the following pictures are from his PG rated works. 

I liked his logo on this piece.

Interesting butterfly theme here.

Shot down one side of the gallery.

The Three Elephants, 1974.  These stilted legged elephants were a common theme in sculptures, paintings and drawings.

Jay Seppanen Pic - Even Dali is a fan of me mates.

Four Dreams of Paradise, 1973.

He had an interesting series of Alice in Wonderland pieces.  I liked more of his work then Lori and the kids did, I thought the gallery had some great pieces in it.
This more of what I think of when someone says Salvador Dali.

Fighting fruit?
He also had a Quest for the Grail series that were more sketches than paintings.

And the elephant theme continues.
It's lunchtime so we picked a pricey spot on the Markt square called Huyze Die Maene that was highly rated on a few travel sites.  The food was really good and it was kinda pricey so the travel sites were correct.

Kevin Coleman Pic - Brugse Zot Bruin, thanks for the extra foam that dissolves into nothingness Belgium.

Dana Johnson Pic - Ham and melon seems to be a tasty and common starter in Europe.

Dana Johnson Pic - Stew which is really steak in a thick gravy.  Tasted great although the waiter paused when I asked for a spoon.  I guess you are supposed to eat stew with a fork in Belgium.

The Belfry and statues of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck with the Bruges city flag.  I have no idea who the two guys were and wasn't interested enough to look them up.

 A roaring lion holding the fighting Bruges City lion.

Back to the Basilica to see the Holy Blood relic.  The gilded statues really stood out on the basilica front.  We waited a few minutes for the church to open then went inside and waited for them to bring out the relic and perform a very short service.  Then we stood in line to view the relic in its case up close.  It looked like a porous piece of white and reddish coloured cork in its tube.  Obviously dried into decomposition I am not sure you could positively say what it ever was or even could be.  But we did look at it so mark that off of our Top Touristy Things To Do In Bruges List.  I didn't take any pictures as the solemness of the ceremony overcame my documentation needs and photos weren't allowed. 

One of the wall panels in the main chapel.

Main altar close up.

After the basilica was time for a stretch goal.  For our trips I plan the itinerary with a little input from the group.  Early on in our adventure I let slip that I have stretch goals on our trips which led to us explaining to the kids what stretch goals were and why I had them in our itineraries.  Usually my stretch goals are greeted with an exasperated pouty face and exaggerated body sigh by the Wet Blanket Gang (she can be as bad as the kids) but lately the kids have been jumping into the act by suggesting stretch goals themselves.  And now we are at one of them.  The Historium (official link) was in the same building as the tourist information office so when we picked up the cards in the morning the kids asked if we could go to the Historium show later.  I only had one more item on the day's agenda so we decided to squeeze this in.  The Historium is set up as a seven room video and stage prop journey through a day in the Golden Age of Bruges.  The tour itself was a little lacking and a lot expensive, it was set up to follow van Eyck's apprentice which showed the common man as he journeyed through his day.  The setup idea was neat but I thought the props were only okay and the video didn't show me anything special about Bruges.  I guess Golden Age Bruges was full of poor schlubs who stumbled about generally doing a poor job but still somehow managed to pull everything together at the end of the day and even win the heart of the models.

The video journey day revolved around Jan van Eyck painting this famous piece. 

The show ended with a rooftop view over Markt and the high point of our weather.  The first and last sighting of the sun lasted about two minutes.
Our final stop of the day was at The Choco-Story (The Chocolate Museum), read about it here.  Hard to visit Belgium and not visit The Chocolate Museum.  Kalle was excited to see the chocolate making demonstration so we somewhat quickly worked our way through the museum in order to barely make it to the final demonstration of the day before the museum closed.  The museum was interesting but not captivating.  We have toured other chocolate factories/museums before so a lot of it wasn't new which didn't help.  The museum showed packaging changes through the years, displayed a tonne of facts and figures, showed various shaped moulds, explained technological advances in making chocolate, highlighted innovators in the field, told stories of famous people who loved chocolate, showed chocolate sculptures, gave quizzes, and of course had a chocolate making demonstration.  Add a store right before the exit and you have a full service chocoholic museum.  

See Ma - chocolate is good for me.

Not sure what the Belgian rulers have to do with chocolate but I did like the enlightening chart.

Look again Ma - chocolate prevents cavities!

Some moulds - fish shaped chocolate?

The crying boy and his faithful companion was my favourite mould.

A chocolate bean in the pod.

Cocoa beans were used as payment before becoming widely used as pants stretchers.

Chocolate worshipping Lego's?

A priest Mayan dancer from Remojadas Mexico, 450 to 650 AD. 

Women are so inconsiderate.  And vindictive.

Chocolate consumption vessels through the years.

A bunch of half dolls.  Not sure why I found them to be interesting.  Per the sign they originated in Germany in the 1870's, were usually in the form of a young lady and usually made out of porcelain.  They were used as cozies for teapots, coffee pots and chocolate pots or as covers for jewellery boxes, sweets boxes and lamps.  

I think this Jaguar Warrior would look pretty sweet on my fireplace mantle next to my Temple Guardian from Croatia.

Chocolate sculptures.  What a waste of chocolate.

Chocolate Madonna and Child.  We'll see Michelangelo's version tomorrow.  From the placard this version took the artist 36 hours to sculpt, weighs 265 kg (584 lbs) and was sculpted from a block weighing 485 kg (1,069 lbs).  Wow.

After the museum kicked us out we went back to the hotel to relax before dinner.  While there Lori took inventory of her new coins and discovered we was had!  In one of our stops we were given the 2 Euro coin on the left to find out it was really a 10 Baht coin from Thailand.  Sounds good until you look up the conversion and find out it is worth 0.25 Euro.  Someone is having a pretty good laugh right about now.

Back of the Bath and Euro.  Not sure if we should feel indignantly cheated out of 1.75 Euro or happy to have a Thailand coin. 
Our restaurant of choice was full again tonight so we wandered to Restaurant La Civiere d'Or (link), another Markt square place.  The food was really good again although this time I went with an old faithful.  Everyone had a steak based dish and we all liked our meals.

The 14 Euro Stella.  Of course it tasted good but why can't they at least try to fill the glass?

Fries, applesauce and more stew.  When I asked for a spoon here the waiters joking said, " a spoon? to eat stew? phew".  I guess I will try a fork for my Belgian stew next time.

Teresa Robinett Pic - Kalle wanted to go on a horse drawn carriage ride but The Grinch said no.  <Cue the Seinfeld episode where Kramer takes a job giving horse drawn carriage rides and gives a memorable ride to Susan's parents.>

Lace was also very popular in Belgium.  Obviously this store reminded me of my grandmother.

As part of the Choco-Story they had electronic programs that asked you a bunch of questions then told you what your preferred chocolate is based upon your answers.  The bags are the computer generated answers for Karl, myself and Kalle.  Lori didn't take the test.  My favourite taste of the bunch was combining one of my white chocolate with one with one of Kalle's milder chocolate.  Karl's dark was to bitter for me.
Friday the 4th - Yesterday started out a little frustrating but ended on a string of high notes.  We ended up having a great time so were looking forward to Day 2 in Bruges.

The charming ambiance of the hotel breakfast mess hall.  I am standing in the lounge area. 

Tables pre-breakfast.

Dana Johnson Pic - Sliced cold cuts, cheese, bread, yogurt, fresh fruit (not pictured), OJ and coffee for breakfast.

Walking between the halfhearted rain drops.  Looking down one of the canals at the Belfort.

Tammy Foster Pic - Our next destination puncturing the sky in the near distance.

Tammy Foster Pic - The Bonifacius Bridge was built in 1910 but looks much older.

Tammy Foster Pic - A canal bridge holding up a building.  The canals were beautiful.

Tammy Foster Four-peat Pic - The steps of the Bonifacius Bridge.  You had a pretty good day today Tammy.
Our first inside stop of the day was Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady).  The big draw here was a rare Michelangelo found outside of Italy, the Madonna and Child.  Also of local fame were the tombs of Charles the Bold (Wiki link) and Mary of Burgundy (Wiki link).  From the link Charles was the popular ruler of Burgundy (modern day Belgium and surrounding area) from 1467 to 1477 and upon his death Burgundy became the rope in a tug of war between France and the Habsburg (modern day Austria and surrounding area).  Mary was the daughter of Charles and became ruler when he died at the Battle of Nancy (how embarrassing).  From her link she married Maximilian I (Wiki link) and ruled until her death from a horse riding accident when the unpopular Maximilian I became ruler. 
We were more than pleasantly surprised with the church, it was my favourite church in a very long time.  We have seen so many (and usually the top one-percenters on our international trips) that most churches/cathedrals are nice but nothing special to us anymore.  This one was very different - great sculptures, paintings, wood carvings, stained glass, church architecture, marble floor designs - Lori and I both loved this church.  Definitely a highlight of the trip.  The church Wiki link is here.  According to the link the tower is the second tallest brickworks in the world after a church tower in Germany and the church construction dates from the 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries.

A 2-D/3-D block design ahead of its time.  I love going to these visually puzzling galleries/museum type places like we did in Edinburgh.

Michelangelo Buonarotti's Madonna and Child from about 1504.  Per Wiki the white marble masterpiece has been looted twice by foreign occupiers but recovered both times - by the French revolutionaries circa 1794 and the Nazis in 1944.

Yup, I think we've found Michelangelo's work.

Mary and Charles eternally worshipping the altar.

Charles and Mary close up with the tombs in the bottom right.

Interesting 14th C (if I am reading the sign correctly) buried tomb that was discovered under the floor in the late 1900's.  They discovered quite a few of these tombs during a renovation project.

Our Lady of the seven sorrows, ca. 1530.

Jay Seppanen Pic - This church is awesome!

St. Michael.

The row of finely carved wooden figures.  Poor lighting and lack of photography skill prevented me from getting a worthy picture.  Sorry.

One of the magnificent altars.

Close up of the sculptures behind the doors from the picture above.

One of the early 17th C statues.

Nice pulpit.

Portrait view down the centre of the church, Jesus on the Cross is from 1594.

Landscape view down the centre of the beautiful church.
After leaving the church we sprinted between the rain drops to the Sint-Jin Hospitaalmuseum (Museum at St. John's Hospital) across the street.  You can read a little about it at the Bruges museums link.  The 800 year old building used to be a hospital and now is a hospital/art museum housing some masterpieces from the Flemish Primitive Hans Memling, a 15th C Master.  I had low expectations for it even though it is highly rated on many travel sights and our friends and fellow bloggers the Freys have been here and recommended it.  Not only were the medical displays interesting and informative, the artwork was good with Memling's pieces being outstanding.  The hospital site was huge although the museum was only in one building.  I would have taken more outside pictures but wanted to keep me and the camera dry.

Hospital info board.  "Curing of souls" means about to die I think.

"charter concerning inheritance rights granted by Charles the Bold to St-John's hospital, 1472"  There were many older interesting artifacts like charters, bowls and surgical (or torture I think) instruments on display.

This leads to the Auntie "B" Word of the Week - triptych.  This actually isn't one but looks like it.  The fine painting is by Jacob van Oost the Elder.  The painting is from the 17th C and was commissioned by the four nuns in the side panels per the placard.  The nuns names were also on the painting which was rare and a little vain for nuns- adding your name to a painting including Jesus.

View of the surprisingly interesting museum.

The old sick wards at St-John's hospital by Jan Beerblock, 1778.  Per the placard this is one of the museum's most important works as it shows a day in the life of the museum.  In the bottom right is the sedan chair which was used to carry people to the hospital who were unable to get to the hospital under their own power.  In the bottom leftish near the wheelbarrow is a person holding up intestines or something else pretty gross.  I can only imagine the smell of this place with people dying all around and the dead being cut open for medical study.  I think if I were a sick patient here the smell would kill me before my illness would.

Per the placard this is a reminder of the first hospital anatomy lesson in Bruges on a criminal hanged for his crimes.  The placard also states that the four men around the body are master surgeons.  Ummm, how exactly can a master surgeon be a "master" when performing his first anatomy lesson?  The painting is from 1675.
Early LASIK?  Or maybe the lad just made a cheeky comment about his wig.

Anonymous triptych I liked.

The museum had wooden carvings and stone slabs/sculptures as well but not a lot of good ones IMO.  (IMO is in my opinion for the not cool kids.)  I did like this 16th C oak St. Barbara however.

Jesus bearing the Cross by Pieter Claiessens the younger.  This is his interpretation of Jesus on his way to Calvary to be crucified.   

And this particular piece is called Calvario, showing Jesus crucified along with his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene I am guessing.  The museum had a few versions of this three piece calvary group artwork on display.

From the info sheet: Altar Piece of John the Evangelist and John the Baptist by Memling (link).    Memling was commissioned to paint this for St. John's.  On the left panel is the beheading of John the Baptist, on the right panel is the revelation to John the Evangelist on Patmos which shows John's vision of the end of times depicting the appearance of God, the Wheel of the Elders and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  On the middle panel are Virgin and Child, St. Barbara with her tower, St. Catherine with her wheel, John the Baptist with the lamb, and John the Evangelist with the chalice.  The black clad figure in the middle panel just above St. Barbara's tower is Memling himself.  I like paintings in general and really really liked Memling's paintings.

One of the front panel of the above, this shows some of the people who commissioned the painting.

The other front panel showing the rest of the people who paid for the painting.
Another Memling, read below.

For the pic above.
The Memling wing.

For the following couple of pictures.

A look down another hall of the museum.  the Ursula Shrine is on the left.

Two sides of the Ursula Shrine.

In the upstairs was The Forty Part Motet by Janet Cardiff, a reworking of Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui (1573) by Thomas Tallis who "is considered the greatest English church musician".  If you stood next to one of the speakers you could hear the individual singer, if you stood anywhere else you heard all forty singers.  Pretty loud.  

Iconography of the Portal of the Virgin Mary.  Some parts were 13th C and some were 20th C.

13th C Death of the Virgin Mary, with Christ and angels.

Part of the Hospital grounds on the way to Expo Picasso.
Expo Picasso (link) was a stretch goal addition thanks to its location in one of the St. John's buildings.  And since we were on the St. John's site and need some more culture in our lives we checked it out.  From the link: In a set design specially made for the event, the exhibition covers in turn the beginnings of Picasso, the Spanish tradition, cubism, the African influence, surrealism, ceramics, portrait art, simplicity and his commitment to peace. The route also unveils works by other famous artists who were peers of Pablo Picasso, such Henri Matisse, Joan Miro or Georges Braque.  I couldn't have said it better myself.  The exhibit was extremely explanatory as each room had a large poster board explaining Picasso's change in styles as well as the people who influenced him throughout his lifetime.  We liked it so much the kids and Lori/myself each picked out a small reproduction from the gift shop.  I wasn't sure if I would like it beforehand but since he's famous I wanted to expose him to the kids (exposing Dali to the kids has a WAY different and not better meaning) and ended up thoroughly enjoying it even though it didn't seem to be a Picasso Light gallery.  Lori commented on how he was easily influenced by people or movements over the years with all of his changing styles while I commented on how skilled he was to be able to adapt his artwork to such different styles and still produce such fine work with each style.  Funny how two people can read and observe the same thing and come away with two different thoughts.  I won't say much about him since he is so famous but here's a link if you want to read about him and his work. 

Picasso was in a dancers phase for a while.

He was also in a bull fighting phase.

Embossed matador.

This is the small picture that Kalle picked out.  Karl picked out one of his dove pictures.

Revisiting the dancer phase.
A couple of masks.

Colourful Spanish riders.

There was also many other artist's work on display like Joan Miro (link),
Salvador Dali,

Georges Braque (link), 

Auguste Rodin (link),

and Henri Matisse (link) to name a few of the more well known artists on display.
Lunch was at an average Italian restaurant then it was back into the cold wind and light rain on our way to the Groening Museum (link).  This was a predominantly painting museum that I thoroughly enjoyed although I found it odd that the oldest paintings (15th C) were the best and as the artwork progressed to the 20th C it really turned to rubbish.  It kind of reminded me of the Rijksmuseum from our Amsterdam trip but on a much smaller scale and not quite as impressive.  Even still the Speed Demon Team all finished the rooms much faster than me which required them to fit benches and chairs to wait for me.  From one of the info boards; the Flemish Primitives refer to a group of artists in 15th C Flanders comprised of Jan van Eyck, Petrus Christus, Hans Memling, Gerard David and others.  Their painting colours reflected a previously unmatched realistic quality because they mixed linseed oil into the oil paints instead of egg yolk which made them world famous in their own time.

Mars, surrounded by the Arts and Sciences, conquers Ignorance by Antonius Claeissens, 1605. 

Judgement of Cambyses, by Gerard David, 1493.  David's painting were some of my favourites in the museum although this one was a little creepy.

Jay Seppanen Pic - One of the covers on the triptych painting below.

Moreel Triptych by Hans Memling, 1484.  I think that's St. Giles is in the middle panel with the arrow in his arm shielding the deer.

Portrait of Margareta van Eyck by Jan van Eyck, 1439.  I'm guessing the devil horned Margareta is Jan's wife?  Just kidding ladies.

Madonna with Canon Joris van der Paele by Jan van Eyck, 1436.  I'm guessing this is van Eyck's most famous painting.  A day in the life of van Eyck painting this picture is what we saw at the Historium.  A beautiful work of art.

St. Barbara, ca. 1510-1520, unknown.

St. Catherine, ca. 1510-1520, unknown.  Her wheel is on the rocky outcrop in the upper left of the picture.

St. Nicholas, ca. 1479-1505, unknown.  I think he usually has a crozier in his hand.  Since we have been here and see so much artwork and stained glass windows I have been trying to keep track of the different saints and what they "symbol" is.  A few off the top of my head - St George and the dragon, St. Barbara and the tower, St. Catherine and the wheel, St. David and the white dove, St. Giles and the arrow/deer, St. Nicholas and the crozier, St. Paul and the twin cities (just kidding on that one Fatboy), etc. 

Jay Seppanen Pic - Legend of St. George by Lancelot Blondeel, ca. 1535-1540.  As you can see George did not meet a happy ending.  According to legend he would not renounce Christianity so he was tortured and killed by the Romans.

Portrait of Jan Lopez Gallo and his three sons by Pieter Pourbus, 1568.

They also had a room of engravings.  This one is The Flight of Lot and his Family from Sodom by Peter Paul Rubens, 1620.

This may have been my favourite piece in the museum.  I love how the thick black border looks like a wooden frame and the birds looks like they are hanging in front of the frame and white background even though it is all painted on a canvas.  Great job painting in the birds "shadows".  The piece is Still Life with Fowl by Frans van Cuyck de Myerhop, 17th C.

Now we are onto the rubbish or modern part of the museum.  I kind of did like this one though.  Grey Winter Landscape by Jean Brusselmans, 1935. 

This was hilarious.  As I said I was typically a room or three behind the group so as I enter the modern area Kalle runs up to me laughing and trying to drag me forward.  Apparently teenager Karl was being less than complimentary of some rare lame exhibits in the Arts and Crafts Museum in Zagreb and said he was going to put a dot on a piece of paper and put it in a museum.  A frustrated Lori told him that you can't just do that and that he was disrespecting the artists so knock it off.  Well, I guess you can in Bruges.  KJ gets the last laugh this time.  In case you were wondering this lamely unimaginative piece of non-art crap is called Black Dot by Rene Heyvaert, 1979.

The museum even had some cool artsy benches.
To balance the good museums with the bad museums we went to the Gruuthuse Museum (link).  The museum was a look into the life of a rich Bruges family, the Lords of Gruuthuse, from the 15th to 19th C.  Which would have been fine but the artifacts were sparse and lame unless you liked spoons and plates, the rooms looked run down and tired instead of what they would have looked if a rich family lived here, and there wasn't any literature or other exhibits explaining what life was like back then.  It looked someone's garage sale leftovers.  This was a stretch goal for us and since it was raining outside and some of us were tired of walking we decided not to walk down to the last day's attraction.  At least we were dry I guess.

This awesome bronze mortar in mid-fire as you enter the museum was the high point.  We should have turned around and left when we saw it.

This family was so rich they had a room overlooking the Church of Our Lady.  Pretty nice - time to go to church kids, now open the window so we can hear the priest.

Plate with the family insignia.

This guillotine was kinda neat.

This fireplace and the private church access were the only items that reminded me of a royal family in the whole stinking house.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  We was there!  The sepulchre is under the conical section in the far back left of the model.

Even period weapons didn't make this place any better.
We had a few minutes until closing time and our Groeninge tickets gave us free entrance to another museum so I dragged everyone to the Arenthuis (list).  This one wasn't even on the stretch goal list so we entered with low expectations.  The bottom floor is a temporary art exhibit which means it was pretty poor.

A pole vaulter.  Not a lot to see on the bottom floor.

This is of the Beguinage which was our final stop of the day but we skipped it because of the rain.  The work is by Yoshijiro Urushibara and from 1919.
The upper floor was full of Frank Brangwyn's (link) works which were really good.  I've never heard of Frank but he was pretty talented and travelled the world to work on projects for famous people.  My only complaint was the low light level prevented the pictures from turning out but it must have been to protect them.

One of his colour works.
A monochrome.

I liked the flames.

Jesus Falls for the Second Time, 1935.

We saw a bunch of self portraits today so I figured why not?

Another canal and reflection pic on the way back to the hotel.

Tammy Foster Pic - Lots of bridges in a city full of canals.
For dinner we tried for a third time to get into Bierbrasserie Cambrinus (link).  Cambrinus was highly rated and personally recommended to us so we tried getting in every night but weren't able to on the first two nights.  On the third night we went a little earlier and managed to get a table.  Okay, actually we went out to get some drinks for the room and decided to check our luck with the place not expecting to get in.  But we did.  Score!

The pages on top of my fingers is the food menu in two different languages (i.e. two menus).  The pages under my fingers is the beer menu.  400+ beers.  I think I am going to like this place.

Kevin Coleman Pic - Three quarters beer, one quarter foam.  And I was not impressed with the House Bruin, my beer woes continue.

Dana Johnson Pic - I had chicken with mushrooms and onions in a gravy sauce with a layered cheesy potato bake.  It tasted great.  Everyone really like their meals - very good food here.

Kevin Coleman Pic - I saw this sampler in the menu and wish I had ordered it sooner.  From left: brown which was very good, blond which was okay, cherry which was very good, and wheat which was very good.  I should have ordered this instead of the house beer the first time.  I finally find some good local beer and it's on our last night.  Figures.
Saturday the 5th - After a rough start we ended up having a great time in Bruges.  The food was very good bordering on excellent at a couple of places and the sights were captivating.  Weather wasn't very good but one thing we have learned in England is to not let the weather alter your plans.  Even better than the sights was our Bruge City Cards.  I picked them up for Lori and I which ended up being a great bargain.  They cost us 38 Euro each and if we didn't have them we would have paid 70 Euro for entrance fees - is that a deal or what?  Kalle was free at a lot of places and heavily discounted at the rest so way to be ten years old Kal!  We broke even on Karl, his City Card would have been 35 Euro if we had purchased one for him.  Instead we paid 34 Euro for his admission fees so we basically broke even.  We could have bought him a Museum Pass but that would only have saved us 4 Euro from what we spent so he did okay.  Yes I did add up all of this in the hotel every night.  The burden of just having to know... I am sure the other engineers and similar uptight people in the audience will understand.  One weird part of the trip was admission prices.  I checked them all online using the official attraction websites before we set out (lessons learned from earlier trips) but those prices didn't match the prices on the Bruges City Card literature which sometime didn't match the actual admission prices.  Not that I was complaining as a handful of places only charged Karl 1 Euro at the door instead of the 6 Euro that the attraction website advertised.  Not sure if the winter prices are less than the summer prices and just not updated to the websites yet but I'm not complaining. 
Our last day was basically a travel day so we slept in a few extra minutes before we started our day and then moseyed on down to the train station.   

Tammy Foster Pic - Yes another bridge and canal but not the last.  The Church of Our Lady is in the distance.

On our walk to the train station we stopped at Begijnhof (Begiunage) which is another World Heritage Site.  This one goes into the don't bother column.  It may be better if you scheduled a tour to learn some of the history but walking through it sure didn't do much for us.  At least it was free.

More interesting building faces.

Tammy Foster Pic - There was some folk tale on why there are so many swans in this canal outside the Begijnhof but I forget it. 

Tammy Foster Pic - Bridge in front of the Gunpowder Tower on the right.  The 15th C tower was part of the town's outer fortifications at one time.  We didn't stop to look at it.

Tammy Foster Pic - Final bridge pic with some swans and ducks thrown in free of charge.
One attraction we didn't check out was an ice sculptor exhibit near the train station.  Lori and I thought it would be neat to check out and compare to the Winter Carnival statues from our Tech days but we didn't find the time to fit it in.  Instead we boarded a train to Brussels (where we browsed a bit and I found a Tintin tee shirt and Kalle found a Tintin bracelet) then boarded our Eurostar train to London then an East Midlands train to Derby.  Five minute cab ride and the vacation's over.  Great trip but we are all tired and ready to be home for a few weeks.

Dana Johnson Pic - A sampling of what you can get on your waffles on our second day in Brussels.

Kevin Coleman Pic - Final beer pic from lunch in Brussels Grand Place.  Overall they had good beer with big heads and price tags to match.  I think I would have to say the beer in general was my biggest disappointment of Belgium.
As I reflect a bit on the ending of the calendar year I have been thinking of our European adventure and specifically the sights we've seen in our 15+ months here.  Since we left US soil on that mostly exciting and a little unsettling day we have been to England, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Wales, Netherlands, Israel, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, France, Portugal (not Lori), Croatia, Slovenia, and Belgium plus airport stops in Germany.  Wow.  Our February vacation is booked so we should be adding Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Austria to the list when we return.  Not a bad way to spend our free time eh? 
Thanks for listening,


  1. Really informative stuff here Jay. We're going to Belgium in February but we're driving. I want to try that place with the beer sampler platter. Also, nice canal reflection pics.

    1. Thanks Doug. You may have to reserve a table there if its really busy, or just go there one afternoon and sample about 20 beers before dinner...

    2. If You want to have a good belgian beer, please don't go in the places mentioned in this blog. They are over priced and most of the time it's bottled beer. Go in one of the small caffè's You can find in Bruges. Far away from the central square.