This was my last weekend in Belgium. In 6 days, I fly home to see my family, visit Raleigh, and finally head back to CA for school.
This weekend, Bryce came into town, and we went to explore Brussels and Ghent. In neither place did I take enough pictures.
Brussels is a really nice city. It was quite clean, and the main square’s architectural beauty is overwhelming. Three generations of Flemish architecture surround Grand Place—ornately decorated and dwarfing the other buildings. Here is a picture of the square:
We walked to Mannekin Pis — the famous statue peeing into a fountain. It was uninspiring. Someone had dressed it in costume. I’m glad I saw it, but also glad we didn’t walk far to see it. We did travel far to see the Luxembourgplein, the home of European Parliament. What struck me the most was the number of languages on the buildings. It is incredible anything can happen when that many languages — and corresponding different cultures and people — come together.
Finally, we hopped on the metro to visit the Atomium. Originally built for the World’s Fair in 1958, it is a massive body-centered cubic iron molecule. We had some great views of Brussels from inside. It felt like a monument to materials science — despite some liberties the exhibit texts took with materials facts — and we were both pretty excited to see it.
We returned to Leuven for the night and headed to Ghent in the morning. No one warned us that the train station in Ghent is the better part of 2 miles from city center. After we arrived, we struck out on foot to find the sights. On the road to the main historical square, we came across a Kouter street, and heard music. Naturally, we followed our ears and stumbled upon a Ghent tradition: a Sunday flower market. We were the youngest people there by about 30 years, but we stopped and took in some of the local civic orchestra’s music. The performance made Ghent feel like a very small town. After a few minutes, we walked to the main historical square. There was an enormous belfry, and on either end were churches (one was a cathedral) that rival the size and grandeur of any I have seen. We walked into the largest, and Mass was being said inside. It was fully lit, and the organ played at full volume. As we left, Bryce’s comment to me was “Wow.” It reminded me why I always tried to go to church at these places. You lose a lot when it is just a dark, austere, quiet, cavernous place. When it is in use, though, the building comes alive. I was sad I couldn’t stay longer, but I had a t-shirt on, so didn’t feel right being there.
After seeing the buildings, we found a cafe on the square and I had my first Belgian waffle (it is really a coastal thing, and the waffles in Leuven are really a tourist phenomenon). It was everything I hoped it would be: sweet, crispy, delicious. I don’t think it is possible for a human to run far enough to burn those calories off, but I’m not in Belgium all that often.
We then ventured to the Gravensteen — the old castle and keep in Ghent. It was torn down in parts and rebuilt over years, so it was a real blend of old and wannabe-old. With that said, most of it seemed really authentic, and the structures that were original were very obviously original. What I liked best, though, was the style of the castles. I think most Americans — I for one — had this impression that a castle is a castle. They are all the same. But they aren’t. Every country/king/division had a different style. Flemish castles are the ones that people think of most of the time. A high wall surrounding a higher keep. Sadly, this one did not have a moat, but it did give a very good view of what a castle actually looked like in the 1100s-1400s. Bryce pointed out that the oldest of the buildings there not only predated the discovery of North America by Europeans, but the Magna Carta, and were started only a few years after the Battle of Hastings. It really puts time into perspective to think about how long ago that was. Maybe more frightening, it makes me wonder how many things we build today will be around in 3100.
We headed to get some lunch, and started a walk back to the train station — Bryce had to get back to London. I would go back to Ghent. It feels like the right sized town — not a huge city, but not quiet and empty either.
Now that I am back in Leuven, I am getting ready for my last week here and a whirlwind after that until I start school again. I keep thinking that things will calm down one of these days, but I know that that isn’t likely for a while.
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