Archive for October, 2014

A day trip to Bruxelles

Hello All

Nope, I haven’t spelt it wrong, that is the spelling of Brussels in Flemish. Don’t ask me to try to even spell any more as it is stupidly complicated…pronouncing some words is very much like clearing your throat whilst blowing your nose. However, lovely to listen to if the person is fluent!

Anyway, this is the promised continuation of the holiday to Belgium I took last year where I hopped on the fantastically efficient double-decker train to Brussels to see what it was like. The weather was not brilliant and threatened rain all day, but more about that it a while. Once out of the station, that appeared to be under a pretty heavy rejig of some sort, I was faced with this, a very impressive equestrian statue of King Albert I..

King Albert I of Belgium, atop his horse with steel helmet from World War 1 in hand

King Albert I of Belgium, atop his horse with steel helmet from World War 1 in hand

Albert was King of Belgium in a very busy time (from 1909 to 1934), being the monarch when much of Belgium was occupied and/or overrun in the First World War, as well as the period afterwards when he took a great interest in rebuilding his land to the level it is now, he also took a very important role in the Treaty of Versailles. It seems a shame and pretty ironic that, following all that he and the country went through in this period, he died in 1934….falling off a mountain after leaning against a rock that became dislodged. No joke, let this be a lesson in why you shouldn’t hike alone.

Moving on, I was very pleasantly struck by the architecture for a country that essentially had to rebuild itself after a World War and then a second war that very much affected most, if not all, of Europe. Of course, much time has passed since then and some of the images here are of modern structures, but still. Respect.

A typical shopping and dining location in the centre of the city

A typical shopping and dining location in the centre of the city

I was very taken with this square, the Grand Place (no, not as in the fish, but the French pronunciation) with seemed to be an area where someone who loved a bit of gold leaf and complicated stone-masonry had been left unsupervised with a blank chequebook. Pretty impressive stuff though, as you can tell by the people looking up in the photos….

Shiny gold leaf! Or maybe it's just gold paint with no actual gold in....

Shiny gold leaf! Or maybe it’s just gold paint with no actual gold in….

It was nice also to see that the square is used regularly with a market selling plants and local produce there on the particular day I visited.

The "Grand Place"

The “Grand Place”

Now, no visit to Brussels would be complete without going to 2 places; firstly, the Atomium. However, I found out that this place is not in or near Brussels, but a considerable bus or train ride outside. By itself. Alas, I had not pre-planned enough so could not make it. However, I did find the second must see…

The "Manneken Pis" dressed as...I'm unsure what to be honest

The “Manneken Pis” dressed as…I’m unsure what to be honest

Yes, what a little monkey! It’s the Manneken Pis (yup, you do say it like that) in the middle of the city. Firstly, you could be forgiven for ignoring it or glancing past as it’s only just 2 ft tall on a plinth above head height….but the crowds give it away. As you can see in this picture, political correctness has even reached world-famous art, as it seems, from all the books I could see, that he now needs to be dressed on most days so as not offend those of a (very) sensitive disposition who exist in this world solely to complain about stuff. I hate people like that. It’s blooming art, not pornography! People like that rate similarly to those who don’t indicate whilst turning on roundabouts on my list….

Additionally, it is a great shame but this statue has been stolen a number of time and the one pictured is actually a replica, with the original residing in a secure location nearby.

There are a few legends as to how this statue came to be but the most popular tells of a wealthy merchant who, during a visit to the city with his family, had his beloved young son go missing. The merchant hastily formed a search party that scoured all corners of the city until the boy was found happily urinating in a small garden. The merchant, as a gift of gratitude to the locals who helped out during the search, had the fountain built. Hmm.

Onward and upward, well, at least up a few streets to some lovely parks that although small, proliferated in the very expensive looking residential areas closer to the Royal Palace and the European Parliament. This one was one of my faves….

A very pretty park near the Royal Palace

A very pretty park near the Royal Palace

It was whilst I was wandering these parks that I managed to get rained on for the first time. My usual plan is to retreat to a cafe, however I picked the one cafe in the city that had no working coffee machine, so I had to make do with a poor excuse for a cup of tea. Bah.

Another shot of this park. Quite proud of the depth of field in this :)

Another shot of this park. Quite proud of the depth of field in this 🙂

Once the rain had stopped, I was able to move on to the large park surrounding the Royal Palace. Nice gaff. Built in 1904, it is….not actually used as a palace but to deal with a few affairs of state and where audiences are granted with the Royal Family on occasion. The Royal Family actually live a way outside the city but the name stuck and it appears they have quite skilled gardener judging by the box hedging….

The Royal Palace, no longer used as a Palace. Silly

The Royal Palace, no longer used as a Palace. Silly

The weather was fast catching me up (you may have noticed the drip on the previous picture) so I had to take shelter again, this time in the museum attached to the European Parliament. Whilst interesting to a degree regards history and such, I must admit it left me a bit cold. Those who know me are aware of the fact that politics tires me out, bar the odd election I may open one eye for instead of fall asleep during. I stuck it out though, but you will be very glad to know that I didn’t take any pictures.

By this time, I needed to head off and completed my circular route back to the Albert statue through a lovely modern building attached to a museum and a very fetching park. It’s the park Monts des Arts (Hill of Arts) and was only meant to be temporary but it is still here, many years after creation due to a campaign by locals.

The park atop the Mont des Arts

The park atop the Mont des Arts

As I walked through, this clock caught my eye. I had a Google. Here’s what it says…

Le Carillon du Mont des Arts is a Jacquemart Carillion clock with 24 bells found on an arch of the Mont des Arts. You can notice 12 figurines that represent important historic and folkloric figures of Brussels through the ages. Jacquemart type clocks can be recognized by the character on top which marks every hour by striking the bell with a hammer. It was built on the occasion of the 1958 World Fair that took place in the city.

Now, I missed the figurine on top, which is shame but more of a shame was the fact that I couldn’t hang around to listen to it. I may have waited in vain though, as from Google, it appears that the clock hasn’t worked properly for a little while and is undergoing extensive repairs. Next time maybe.

The very fetching and intricate clock on the Mont des Arts

The very fetching and intricate clock on the Mont des Arts

Well, there you are, a whistle stop tour of Bruxelles. Hope you enjoyed and my use of shoe leather on something other than cobbles (aaaah, blessed relief) was worthwhile. Certainly worth a long weekend if any of you fancy it and I would wholeheartedly recommend using the Eurostar to do it as the train literally drops you right in the centre of the city. Excellent.

Next week, a tour of Flanders Fields, just in time for November 11th; be warned it may be a two parter, I took oodles of pictures. In the meantime, thanks for dropping in, see you soon.

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The canals of Bruges and the City Gate

Hello

Yes. It is I. If anyone was wondering where I was, I just had my second holiday of the year. Two holidays in a year…we thought this guy worked in the public sector?! Well, that is a whole other blog, but less talk on here about work the better.

I went to Germany, in particular the south west of Germany, to a teeny little town called Adenau just on the Nurburgring, to fulfill an ambition to drive around it. I was also visiting towns and cities in the vicinity, as I’m not a 100% petrolhead, you know. More about that once I get the photos on here (quite a while by the looks of it so far) but, suffice to say, it was the hardest driving I have ever done and this includes the 10 hours there and 10 hours back when I was being harassed by aggressive Belgian truck drivers!

Anyway, back to this holiday for the time being. I have picked a selection of photos over a couple of days that cover me wandering the quieter areas of Bruges, up the less frequented canal paths and up to the massive windmills and city gates. Hopefully, this will give you an idea of the culture contained in Bruges…I really would recommend it for a short holiday. Honestly.

Firstly, a nice wide (as wide as i can get anyway) shot of the canals along from the Markt that I featured in my last load of night shots. Quite a variety of younger more brightly coloured buildings here…

A wide shot of the canals leading to the Markt

A wide shot of the canals leading to the Markt

Next, I sauntered the canals looking for buildings of interest, I thought that this picture showed a nice mix of the old and the new. Maybe just me but I thought the mixture of the old buttresses and such on the water and the fairly modern glazed building in the background was quite attractive….

Old meets new, Bruges UNESCO style!

Old meets new, Bruges UNESCO style!

Further on, I caught a tourist ride passing the fantastic church in the centre of the city. The lady at the front doesn’t look too impressed does she? Maybe it’s because she realised after a few minutes that she was being used as a windbreak by all those behind her!

Touring the canals in the centre of Bruges....windy and cold is the name of the game

Touring the canals in the centre of Bruges….windy and cold is the name of the game

Now, this facade was really striking, the majority of it being timber. I am sure that this is not original but the age must be quite high as you can clearly see the weathering from the good old European winters on this. I bet there are carpenters who make an absolute fortune restoring facades like this, seeing the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, if I lived there, I’m sure I wouldn’t mind too much. Until I got the bill….

Ooooooh, think there's a touch of dry rot there, guv'nor

Ooooooh, think there’s a touch of dry rot there, guv’nor

Now, this was just added in for the amusement factor to be honest. Apparently, according to a guide I overheard, this is the smallest medieval window in Bruges. Alas, I had to zoom in so far there is not much in the way of context but it had to be less that a foot wide and about 15 to 20 feet up a wall. Quite what it gave light to I have no clue, it was almost worse than useless!!

Why? Why would you put the smallest window in a city there?

Why? Why would you put the smallest window in a city there?

Onwards to the windmills. There are a number of these scattered by the city gates; I can only presume they were placed here in the old times to ensure that there was a fast transport route nearby, i.e the canal. Nowadays, although they are maintained very well, as you can see, they aren’t used to grind seed or produce anything, which is a great shame in my opinion. The tourists would lap up stuff from here…just think of a cafe selling cakes and pastries made using the flour of the mill you are sitting under. I’d pay for that and sure others would.

Kruispoort Windmill. Impressive

Kruispoort Windmill. Impressive

And so, onto the more modern city gates before the older ones…quite a beast isn’t it. I was quite amazed at the patience shown by the oodles of cyclists, drivers and pedestrians when a yacht pootled through this gate. Obviously there is a traffic light system for both sets of traffic (yes, even the boats) but still, it was just so normal to them but alien and amusing to me. I saw all sorts go through here whilst I watched, some cruisers, the river barges hauling I don’t know what and private boats of all shapes and sizes.

The more modern gate and bridge to Kruispoort

The more modern gate and bridge to Kruispoort

However, here we have it, the City Gate, or at least one of them. There are a number of preserved old city gateways: the Kruispoort, Gentpoort, Smedenpoort and Ezelpoort; alas, through early development and dilapidation the Dampoort, Katelijnepoort and Boeveriepoort have disappeared. I can see from my fancy map of Bruges that this is the Kruispoort; apologies for the blooming Fiat 500 that nipped into the frame. Those who know me will know I despise those cars…to vent properly regards them would take another post but I shan’t expose you to that :).

Kruispoort...and an unwelcome visitor in the frame

Kruispoort…and an unwelcome visitor in the frame

Finally, an image of Bruges that I am properly proud of, one that I took at night early on in my break and one of the most photographed corners of the city and canal basin. I thought it worked out very well and gave a good view of the building and The Belfry in the background. Hope you enjoy it, as I endured many furrowed brows taking this at about 10 at night! No creativity some people….

A night view of the canal basin towards the city centre and The Belfry

A night view of the canal basin towards the city centre and The Belfry

Well, that is Bruges for the moment, I note from my quick look through upcoming images that Brussels is next, political heartland of the EU. That statement either fills you with horror or excitement. However, those who hold politics in the same regards as I (yaaaaaawn) will be glad to know that Brussels is a very photogenic city, so there was plenty to see!

Until next time, toodle-pip, thanks for stopping by…shan’t keep you waiting so long next time!

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