Posts Tagged UNESCO

A trip to Ghent (Part 1)….and some weird weather at home!

Hello and Happy 2015!

I know it’s a bit late but, I haven’t seen you. Looking good! Are you on an exercise program? Lost weight? Hehe…compliments over. Hopefully you all had a peaceful holiday and didn’t over indulge in mince pies and the like. I know I did but I am working on that. One of the steps is a new bike as mentioned before and seeing that will be soon, I am glad the near hurricane force winds that we had earlier in the week have passed us by. One night I had to park my car nose into the wind so I could get out without the door flying out of my grasp.

Also, some of you who reside in South Wales, or indeed the UK, may have experienced a fairly unique occurrence (well, to the UK anyway) in this last week. Thundersnow. No, it’s not a made up term (spellcheck thinks it is)…a quick explanation can be found by going to I could have pasted the Wikipedia link but it was waaaaay too scientific. OK, so over me, it wasn’t thundersnow over me but thunderhail and thundersleet (yes, these are also real things).

All I recall is getting wound up behind a guy who couldn’t see a green light for toffee, then an almighty flash, no thunder, then a sudden downpour of soft hail which made the drive home VERY interesting. Think wet snow and people being tarts by driving normally. Apparently, the flashes are brighter in thundersnow and such because the light reflects from the moisture and this also in turn muffles the thunder, which accounts for the fact that I heard nothing but my father 4 miles away though the world was ending. He very rightly rushed out to garage his car, although the hail here was soft….we have recently heard from a friend that in Roch, 10 miles distant, it was powerful enough to possibly write off 2 cars we know of, but I’m sure others my have been damaged by multiple dents. I still think this is what damaged my bumper last winter whilst pounding a motorway, but Ford deny that their paint job is shite, so I have to take that on the chin. Anyway, pretty cool stuff eh? The only bummer it all happened when I was “sans camera”, so best use your imagination for an image!

What you don’t need to use your mind’s eye for is my trot around Ghent, or Gent, depending on which language you choose to write it in. Again, a lovely town with history oozing from the brickwork (hopefully not like Verviers which seems to have been oozing radicals…current affair based sly dig there). First stop from the rail station was a huge square where this is the main feature, the Belfry of Ghent, otherwise known as Belfort Ghent. Standing at near 95 metres tall, this is a further building that is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Listed item, as is the centre of the city.

Good weather and a pretty awesome subject to photograph. Eeexcellent!

Good weather and a pretty awesome subject to photograph. Eeexcellent!

This building served a similar purpose to that of the Belfry in Bruges, in the first instance it was used for religion, then was converted to basically a look out tower and now is used as a landmark and holds bells that lend a unique chime to the city every hour. On to the next picture and couldn’t get over this…this building is not a church, nor a cathedral but, believe or not, is referred to as the Old Post Office. Pretty cool place to get your postcard sent from I’d say! Further on round the corner, you get a flavour of the “Old Town” also recognised by UNESCO.

The Old Post Office...come on, a post office? Seriously?

The Old Post Office and Old Town…come on, a post office? Seriously?

In amongst all the old buildings, there are always a smattering of news ones and I was quite taken by this one. From what I could see by snooping, it was a very nice restaurant for the well-heeled (judging by the prices) but I was amused by the signage you might be able to see at the right of the fence banning people from parking their motor cruisers outside! Possibly a Belgian nouveau riche thing….

By all means visit this restaurant at the end of the row, but don't park in front of it in your boat!

By all means visit this restaurant at the end of the row, but don’t park in front of it in your boat!

Now, to a castle with possibly the coolest name ever. The Gravensteen. Say it with a deep voice in a sentence involving torture and it sounds even better….”take him to the rack in The Gravesteen”. Mwuhaha! Alas, the translation is less spooky sounding, as it means “Castle of the Count”. Quite disappointing really. The castle you can see is from the 12th century but, apparently, a wooden version of the building has been here since 900 AD or so.

Spooky intimidating castle alert. At least it's not raining to add to the spook :)

Spooky intimidating castle alert. At least it’s not raining to add to the spook 🙂

The castle was as multifaceted as castles are; if anyone has the good fortune to live nearby a relatively intact castle you can explore, they get used for all sorts of stuff. This castle was used as a courthouse, a prison and eventually decayed. Houses were built against the walls and even on the courtyard and the stones of the walls were used to erect other buildings. At one time it even served as a factory! At the end of the 19th century, the castle was scheduled to be demolished but the city bought it and renovated it for future generations.

Prepare to repel raiders! Oh, it's only people going to the cafe.....

Prepare to repel raiders! Oh, it’s only people going to the cafe…..

Part of the renovations added the museums within the walls and a fully renovated basement and crypt, which was pretty creepy and too dark to get decent pictures of, I’m afraid. Mind you, the stuff they had in the museum was awesome…not sure if it was from the renovations at all but still, all the exhibits added to the atmosphere. Very tasteful.

Fancy waering some of this armour? Not me, I'm a mere slip of a thing...I'd do my back in

Fancy wearing some of this armour? Not me, I’m a mere slip of a thing…I’d do my back in

Now this picture I really like, the curve of the walls in the inner sanctum of The Gravensteen. Mwuhaha! OK, enough of that, but it really does, if you squint and concentrate hard enough, look as though you were there. Ignore the modern trappings and such, imagine stray farm animals and wanderings serfs and it’d be authentic. In fact, the BBC liked this placed so much that a BBC drama series “The White Queen” used the inside of the castle squares for some scenes and the outside view of the castle with the moat was shown in some bits of the programme (with some airbrushing for obvious reasons). See, it’s not just me with a keen eye.

The sweeping walls and lovely relaxing interior of The Gravensteen

The sweeping walls and lovely relaxing interior of The Gravensteen

Anyway, I do leave the castle (under protest), so will show your some further images of Ghent next time. I believe there was nice bit of hail core action I took some pictures of when I got back to Bruges too…if not next time, then soon. I’m even taking images of weather on holiday! Sad, I know.

I shall keep you up to date with regards out freaky weather here. I hope it relents soon, I have a bike to ride to get under 12 stone! Until then, keep safe and thanks from dropping in.

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Commanding views of Bruges

Hello there!

Hanging on with me here? Good good. Been a bit of a stifling couple of weeks weather wise here. On a couple of occasions my father and I have remarked this has been the hottest period we have experienced since moving here. No wind either. I don’t mind a breeze when it’s warm. Last week, sailing was painful. There was no wind. I jest not…in some instances we were moving backwards with the tide. In sailing overalls, no wind and 20 odd degrees with no shade life is not funny. Hopefully the next session will be kinder, looks as such at this moment in time anyhow.

Anyway, on to the pics. Well, at this stage, I had just arrived at my central Bruges hotel, in the pouring rain, so I felt right at home. I can’t swear to the name of the hotel at this point in time but it was very central and a good choice by me as it was walking distance to…..everything. So, welcome to Bruges, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

As is tradition when I am on hols, the first day is pretty much a write off as I’m wandering, getting my bearings. However, as it was still chucking it down in the morning after my very pleasant continental breakfast (people watching trying to guess the nationality of those who enter the breakfast bar is a free bonus) I didn’t venture far and decided to take cover by visiting “The Belfry” or “Belfort” which was just over from my lodgings.

The Belfry or Belfort in the Markt, Bruges

The Belfry or Belfort in the Markt, Bruges

Not just a bell tower anymore, there is a large cobbled courtyard which plays host to amateur dramatics and the like…when it’s dry! In the past, the building held records and even treasure in the old days, hence to massive chests in the museum which I failed to get a decent image of. Pffft. In total The Belfry is 83 m (about 250 ft) tall and it is said that, due to its 13th century age and depending on conditions, it can lean as much as 1 m (3 ft) to the east. I didn’t know this at the time of climbing, I might add.

The cobbled courtyard below the Belfry, as I sheltered from the rain

The cobbled courtyard below the Belfry, as I sheltered from the rain

The most notable feature, save the view, of this massive building is that, at the top, there is a 47 bell carillon (or glockenspiel, if you understand German) which is a percussion instrument that is played via a keyboard connected to the bells by, in Bruges, a full-time paid carilloneur. Apparently, this gent gives free concerts quite regularly but I must have missed them, although there was the odd peal now and again. Maybe he was on holidays. In the days gone past, the bells were fewer in number and used for all sorts of things, such as fire alarms, marking working hours and notable religious occasions. Now they are mainly for entertainment.

The bells, the bells! Well, a few of the older worn ones.

The bells, the bells! Well, a few of the older worn ones.

It’s quite climb, I can tell you. All I could think as I went up was “this camera bag is big” and “man alive, these guys back then were tiny”. I’m quite slim and I had to duck and breathe in quite regularly. In total there are 366 of these type of steps to get to the top. Once I was three-quarters up, I realised why there was a sign at the bottom dissuading those of a weak constitution from going up!

I paid my 5 Euros so I was going to get there....puff puff

I paid my 5 Euros so I was going to get there….puff puff

Once at the top, I found out what a carillon looked like. You will excuse the reflection and such, I didn’t have my tripod so had to bounce the flash off this darn screen at an angle and space was pretty limited. Here you can see the drums attached to the keyboard mechanisms and that play automatic tunes on occasions. Apparently, the 47 bells atop the Belfry weigh a sobering 27 tonnes. Sobering because you look right up into them after the climb! That’d be a headache if copped one of those on the noggin!

Don't know what a carillon is? This is a carillon. Pretty impressive huh?

Don’t know what a carillon is? This is a carillon. Pretty impressive huh?

But, that aside, what a view! The rain had cleared but the visibility was still a bit rubbish. Apologies also for not noting which direction I am looking for those nerdy types, but I will point out some features in the pictures instead.

In this view, you can see Saint Salvators Cathedral, apparently one of the very few buildings in Bruges not to be damaged in fires and such; all renovations and changes were carried out as planned work. In the distance just past the cathedral, there are a few modern buildings and nearer the camera, a straight north/south cobbled street with old buildings, now mainly shops and small museums.

Got to the top! The view was pretty spectacular....

Got to the top! The view was pretty spectacular….

This next picture is centred mainly on the City Hall, in the Burg square. Hidden from view is a Basilica that I took more detailed pictures of later on in the holiday. To the right of the square, you can see the canal that lends Bruges the nickname “Venice of the North”. Yes, I did have a ride in a barge. Man, those guys got skills…you should have seen the gaps they got through!

Of course, many years ago, this route wasn’t a tourist trip in a barge, it was a serious port connected to the North Sea and the canals were buzzing with spice traders and such in the 12th to 15th centuries, known here as “The Golden Age”. However, this still exists today of sorts, in the form of the port of Zeebrugge some miles away (literally, in Flemish, Bruges on the sea) which is a major route in shipping since being revived by the German Navy in World War One. The canals are still there but too small for anything but tourist cruises.

A view down towards City Hall and the canals

A view down towards City Hall and the canals

Now a view of The Church of Our Lady, dating back to the 13th century. It’s a record breaker, this one, as it’s 122 m (400 ft) tall and made entirely of brick, making it the second tallest brick building in the world. I know that some aspects of medieval life were a bit grim but you have got to hand to them, they knew how to build an imposing structure! Respect.

In retrospect, Bruges is very lucky never to had earthquakes with all this brick around

In retrospect, Bruges is very lucky never to had earthquakes with all this brick around

Lastly, a view of the stones set on top of the octagon at the top of the Belfry showing distance to major cities around. Alas, the one where London was marked was hidden behind some screening, so Paris was as close as I could get. I can only presume the measurement is in kilometres like those weird foreigners seem to do everything. However, I don’t know if this takes into account the few feet of lean in the tower!!

Ah, gay Paris, 270 km...the other stop that trains on the line I came over on stop at

Ah, gay Paris, 270 km…the other stop that trains on the line I came over on stop at

Well, there’s the first instalment. More to come and more in-depth photos from the ground this time! There is much to be said for Europe in the way of history…who needs these all inclusive beach holidays in hot, sticky destinations where some urchin pinches your cash when you venture out of the resort? Culture, that’s what you want. And Flemish farmers stew with beer made by monks, which is gorgeous.

Well, it’ll be a couple of weeks until the next update, but keep tuned for more Flemish history, sights and landscapes. See you soon.

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