Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.
– Kurt Vonnegut
Here I am writing a blog post while sitting on the bus heading towards Paris. These are indeed bizarre travel plans.
It has been a great week in Brugges, but before getting into that, we had the opportunity to visit Ghent in Belgium. Some would say that Ghent is the ignored step-sister to Brugges which gets the lion share of the tourist attention. However, we had a wonderful evening and morning stop-over on our way to Brugges. Ghent is a relatively short distance away from Delft but felt very different to Delft.
Popular and important during the industrial revolution, Ghent retains some of the grittiness while preserving its historical past and University town feel. It felt lively and exciting yet not suffocated with tour groups and large packs of paddle people (Deanne’s term for the tour groups led around by people holding up paddles for people to follow.)
Thankfully, we were able to stay at a Novotel right in the center of the old town. This was opportune for a couple of different reasons. First, we love the Novotel chain. We have mentioned this hotel chain to many of our friends as our favorite places to stay. Their rooms are comfy and, most importantly, they have breakfast included in some locations (depending on the package Deanne was able to secure when she booked online). And we are not talking about any breakfast or those breakfasts of reconstituted eggs and pre-cooked microwaved sausages you find in most western hotel chains but glorious, sumptuous and scrumptious breakfasts that are fresh and take up an entire room. They have fresh croissants and pastries, freshly scrambled eggs, jams, honey (this hotel had honey made from the beehives they keep on the ledge outside the second-floor rooms) and other delights. You would forgive me going on and on about it if and when you ever get a chance to go to a Novotel yourself. We always go in and stock up for the day, eating so much we generally just snack the rest of the day.
Arriving in the evening, we settled in for a little bit so the kids could enjoy the swimming pool. Our room was part of a promotion for Hotel Transylvania and came with a pair of huge Frankenstein slippers that Liam immediately took possession of and wore everywhere in the hotel. We weren’t sure if they were free to take but had no room for them anyway, they were so huge.
A Whale of a Tale….
After swimming and having some supper, we headed back out into the town. Having gone out a little bit after we had dropped the bags off to explore, we had gone through a couple of churches close by. One of the churches, St. Bavo’s Cathedral was very different in that it had the skeleton of a whale hanging from the ceiling. In 2015, a young finback whale came into the port of Ghent on the bow of a ship from Brazil. The young animal, measuring almost 12 metres long, had died at sea and was brought to land by the fire brigade. The animal’s skeleton was sent to Ghent University, where it was nicknamed ‘Leo’ and offered as a loan to the church to display. The church, of course, happily and enthusiastically took the whale off their hands because, after all, what church wouldn’t want a life-size whale skeleton to display in amongst their medieval carvings and reliquaries! Of course, the church found that it was the ideal thing to have to display while sharing the story of Jonah. I could see our kids thinking, “How on earth did Jonah fit in there?”
Wandering with Fries
After visiting the two main churches in the town square, we took off in the dimming sunset to enjoy the lights of the city shining on the buildings lining the canals. Ghent has built-in lighting to showcase their city at night and it was beautiful. We ate Belgian fries with mayonnaise as we traipsed around the medieval streets and alleys of Brugges. Deanne ordered the family size and was surprised at the huge cone they came in. We thought we might be eating fries for weeks but we managed to eat almost all of it as we wandered. Every alley seemed to lead to a new stunning and ravishing view and it would have been quite easy to get lost in the sights and lights of the canal. Luckily for us, the other benefit of staying at the Novotel was that no matter where we went or what way we turned, we would turn a corner and discover ourselves back at the Novotel. It was quite eerie.
One of the other fun places we visited was the Soup Lounge where, for a very cheap price, you could get a huge bowl of soup, a bun and a piece of fruit. The soup I had, Broccoli, was delicious. The Soup Lounge was tucked away beside a very medieval townhouse which was quite interesting to see especially after seeing that it had been turned into a Thai restaurant which seemed a strange fate.
Tinkling the Ivories
As we plodded back to the hotel, never far away, happily tired and stuffed with fries, we came across one of the other neat features of Ghent. Throughout the town, had been placed pianos that were displayed and available for use by anyone who wanted to play them. And many people did. As we walked by each one, there were a number of people hanging around to play the piano each bringing a different voice to their playing but all of them playing beautifully. As we came back to the hotel that evening, there was one gentleman who came up to the piano located in the main square to play. He played a very wistful tune which made for a graceful ending to our evening wanders. You can hear him below in the video. From our hotel room, we could hear the piano and it felt like we had our own little piano concert playing in our room.
Our stop in Ghent was a nice introduction to what we would find in Brugges.