Brugge is Magical on a Rainy Day

It was supposed to be a rainy day in Brugge today so we were pleasantly surprised to wake up to sunshine. We enjoyed our breakfast at the B&B on the outside terrace right on the canal and could hear a child who was a beginning piano student, practicing. Some of the songs were even familiar to us, such as “Old McDonald.”

We started our day just walking around the Market Square admiring the shops and buildings as the clip clop of horse hooves echoed on the square. I love the sound of the horses, but I do struggle with the idea of horses being used this way, particularly if it’s hot. Many cities including New York, I think, have banned horse and buggy rides. Thankfully it was cool all day.

This morning we had a very special experience. We went to the Basilica of the Holy Blood. In the upper chapel is a venerated relic. It’s a vile with cloth containing the blood of Christ brought to the church in the 12th century. We started in the lower chapel where candles were lit and climbed the stairs to the upper chapel where we learned that today we would be able to personally view the relic. It was in a glass box. Usually at places like this people are paraded past the relic, but this experience was different. Each person, couple, or family was invited to step up to the altar, place their hands on the case, and say a personal prayer. For believers this was an emotional experience. Some people bowed down, some knelt before it, others gave the sign of the cross, while others stood in contemplative prayer. I found it very moving and tears flowed thinking about members of our family no longer with us. We learned that this church is part of the Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain where we visited several years ago.

After visiting the church we decided to stop for something to drink at a cafe with a beautiful view of the square and great people watching. I had iced coffee which is coffee with ice cream. Large tour groups paraded past us as if following a mother duck who was holding an unopened umbrella like a torch. One of the members of the group was imitating her to some quiet snickering and just like that, the heavens opened up and it poured. We ran for a new table under their awning and decided to stay for a lunch of mussels which are famous here.

Using our Brugge card, we visited the City Hall which was built in the 1400s when Brugge was a wealthy city. The paintings tell the story of different figures through time. They had a very detailed map from the 1500s which shows the city once had a ring of 26 windmills. Now there are four.

Renaissance Hall dates back to the 1700s. The highlight is an elaborately carved fireplace out of wood and marble. The carving of the most powerful man in Europe at the time, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Before heading back to our B&B, we stopped at a brewery, Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan. We did not need to go on the tour to experience their outdoor cafe which was very nice. A sweet moment occurred when a family with two dogs put down water and blankets for their dogs so they could relax too.

Dinner tonight was at a local restaurant just around the corner that served fresh salads and crispy pizzas. It will be hard to leave Brugge. Tomorrow we fly to northern Italy.

All of Brugge is a Museum

Early this morning we were surprised to discover the temperature was going to not go above 75 degrees all day. We are so thankful for this because in July this part of Europe suffered from a brutal record breaking heat wave.

The buffet breakfast prepared for us was like one you would find at an exclusive hotel. Fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee was served to us outside where lazy ducks swam in the canal. There was a fresh fruit salad, fresh baked breads right out of the oven, and crispy croissants along with cheeses and meats.

We walked to the Market Square where we were treated to a carillon concert. Some of the songs were show tunes so it was really nice. We discovered some Tintin shops. My sister Jane loves Tintin and I love how I can send her instant photos from my phone to her on FB.

We bought the Brugge Museum card and visited three today. The first one was Groningen Museum. It has a large collection of Flemish art and art known as primitives which show the world in a lot of detail. Some of the paintings are brilliantly restored with bright rose and gold oils. They are joyful and pleasing to the eye. Other paintings showed grim scenes with death and destruction caused by the devil to all sinners.

Our next Museum was Gruuthusemuseum. Here you can journey through rooms showing the history of Brugge. It’s in a beautiful palace with stunning bright primary colored tiles on the main floor. My favorite part was a chapel on an upper floor where the royal family could look down on the mass going on in the church from above. I am not sure why they didn’t just go to the service but it was an incredible piece of architecture connecting the palace with the church.

Our final museum was St. John’s Hospital. Housed in a hospital used until the early 21 century, it had some stunning artwork depicting Christ and different saints which was supposed to bring peace to the patients. They also had a large church like structure covered with gold and fine art work that told a story. The museum features the brilliant artwork of Hans Memling. He is probably the most famous artist known for Flemish Primitives.

We took a 30 minute canal boat tour which was narrated by the driver in English, French, and Spanish. They decided since it was the last boat to pack it in. I was squished between the driver and the front of the boat, but surprisingly it put me in a position for a great view. As we glided along the narrow canals we passed under several low bridges which elicited cries of “ooh!” from the crowd. For the first time it started to rain. Umbrellas were passed out among great laughter and just as they were all opened it stopped.

We stopped at the Waffle House. It was packed. We had fluffy waffles dusted with powdered sugar, served with whipped cream, strawberries, and chocolate. Dinner tonight was at a very old world style restaurant. It’s the type of place where there are only 4 choices for your main course. David had filet of place which was delicious. I ordered a chicken dish which turned out to be too rich for me to enjoy, but the ambience of the place made it worthwhile. Tomorrow we have another full days worth of adventures planned.

Through the Chunnel on the Eurostar: London to Brugge

I have always been curious about the Chunnel, the 31 mile long tunnel that runs under the English Channel from southeastern England to Calais in France. I remember seeing newspaper articles about the day the two sides of the Chunnel met in the middle and seeing the opening ceremony on television in 1994. Although a little nervous about the idea of being under the ocean, I decided this was the year I would step out of my comfort zone and travel from London to Brussels by Eurostar.

We booked this part of our trip months ago and by doing so, the tickets cost less than $100 each for standard premier which felt first class to us. Arriving at St. Pancras station at 8:00 am was pure chaos. Another Eurostar train was leaving for Paris and everyone had to go through baggage check and French passport control even though we were in London. I wish we had been able to look around the station. Recent renovation has returned it to its Victorian glory days.

The Eurostar is a long sleek modern train. We were Coach 1 and it took ages to get there. Once the train departed, the service was first rate. We were served a breakfast on real plates with real silverware and glasses that consisted of French bread, yogurt, a croissant, juice and coffee. We were offered water, chocolate croissants, and fresh apples.

I wondered if we would know when the train reached the Chunnel, but there were no announcements. The train paused for about five minutes at the entrance and I could see on my phone app we had arrived. I felt very excited. I glanced around to see who else shared my enthusiasm about this experience, but there was no one. For people living in Europe, this is an every day ordinary mode of transportation. People just sat and read books while the train plunged into darkness speeding its way under the sea to France. I have never been on a train that travels this fast. As an interesting activity, VR glasses were available to give people a virtual reality experience of being under the sea with whales and dolphins.

I found myself dozing off until suddenly a chime went off. I opened my eyes just as we emerged into daylight and were warmly welcomed to France. However, on closer inspection out the windows, we could see huge fences to keep migrants from sneaking into the UK by hopping on the back of a truck traveling through another part of the Chunnel where vehicles are put on trains,

Once we arrived in Brussels we took a local train to Brugge. We are staying at a lovely B&B Huis Koenig. We have a beautiful large room and there’s a back porch overlooking a peaceful part of the canal.

We decided to tour a folk museum. It was very nicely done with rooms for 19 and 18th century schools and craft trades such as cobbler or barrel maker. They had cute children’s activities in each room, but I thought they could become a distraction for school groups leading to cries of, “I didn’t get a turn.”

Brugge looks beautiful. We stopped for a drink at an outside cafe near the market square where I enjoyed a large mug of iced tea. There’s a dance festival in town so dinner was at an Italian restaurant, Carlitos, away from the city center. It’s been a long day and we’re anxious to explore tomorrow.

A Day for Art

It’s our last day in London. We had heard that it was supposed to rain all day, but even by 5:00 in the evening we had not seen a drop of rain.

We began our day by taking an enjoyable walk down Sloane Street onto Knightsbridge and then on to Apsley House, home to the Duke of Wellington. This is a real treat for both students of 19th century British history and art history in general as Wellington, in addition to being the famed victor at the decisive battle of Waterloo, was an avid collector of art, and Apsley House has, among its impressive collection, works by Titian, Goya, Velasquez, and Reubens. While photography was not allowed at Apsley House, we were impressed by the superb audio tour, eager-to-please docents, and the overall impressiveness of this English heritage site. What a stirring way to experience a pivotal time in British history and insights into the remarkable life of the Duke of Wellington.

Lunch was at the Crypt Cafe at St. Martins in the Field. For under $20 we had quiche, couscous, and roasted baby potatoes in their jackets seasoned with fresh herbs. We visited the famous church which is actually simplistic in style and noticed they were preparing for a piano concert. The pianist himself was there in coat and tails for a rehearsal, but we missed it.

The National Portrait Gallery is free to visitors and has portraits dating back to the 1300s. Some were larger than life size such as Prince Albert and others were whimsical such as Elton John. It spans from the Tudors all the way to 20th century movers and shakers and pop icons. I was particularly fond of a portrait of Queen Elizabeth with her corgi. We spent some time relaxing in their elegant cafe while classical music played.

Tonight we went to a special Van Gogh exhibit at the Tate Britain. It celebrated the life and times of Van Gogh from the time he lived in London until his death. I learned that Van Gogh spoke four languages and read classical books. His art was inspired by the books of Charles Dickens. Van Gogh also wrote many letters to his brother which were too fragile to transfer from Amsterdam, but exact facsimiles were on display. On exhibit were many paintings that inspired Van Gogh as an artist as well as paintings by those inspired by him. It was sometimes hard to tell which was which from a distance except the Van Gogh paintings always had a crowd in front of them. A sign cautioned people to not block others with their cell phones, but they did. It seemed as if no matter what painting I wanted to study, a lady in a teal blue muumuu was in front of me.

Dinner tonight was at Zizzi. It’s a pizza place that’s very affordable. Tomorrow the alarm will go off at 5:45. We leave on the Eurostar for Brugge at 9:00am.

A Day at Kew Gardens

This morning it was a bright and sunny day with the temperature in the high 70s. We met a local who apologized to us for the hot weather, but to us it felt great.

We took a scenic 90 minute boat ride down the Thames to Kew Gardens. Our captain was very friendly and narrated the entire cruise. He pointed out old boats moored in the river used at Dunkirk as well as describing the history and future of many old world bridges. To me the river looks muddy and I am aware it can be a treasure trove of artifacts at low tide, but our captain explained it is one of the cleanest rivers in the world.

I have always known about Kew Gardens. Perhaps I came here as a child, but today I follow them on Facebook so when I spotted the iconic glass conservatory, I knew we had arrived. Located in southwest London, the gardens have one of the most diverse botanical collections in the world. Dating back to 1840, a stroll through the gardens is a stroll through time. We were especially struck by a collection of plants including palms and cactus honoring Princess Diana. The main greenhouse known as the Palm House was a little overwhelming with palms and ferns from all over the world. It was humid and crowded so we escaped out the door.

This month there is an exhibition of blown glass interwoven throughout the immaculately maintained grounds. It was quite clear that a tree no matter how exotic, would not have orange, red, and yellow branches, but we had to read the sign to know some huge white waterlilies were not real. Another interesting sight was two botanists at work in chest high water.

We decided to take the Underground back to Sloane Square. Right outside the station we spotted a pub serving Bloody Mary’s made with fresh squeezed organic tomatoes so we decided to check it out. The pub was in an old train station and retained many of the original features including the old clock. The village outside the train station was charming with lots of independent clothing and book shops.

The department store Harrod’s is just a 15 minute walk from our hotel past high end stores including Gucci, and Prada. Along the way we came upon a restaurant where a party was taking place. Many people were outside photographing cars parked there which included Porsche’s, Bentley’s, and Ferrari’s. I visited Harrod’s as a child and going back tonight it was fun to see it has retained a lot of its old world charm. We spent our time looking at their gift shop featuring traditional souvenirs, We ate dinner at Wolf and Lamb again and dined on vegan burgers and vegan burritos. It is supposed to rain tomorrow so it will be a Museum day.

On to London Town

The sun was shining brightly this morning in Harrogate and with a clear sunny forecast in store for us, we set off to return our car to Leeds. Thank goodness for the GPS. There are so many roundabouts here we would never be able to navigate it all with a paper map.

Once in Leeds we boarded a high speed train to London. Buying same day tickets can cost a fortune we have learned over the years, but if you purchase them in advance, it’s a real deal. We traveled first class with a meal and wine service included for 75US for both of us. I love to travel by rail watching the changing landscape out the window and imagining what it would be like to live in different places along the way. I observed the people around me. One man was watching a funny movie with wireless earbuds while another woman read a novel The Rumor while a wooden westie dangled from her dog print bag.

We are staying at the Sloane Square Hotel which was recommended by my nephew Chip. He told me that this was a favourite hotel of my sister Susan whenever she came to London. We have a small room, but a sweet teddy with a message that he was up for adoption greeted us on the bed. Of course we said yes. The room overlooks the Holy Trinity Church. We walked around the area and the brick architecture of the buildings is beautiful. There’s a lovely square in front of the hotel where hand painted horses are displayed to remind people of the importance of protecting horses all around the world.

Behind our hotel we found a small pedestrian zone with cheese and wine shops. We visited a small shop with all high end items such as coffee, tea, and wine, and surprisingly even a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal with churros and a bottle of Aunt Jemima

Dinner tonight was around the corner at the Wolf & Lamb which is vegetarian. Their spinach and mushroom sourdough pizza with a side of potato, endive, artichoke, and radish summer salad seemed as if was picked right out of the garden.

Tonight we walked around the neighborhood discovering elegant residential streets with many homes with historical markers. We have stayed in South Kensington the past two years, but this area is very special and I can see why my family and sister Susan liked it so much. I lit a candle in her memory tonight in the Holy Trinity Church next door.

Step Into the Past at Harewood

“We are what we make.” This is the theme we encountered today when we pulled up to Harewood House known as Yorkshire’s most vibrant home. Not sure what this was about, we soon learned the exhibition celebrates 26 makers and how their craft can play in culture, identity, and society. In every room, a different craft was featured. For example, the craft of doing woodwork around the floors and ceilings was introduced with the story of the craftsman along with what being a maker means to them. Other crafts included the art of weaving rugs, designing textiles, decorating tiles, and even the art of making ballet slippers and each craft was carefully described in the artist’s own words,

While most heritage homes celebrate the wealthy family who lives in the home, this home told the stories of those who worked below the main floors. We heard recorded stories from cooks, housemaids, and cleaners.

Outside the grand house is a garden terrace designed with shrubs trimmed into geometric pyramids. Flower beds are meticulously maintained along with pools with statues.

What was perhaps most enchanting were the activities for children, A small farm animal exhibit allowed children to watch, but not pet, goats, alpacas, and exotic birds. Children were also directed to a mini beast trail where they could capture a bug, sketch it in the art area, and release it back into nature.

Just down the hill from the house is a small lake with a tiny ferry only big enough for 12 people. Pulled by chains, it picks up passengers every 6 minutes. On the other side of the lake we found a delightful walled in pleasure garden with 36 speakers disguised as bird houses, placed throughout the garden. As you move about, mystical music plays along with sounds of nature. I am not sure it was a place for 4 year olds to play a rousing game of hide and seek as we saw, but it was very relaxing to be there.

Tonight we decided to find a restaurant serving fish and chips. It was delicious and came served with mushy peas. We talked about our day at Harewood. I think what was most extraordinary for me was I left knowing more about all the people who helped make that house a home rather than the people who actually lived there. That made it a really special experience for me.