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Traveling in Europe: Bruges

Europe 2011: Bruges

Clicking on the above picture will take you to the web album.

Bruges (Brugge) was by far my favorite of the three places, including Antwerp and Ghent, which I visited in Belgium. I actually took the tram or bus from Ghent to Bruges, a fairly short trip. The weather was perfect and quite warm and while I found the many brick buildings of Bruges and the canals to be particularly picturesque the smell wafting out of the sewers was fetid. Luckily, within a few feet the stink would dissipate.

I think I counted at least a dozen chocolate shops in the town center, but of course by the end of the day when I wanted to buy some I couldn’t find my way back or find any. I’m notoriously directionally challenged and old medieval lanes and streets tend to wend their way here and there and around buildings and canals. Given that, the area wasn’t large and I could always find my way back with a bit of exploration.

Brugges, Bruge, canals, history, medieval, architecture, travel, Belgium

Brugge canals have building buttressing the water and red trim to compliment the blue of the sky.

Belgium doesn’t have a museum/gallery pass like Holland does. However there was a day pass for several museums and galleries and even for a day trip it saved me money. It’s always good to ask at the train stations, tourist centers or the first gallery you go to (as I did in Brugge) if such a thing exists. My pass was for three days but at 15 Euros even for one day, I saved money.  Arenthuis is an 18th century mansion that housed contemporary art and works but the Bruges artist Frank Brangwyn. His paintings were bold and colorful and I quite enjoyed the style. He had also designed furniture and other items.

Bruggemuseum is actually a collection of historic buildings. I wandered into some of them and missed others. It was only one day after all and many things close at 5 pm including shops.  One of my favorites was the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a small chapel up on the second floor of a gothic building. It was beautiful both in simplicity and elaborateness. A gothic cathedral, it was small, with vaulted wood ceilings and every inch of wall and ceiling painted in patterns and colors. I loved it. It had such a great sense of peace as well. Somewhere, tucked away is a reliquary with an old rag supposedly covered in the blood of Christ.

gothic architecture, patterns, religion, basilica, Brugges, Bruge, relics, history, medieval

Details of the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Every inch of the interior was painted.

Because I will still battling travel ills and a cold I got started later in the day and wandered the streets, missing some of the historical buildings. In a way, after seeing so many churches over two weeks it was fine to miss a few. However, if I hadn’t needed to get to Brighton for the British Fantasy convention I would have stayed an extra day to explore Brugge longer.

By dusk I was trying to find a restaurant to eat at but they were tucked away on different streets so it took me a bit to find one. The place I entered was packed, with warm brick walls and a sweating owner trying to keep everyone seated. I don’t remember its name but I had begun to learn that the portions were quite large in Belgium so I ordered an appetizer and dessert, with a couple of glasses of wine. Beside me this couple had ordered mussels and the very large metal mixing bowl they threw their shells into was at least 16-20 inches across. My meal filled me nicely.

Brugges, Bruge, Belgium, history, travel, Flanders, medievalI was in Brugge at the end of September, as evidenced by the turning leaves with the weather at about 25-27 degrees, unusually warm for that time of year. The night came on early and I headed back to Ghent where I would leave for Calais the next day.

 

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Traveling in Europe: Antwerp Part I

Antwerp, churches, gothic cathedral, sculpture, iconoclasts

The Cathedral of Our Lady is a great example of Gothic architecture.

I spent about seven to eight days in Holland and from Den Bosch took the train to Antwerp. The B&B hosts I was staying with, Mabuhay Holdings, would not be home till about 8 that night so I stowed my luggage at the train station. The problem was that the luggage lockers were all full except for two rows that weren’t working. And here, the bottom stand that kept my suitcase upright decided to fall off. I managed to tape it back on but the cheapness of the suitcase was becoming apparent. At the other end of the Antwerp station was another set of luggage lockers. The other end was a very long walk that equaled about three city blocks, past covered shops and lots of gold and diamond stores. This was also one of the few places where I had to use a credit card to secure a locker, as most restaurants and B&Bs in Holland and Belgium do not accept  anything but cash.

There was a helpful tourist information booth in Antwerp station where I was given directions and a map. I then headed toward the old city. Antwerp is a blend of old and new in a way the other cities weren’t. Often, centuries-old cities are more medieval and ancient at the center and as they expanded they became more modern. Of course, there will be a blend when old buildings disappear  but maybe not  that much when they’re historical. However, I suspect that Antwerp’s blend comes more from the aftermath of WWII than from a conscious effort to modernize. (Indeed, a quick google check confirms this.)

Antwerp, guild houses, grote markt, history, culture

The historic guildhouses in the grote markt, Antwerp.

As I walked along I could smell the waffles, a famous Belgium food. Luckily, while Antwerp is open and modern, there are still many historical buildings. The square that holds the stadhuis or townhall also has a row of historical guildhalls, with gilded statuary at the top. One was under repairs but they are four-five centuries old, having experienced a fire in the 1500s.

The square, also called the grote markt, holds the Brabo fountain, where a Roman warrior named Brabo, standing on a dragon is throwing the hand of a giant into the Scheldt River. Antwerp’s name means something close to this (Brabant, hand throwing). As I walked through the square, the Cathedral of Our Lady’s bells began to chime. They chimed for 15 minutes and were just lovely. Mary is obviously a patron of the city and Marian statues can be found on various building corners. In fact, you can wander down different streets and come across large statues of Jesus and Mary, or other saints. The cathedral was stunning, airy and light, and very large. It had quite a range of triptychs throughout, including Rubens and  Caravaggio.

Rubenshuis, architecture, Ruben, marble, history, Antwerp, Belgium

In the courtyard of Rubenshuis; the angular aspects and different colored stones are typical Rubens.

In fact, by far one of the best museums on my trip was Rubenshuis, the studio and house that Rubens built and lived in. I had always known he was a painter but what I didn’t realize was that he was a renowned architect, so much so that his work influenced architects of his time and for those to come. Rubens in turn was influenced by Greek and Roman architecture and styled his house after a Roman villa. His use of marble, rectangular designs and angular openings gave a particularly vibrant appearance that seemed apparent in parts of the cathedral. One side was dedicated to his paintings; the other to his architectural studies and influences. Like many museums, taking pictures is not allowed. One of the rooms had the walls covered in about tw0-foot square panels of embossed and stained dark red leather. This would have warmed the room visually and as an insulating layer. Amazingly, most of these leather-covered walls are preserved. Because Rubens built his house opening into a courtyard, the windows all face one side. Truly beautiful and stunning centuries later. I spent most of the day just in Rubenshuis alone, and the rest in the cathedral.

I arrived on a Sunday and it turns out most museums are closed on Mondays, I decided to spend a second day in Antwerp and skip Brussels. There is definitely more than enough to see. Also, while Amsterdam seemed to be big on Argentinian steak houses, Antwerp’s most popular style of restaurant was pasta and pizza. These restaurants were everywhere.

Rubens, architecture, art, sculpture, Belgium, Cathedral of Our Lady

This side chapel exhibits Rubenesque uses of colored stone.

While the guidebooks said that even in restaurants they would charge for toilet use, that wasn’t true though it was for every store I went in. You cannot get a glass of water at restaurant and must pay for it. In fact, water costs as much as a glass of wine. I ate in the old part of town that night and then with some confusion, managed to catch a tram to my lodging. It was unclear which tram stop I needed so I ended up waiting a long time and when I got down to the convergence of three streets, the bus driver said it was close but to ask the police and transit man who were standing there discussing something. Perhaps it was a small comfort as a directionally challenged tourist that when I asked them where Drakstraat was they had to look it up on the map and it turns out it was the street the tram had gone down and we were pretty much standing on it. Even the locals don’t know the names of their streets.

More in my next post on Antwerp, with the photo album of the trip.

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Traveling in Europe: Amsterdam Part II

To see my album of Amsterdam pictures, click on the first picture.

Europe 2011: Amsterdam
canals, Amsterdam, houseboats, culture, the Netherlands

One of Amsterdam's many canals

Amsterdam is one of the uber culture spots of Europe, thronging with people getting away for a weekend, going some place to party, or checking out the art. Through the couchsurfing site I realized how immersed gay culture is there (most of the hosts listed on the site were gay). But oddly I didn’t see a lot of gay men. You might wonder how I would know but I’ve been around a lot of gay people all my life, have friends of various persuasions and as a result have developed fairly good “gaydar.” But they were there somewhere.

There were a lot of people; those hanging out in the coffee shops, where you can smoke pot (but only in the shops, not on the streets), those there to see the historic sites, and those shopping. Shopping also includes the infamous, but shrinking red light district. Some cleanup action of Amsterdam’s council has shrunk the area over the years. I stumbled upon the edge of it and ironically, one side of the street was the oude kerk (old church) while the other held the large picture windows where the scantily clad girls all work. I was a little surprised that I didn’t see one white woman but then I might have been in the wrong “section.” I have no pictures of the windows because I believe it rude to gawk and photograph these women.

Amsterdam also has oodles of museums, such as a doorknob museum, maritime museum and an eyeglass museum. Because I’m one of those people who stick my nose close to a painting to figure out the uses of color and the type of brushstrokes, as well as reading all the details about the artist’s life or the history of the time, it takes me a lot longer to go through a museum or art gallery than your average Joe. I really look. It’s a combo of my art college background and my eye for details and textures.  So when those guidebooks say you can do three museums in a day, they’re not talking to me.

 

Amsterdam, art, sculpture, travel, Rijksmuseum

An exterior detail of the Rijksmuseum.

I did hit the Rijksmuseum, a monster in and of itself. Almost all of it was surrounded by fencing and undergoing massive renovations. Only the section on the Dutch Masters was open, yet that took me three-four hours. Very few museums allow pictures, so that huge influx of historical art is only stored (somewhere) in my memory. I also took in the Van Gogh museum and this was one of the top three of my trip. I should also mention that getting Holland’s heritage pass (for about 44 Euros for a year) is well worth it for visiting museums and galleries. After three venues it saved me money.

The museum was extensive and detailed. There were write-ups on Van Gogh’s life, his influences, his work and his travels. We sometimes only know of the few oft-published paintings and that he was mad and cut off his ear, but he was much much more than that. He experimented in numerous styles including Chinese and Japanese. He studied art and kept trying different visions; landscapes, still lifes, people.  He copied the old masters and delved into the new ones, and he did it all in ten years. Ten years for a body of work that fills a museum. The show also included artworks by those who had influenced him and those he influenced. A truly amazing, well thought out homage to one of Holland’s more recent greats.

Stedelijk Museum, art, sculpture, Amsterdam, architecture

Exterior detail of the Stedelijk.

I also went into the Stedelijk Museum, which has modern art and an interesting show on font design. I kind of zipped through it because I was more interested in the older styles of art, but it was quite extensive with everything from mixed media, film to functional design forms and poster art.

I also went to the oude and nieuwe kerks (old and new churches) each built over several centuries and gothic in design. The oude kerk was begun in 1250 and finished in the 1500s. The no-fun Protestants came along at some point and tore down statues and broke stained glassed, making the cathedrals very austere and cavernous. However, at the new church there was a retrospective art show of wedding gowns. Some were just historical gowns through the decades and others involved twirling dresses (with the figure blacked out) on TVs, a giant roll of white fabric representing a wedding train and a suspended gown with one wing torn off , in front of a tomb of a war hero (somehow I’ve lost these pictures). It actually worked because where do wedding dresses fit but in a church?

There is a street market that sells everything from cheese to cheesy hooker style clothes. Since my suitcase decided to die at the beginning of my trip I had to buy another and found a cheap one at the market, but being cheap it barely lasted the three weeks of my vacation. Old cities, like Amsterdam have enough going on that you could just walk around for three days and look at the architecture and design. For me the mass of people had me happy to leave after two days but I’d probably go back again, especially since the crowds were so long I couldn’t get into Anne Franck House.

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Glasgow and the End of the Journey

Today is Canada Day and I’m off travelling out of town. So here is the last of my journey to Ireland and Scotland from Fall 2007.

Our last day in Glasgow started with the museum and then we went off to St. Mungo’s religious museum. Housed in the oldest standing building in Glasgow, it was a fairly bland exhibition and the building wasn’t that interesting. So we walked up the street and over to the Glasgow Cathedral, but it was late in the day and it turned out it closed at 4:00. The guy was really just locking up so he said you have five minutes.

I zoomed around taking pictures, without actually really looking at the place. The Cathedral is supposed to be one of the few gothic cathedrals in Scotland, especially one that is whole and still used. It was built in 1471 and really is a fine example of gothic architecture. I wished I’d had more time to actually look.

Ireland 2007–Glasgow

After that we tried to find our way back to Will and Erin’s. Unfortunately I’d forgotten their phone number. We also got lost because a helpful lady had told us what bus to catch back but it turned out there were two buses with the same name and a different ending, thus splitting and going varying routes. Which meant backtracking.

My sister was done. We had to walk about three blocks to catch another bus, after doing a partial return route. She thought we’d been walking for hours when it was less than ten minutes. 🙂 A very drunk Scotsman chatted with us (we had to catch a bus outside a pub, of course) and it turned out it was the other bus stop across the street from the pub. So he was a very drunk, yet helpful Scotsman.

So we finally made it back, with Will and Erin wondering what had happened to us. The next morning we flew out on Air Transat but not without issues. My sister had called them several times before she’d left and confirmed how many bags she could take on the plane, and on carry-on. She confirmed with the person on the phone and asked about leaving from Scotland. He confirmed with his supervisor that yes, she could take a bag and her camera bag as well.

Well, it turns out they have their own rules. My sister ended up paying overweight baggage because of it and was rightfully furious because she had to pack one bag into everything else. My recommendations: don’t fly Air Transat if you’re flying more than two hours. The seats are small even for someone 5’4″. If you need a special diet, they’ll lose it or muck it up badly. And someone travelling with you will probably get a special diet they didn’t order, as I did. They’ll tell you one thing and do another and not be the least helpful or apologetic for it. The seat selection (if you want to sit with the person you’re flying with) cost extra so that super cheap flight turns out not that cheap in the end.

Europe and Great Britain especially have tighter baggage allowances and the airline won’t always know what it is or get the info confused. The attendants on Air Transat were very nice and helpful but everything else convinced me I won’t be flying with them again.

At least the return trip was more pleasant. The plane wasn’t completely full so I went and chatted with this Scotsman, Ian MacIntosh who lived in Calgary. That way, my sister and I both had extra room.

Over all, Ireland was a great trip. The trip was from Sept. 26-Oct. 16. I want to go back and explore more of western Ireland and some of the south. I think I’d fly into Wales and then from Wales to the west of Ireland. Of course I’ll have to buy a camera again, but that’s a tale for tomorrow…

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The Rock of Cashel, Ireland

From  my fall 2007 trip to Ireland.
It’s a long way to Tipperary but if you go to Cashel, then you have in fact made it. Cashel (with the accent on the first syllable) was a lovely town (I’ve now officially lost track of the days). It’s small, a mix of medieval and modern and winds slowly up to the mound where the Rock of Cashel is. The castle was built at the highest point. It’s suffered some weather damage over the years from wind (parts blown down, such as the high cross and some crenellations) and rain. The castle is a sprawling place, containing several buildings, and cold. It was a windy enough day there but we could see from all sides, overlooking the town.
I didn’t do as well a job of editing these photos so there are a lot of pictures of fresco details and pillars.

The oldest part of Cashel is more than a thousand years old. We did the site tour , which had a very entertaining guy who gave great insights into the place’s very long history. Viewing over the cemetery, the distant hills show a dip. The tale goes that one day the devil was walking along, in a foul mood and took a big bite out of the hills. That dip is called the Devil’s Bite and when the devil spit out the chomp he took, it made the Rock of Cashel.
 
The oldest part was probably the tower as these are evident in all of the oldest monasteries (as lookouts for the Vikings). Then there was a smallish chapel, made I believe of limestone as that is the composition of the mount as well. The walls and ceiling had been painted in frescoes. Some of the design is still visible with red, blue, yellow and white colors. That was amazing to see, and religious figures and diapering designs were still discernible. This chapel was also unique in its crookedness. When looking through the arched entry it was obvious that it wasn’t in the center of that wall, nor was the arch geometrically even. I bet it was built by unskilled monks and laborers with no architect or only directions passed down the line from one guy to another.
 
There are the little sculpted heads there were also on the Dysert O’Dea doorway. The remains of a broken stone casket was inside. The front has and Urnes style beast on it, which helps date this part of Cashel to 900-1000 CE. Urnes style resembles the famous carved stave churches of Norway, indicating the influence of the time.
 
Ireland is working hard to preserve its heritage and history. Many of the castles are owned by county or country tourism. It’s a long and expensive process but there was evidence of work on Cashel, especially in spots that needed to preserve the building’s integrity.

Brian Boru, and his grandson were some of the early Munster kings that ruled from here. But his grandson gave the castle over to the Bishop of Limerick. This began the long ecclesiastical history of the castle. There was an enclosed museum, which had some religious artifacts, pennannular brooches, and stonework that had been moved in to preserve them.

Another chapel (I don’t know the actual religious names for these different buildings) was redone with a wooden roof (no nails) and plant made pigments painted on the gothic arches and angels that decorated the room. Most castles and churches had wooden roofs as the technique for making the corbelled (or other) stone roofs was complicated and put a lot of weight on the walls. Throughout these buildings there are many square holes in the walls. These are post holes, for floors and stairs. It makes one realize how drafty these stone places would have been.

The town itself was fairly small and we were hardpressed to find a place to eat that night, but ate at the Town Hall, a higher end and very good restaurant. It is so named because it is in the old town hall. We’d had a drink in one of local pub earlier and many of the pubs in this area of Ireland have little hearths and some that burn coal still. We spent several hours at Cashel and then moved on to Limerick.

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Art Olympics

Well shiver my timbers and call me a dumbbell. The other day I talked about “Video Gaming as an Olympic Sport” and facetiously suggested a few new ones including writing a novel and caricature drawing. Well, who knew, but there were once art Olympics, or art contest at the Olympics. Total surprise to me but the founder of the modern Olympics, the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin had a vision which included art.

The artistic competitions were hotly debated and contested, getting off to a rocky start for Sweden in 1912. Only 35 entries were received. The categories for art were: sculpture, architecture, literature, painting and music. Not all categories were filled and gold, silver and bronze medals were not awarded in all. All art pieces could not have been previously published (though there were exceptions for architecture) and all had to relate to sports in some way.

Due to excuses of funding problems or note enough time, the next art Olympics were in 1920, then for the years of 1924, 1928, 1932, 1936 and 1948. The art categories sometimes had subcategories such as prints, paintings and water colors/drawings for the painting section, but it could vary from one Olympics to the next. After the initial entries of 35 pieces in 1912, there were usually over a thousand, and thousands of people viewed the exhibits.

The biggest problem was that the Olympics state that athletes must be of amateur status and it was contended that the artists were professionals. The art Olympics were canceled but the Cultural Olympiad took their place in 1956, showcasing various artistic forms in conjunction with the Olympics. I didn’t know there was a special name for the festivals and to tell the truth I’ve never heard of the Cultural Olympiad. But then I’ve never been to the Olympics and considering the Olympic committee’s penchant for branding, of course there is a Cultural Olympiad.

So, art is no longer an Olympic sport, alas. Video gaming could possibly become one, but I doubt it. But if you’re at all interested in being part of the artistic Olympiad for Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics then you can check it out here: http://www.vancouver2010.com/en/CultureEducation/CulturalOlympiad/ArtistRegistry/Guidelines

And below is a database of all countries, medals and Olympic sports, including the art Olympics should you like to see who won. Nazi Germany won quite a few in 1936 Berlin Olympics. Somehow not a surprise. I’ll still dream of writing haiku, villanelles, sonnets and plays at Olympic speed and wiles.

http://www.databaseolympics.com/games/gamessport.htm?g=10&sp=ART&enum=130

http://www.databaseolympics.com/sport/sporteventlist.htm?sp=ART

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