Monday, August 26
We all slept in a little, but were ready to leave at 10:00 to face another thirty+ degrees day. We headed for St. Bavo’s Cathedral which was built in the 13th century and is the oldest parish church in Ghent. Its biggest claim to fame is the Ghent altarpiece “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, a triptych painted by the Van Eyck brothers in the 1420s. It’s the painting that was stolen by the Nazis and rescued by the Allies, as portrayed in the movie “Monuments Men”. We paid to see the “Mystic Lamb” and stood separated from the painting by a glass shield, listening to an audio guide explaining the symbols and meaning of the various panels. The room was stifling, but I persisted to the end of the explanation because it was interesting. St. Bavo’s itself is a very impressive building. It was well worth a visit, not only for the beauty of its many works by master artists and craftsmen, but because it was a cool refuge from the day’s heat.
Leaving St. Bavo’s, we crossed the square towards the cloth makers guild hall to which is attached the Belfort, a 15th century bell tower that stands as a symbol of the city’s independence and from which alarm bells would ring out to warn citizens of danger. We could have opted to climb the spiralling stone staircase to the stop, but chose to take the elevator. From the top of the tower, there is a great view of the city. On the way back down, we stopped to watch the copper carillon drum, built in 1647, play the tower bells. It works much the same as a music box. Pegs on a rotating drum hit levers that pull the bells. We also admired the metal dragon that once adorned the tower (another one sits in its place now). The dragon is the city symbol.
We then went to a sidewalk cafe where we enjoyed a fine meal, especially Maureen who went straight for dessert - a banana split. We heard piano music playing as we ate, so once our meal was done, we went to investigate the source. A pianist was performing under the city pavilion, a very modern structure nicknamed “the sheep pen”. The piano’s back was in a megaphone-looking structure that amplified the sound. We listened for a while, then proceeded to follow the canal to the tour boat dock. On the way, we crossed St. Michael’s bridge, famous for having a view of three church towers. It also has a view of one of the most scenic stretches of the canal that features many beautiful buildings. Once aboard the boat, we rode through the canals as we listened to our guide give information in Dutch, English and French about the history of the buildings we passed. It was interesting to see Ghent from the viewpoint of the people who over the centuries plied the canals for pleasure and business.
Afterwards, we meandered towards the Patershol, a neighbourhood where the twisting lanes and narrow alleys still follow the original paths laid down in the Middle Ages. This area is famous for its many restaurant but most don’t open until 6:30 For a while, we sat on benches under the shade of a tree to drink from our water bottles, which we had refilled at one of the fountains provided for that purpose. About 6:30, we strolled down the street reading the posted menus and debating the merits of the different ethnic food (Greek, Italian, Japanese, Turkish, .....) we wanted, the prices, which location offered the least exposure to cigarette smoke (people are allowed to smoke on outside patios in restaurants) and other noxious odors.... We finally decided on a Greek restaurant, which turned out to be a very good choice. The souvlaki and moussaka were delicious and the beer was cold.
We wandered towards home through the small lanes until we reached St. Michael’s bridge, which leads to the road to St. Jacob’s Church, which is the landmark for turning onto the road that crosses two canals, which leads to Dampoortstraat, the street of our hotel. We are starting to navigate our way through Ghent using landmarks and familiar names.
Once back in air-conditioned comfort, we had showers, then retired to bed.