Lucerne, (Luzern), is a small town in Switzerland just an hour south-east of Zurich. I visited here in 1995 when doing the 70 day, ‘Grand Tour of Europe’ with Big Sal, Bloody Mary and the adorable Slapper. We didn’t have a lot of time here back then, but I remembered it as a really pretty old market town and was keen to see some more of the place.

The Old Town (Altstadt) has a nearly 1km long Musegg Wall which is part of the old 14thC ramparts. Mr K was immediately excited and exclaimed that he hasn’t seen a real castle before – which took me by by surprise, but when I think back on the travels we have done together, there’s been plenty of palaces, but not many medieval castles. Only one we could come up with was Blarney Castle near Cork – and that’s more a crumbly than a castle, so we will have to fix that in a future trip to Scotland or somewhere equally overrun by castles.

The famous Lion Monument of Lucerne, (Löwendenkmal), was our first port of call on the way into town this afternoon… I wanted to see if in the afternoon light as the morning was a bit ‘meh’, from (my admittedly fuzzy) memory. The dying lion that is sculpted into the rock face of the cliff that overlooks the little town, and was made to commemorate the Swiss guardsmen who died in 1792 during the French Revolution. It’s a beautiful and evocative monument… though slightly less moving when surrounded by 30 or so Chinese tourists all angling for the best selfie!

The Altstadt is right in the centre of town, and full of beautiful old buildings painted in a charming, and very Swiss, style. Just wandering around town is full of beautiful old buildings that mostly house modern shops or restaurants and cafes in them, and accomodations above.

This clock tower chimed the hours and thankfully, (after Bruges!), didn’t have a full on carillon playing a five minute rendition of, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ several times a day!

The gorgeous Chapel Bridge, (Kappelbrücke), was originally built in 1333 and links the Aldstadt to the Reuss River… like Australians can even get their heads around a wooden structure build by people from 700 years ago! Several sections of it have burned down over the years, but they have always rebuilt it – it is a unique bridge and is truly such a strong symbol of the town, I’m glad they have kept it. At home it probably wouldn’t have been replaced with a concrete monstrosity with steel girders looking like dropped Pick-Up-Stiks!

The construction of it is even beautiful… as are the artworks that have remained in tact. Unfortunately, many paintings were lost during the various fires, but some remain.

Just a stunning even for a stroll through such a quaint medieval town.

Yes, I couldn’t help myself and took way too many photos… the one below is our version of a selfie: you can see our shadows on the ironwork of the bridge we were standing on.

Lining the river near the bridges are a long row of old hotels that have fantastic local restaurants in the basements ands hotel rooms above them… this is where you find our exactly how expansive Switzerland is as a tourist. Even though this is a small town, it has LOADS of accommodation options, but staying in one of these hotels facing the bridge can set you back around $600-800 a night – and we aren’t looking at high season pricing! And for that price, most of these hotel rooms don’t include breakfast, are not air conditioned and might not even have a lift to get you to the higher floors!

Hotel Schiff is a hotel I decided was definitely *not* in our budget, but they have an excellent restaurant, so we thought we’d go check it out for our first Swiss dinner.

The staff were friendly, and didn’t even seem to mind my mangled attempts to order in German. We did manage to get a recommendation for a local beer for Mr K – the Eichhof Kloster, which is some sort of unfiltered pale ale. He was so fond of it, we had to go find some in a local bottle shop the next day.

Dinner was a hearty (read: stodgy) affair of meat a pot-ay-toes! I went for the beef cheek, (Sorry, Slapper, I know you hate tertiary cuts!), and it was super tender and delicious.

Mr K opted for some pork meatballs, also served with a huge serve of mashed potatoes. I loved that he crockery, cutlery and glassware in the place didn’t seem to match, and we had little blankets and braziers even though we were undercover.

Thanks to indulging in a few glasses of rosé and possibly one beer too many, dessert sounded like a good plan tonight and we tried some apple fritters. These were super tasty – but also super sweet, so Mr K got to finish most of it.

Next morning – we woke up to a simply gorgeous day! Unexpectedly so – the weather forecasts had told us it would be miserable and we were nonplussed by that, as we were checking out transport for most of the day…. Lucerne, though it is a small and compact town, has an extensive public transport network which was why we were here.

We took a walk along the river and across the small section of medieval bridge, similar in design to the Chapel Bridge that is close to a really cool little hydro plant, in order to get to the main train station.

This small section of bridge has more of the old paintings in the rafters…

There are massive beams in the construction – I assume they are oak, but that’s just a guess.

The hydro system – more towns should put these in their rivers.

Such a pretty town. Love it!

We spent most of the day with work stuff around trains and the mass moving of passengers – Lucerne does their tourist thing really well, we were impressed. In the evening decided to ferret out a raclette or fondue dinner somewhere… now, I’m all about the cheesy goodness, but not super fond of the fact it’s usually served with bread, bread and bread, or potatoes, potatoes and potatoes … or sometimes loads of bread and potatoes.

So, we did a bit of research and found the highly rated, Fondu House du Pont! Booked a table and got ready for a rich, but hopefully not too bread and potato-y fondue.

Such a cute little spot by the river.

Booking a table gained us the best seat in the house and we had to suffer with this marvellous view for the duration of our meal! Blue skies, mountains, old buildings… gorgeous altogether!

Our five minutes of research paid off – there was indeed a cheese fondue on the menu that could be ordered with yummy meat sides. The fondue was called a Moitié Moitié, and was made with Gruyère, and Michael Tell Alp organic cheese and a splash of garlic, and we were able to order it with a serve each of sliced chicken breast and sliced beef.

The claim on their website it’s that it is ‘The Best in Town!’, and while we have nothing to compare it to – it was fantastic. 10/10 would do again. The service was excellent, the wine list was extensive and reasonably priced and the fondue was really, really good.

So much gooey, stringey cheese! I am we looked like complete savages trying to tame the cheese, but didn’t care – it was delicious!

Back towards the town after a long day of work and a yummy evening of fondue… this town is so pretty.

I did make the mistake of looking up Lauterbrunnen though… we are supposed to be taking the cog railway, (yes, more trains!) up to Jungfrau one day this week – but bloody hell! Maximum temperatures of MINUS 19°C or 20°C that feels like MINUS 34°C… I think this may be taking Mr K’s enthusiasm for transport way too Farr


And scary room chicken* agrees with me!

  • We stayed at the Magic Lantern Hotel and had a room called, “The Farmer”. The hotel has all these weird themed rooms… it was covered in chickens in a most disconcerting manner! In hindsight… maybe we should have shelled out for a Pirate Room; no pesky chickens!

Tournai, Waterloo and ABBA, oh dear.

We are headed to work in Brussels tomorrow and decided to go via the city of Tournai and the Battlefields of Waterloo. Tournai is a cool little town of about 70,000 people, and it lies in the westernmost reaches of Wallonia, (a province of Belgium which rests right against the French border). It is actually far closer to the French cities of Lille and Roubaix, than it is any other major Belgian city and the primary language spoken in Tournai is French.

Tournai also has the distinction of being the oldest city in Belgium, alongside Tongeren. Surprisingly, its heritage stretches as far back as the 1stC BC. For much of its history, the city of Tournai belonged to France, from the Merovingian kings to the Hundred Years War.

Clovis I, who created France(TM) originated from Tournai and made Tournai as his capital city. Having said that, Tournai’s glory days were in the late Middle Ages when it prospered as a centre for culture and trade.

The Grand Place is the central square (or in this case, triangle) of the town. It is surrounded by gorgeous old buildings that housed the many guilds and merchants of medieval Tournai.

Christine de Lalaing, a governess who rose up and led the people in the defence of the city, against Parma in 1581.

The Notre Dame Cathedral of Tournai is a UNESCO World Heritage listed building, constructed in a high Gothic architectural style. Like many cathedrals that were built and expanded upon in the 12thC-14C, it was built on top of early Roman church ruins.

The building has seen much better days – I think being in such an obscure little town, it has been left to decay over many centuries. There are renovation efforts underway at the moment, and it looks like they’ve been at it for well over a decade – but there are some things that are going to be near impossible to ever restore to their former glory.

Inside, we arrived just after a morning service. Many parishioners were just leaving the church and we noticed there were gas heaters throughout to keep them comfortable – it is about 14-15 degrees Celsius outside, but I swear a good 7-8 colder than that inside.

An interesting model, showing the cathedral’s five famous spires.

This gorgeous pulpit looked like like it could have been carved from a single piece of timber, but there is no information plaques in this church, except for those that were giving a small bit of information about the Roman crypts being worked on at the moment .

The church also contains a beautiful organ in front of this stunning stained glass rose window. All up, well worth popping in to have a look at, especially as we had the place almost entirely to ourselves one the congregants left.

Outside in a footpath, I found this pilgrim’s mark… I’ll have to keep an eye out to see if there are more in town.

The Belfry at the centre of the Square… you can normally go up the belfry, but not today as the visitor entrance was closed by midday.

We found a local place to stop for lunch – have to keep my driver watered. I managed to dazzle the serveurse with my spectacularly bad French! But it was adequate enough to ascertain that yes, the kitchen was open, and to order us some drinks and meals, so … mission accomplished, I guess.

The Parc du Jardin de la Reine… freshly green as the spring brings fresh foliage .

Across from the Parc is the beautiful Pont des Trous – or Bridge of Holes. It is a medieval bridge built in the late 13thC over the River Scheldt and is a typical example of medieval military architecture from that period. I had seen images of it before – and was expecting darkened stones, all covered in moss – seems the town has cleaned it up and I fear it’s lost a lot of its character!

After heading out of Tournai, we drove the 20-odd kms to get to the Waterloo Battlefields. The Domaine of the Battlefields covers

The Lion’s Mound is a monument that stands 40 metres high and was erected between 1824 and 1826 by William I, King of the Netherlands, to commemorate the spot where Prince William of Orange, heir to his throne, is thought to have been wounded while he served as Commander in Chief to the first Corps of Wellington’s army.

The Panorama is a vast, circular building that contains a huge canvas painted in 1912 by Louis Dumoulin, a renowned professional painter whose ‘Panorama du Tour du Monde’ (voyage around the world) was originally presented at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, before being housed here.

There is a stairway with 226 steps that lead to the top of the Mound, from where the entire battlefield domaine can be see. The lion is protecting a globe, representing the earth and symbolising the return of peace to Europe. Weirdly, it is designed such that you can’t actually see the lion once you are up there.

The panorama has seen better days…

From the top, you can see the entire Battlefield, and markers show were the British, French and Prussian troops were positioned.

There is a very large 2000sqm underground museum, that has been built into the landscape in such a way as to not disturb the important lay of the land above where thousands of soldiers fought and died. This model was created by a civilian who spent 30 years faithfully creating a representation of the battlefield and troop placements.

Inside the museum were many multimedia displays designed to acquaint newcomers (?) to the major players in the political landscape at the time.

Of course – Mr Napoleon was quite prevalent.

There were also displays of pistols, rifles and sabres from the period. I am reminded of Becky Sharp sending her husband off to Waterloo, and him dressed in his least-best uniform with his second best pistol, so she could sell his more costly things if something should happen to him.

Of course, a museum around the Imperial French couldn’t be complete with out a discussion on the revolution and the guillotine’s part in that.

There is so much written on Waterloo – documentaries, novels, TV shows, movies… I’m not going to re-hash it all here, when Wikipedia has everything anyone might want in a neat TL;DR.

This era of history just doesn’t interest me as much as the medieval period… Sean Bean would be disappointed, but there it is.

Some cool political cartoons…

And then suddenly … there was this.
*blink blink*
An unexpected temporary exhibition of ‘50 Years of ABBA from Waterloo to the World’. Interesting long bow drawn there, but… okay. Whatever. *shrug*

These look like some of the same costumes that I saw at the ABBA Museum in Stockholm – I wonder if they’re on loan or they just made some more… we’d never know!

Poor Agnetha – not looking too good here. :/

Much memories, so cool.

Woo-hoo! Back in the late 70s, we thought those little knitted caps were all the rage. Image the complete lack of stage presence an old ABBA video would feel like it has these days.

I still don’t know why they were so huge in Australia… but it is kinda like the P!nk phenomena. Huge down under, way bigger than in Europe or the US. There must be something distinctly Australian that these two diverse performers have tapped into.

More tacky outfits.

And a section on the huge revival in the late 80s, early 90s with the use of so many fabulous ABBA tunes in movies and musicals for the stage. Fun… completely out of place here, but fun.

Still in Bruges

Today was mostly work, but we did find time to pop out for some breakfast – I had a waffle and realised I have never had one before. Not in a restaurant, not on a cruise ship, not at home… it was ridiculously sweet.

There are loads of waffle houses here, so you can pick and choose by Google ratings which one you want to visit.

Sweet and savoury offerings at this place.

After breakfast we went back to the hotel and worked until about 4pm when we went out to find a drink by the canal and watch the world go by. We ended up at Jan Van Eyck Square in a tapas bar? Ok.

There’s some cool civic art in these old cities and then some weird civic art in these old cities.

The Bruges Belfry that was built in the 13thC is 83m tall and is one of the three iconic towers of Bruges, (this and the Church of Our Lady and the St Salvator’s Catheral). There are 366 steps to climb to the top to see the famous views of the city. At the top, there is an enormous impressive music roller that controls the carillon, and a lower room where there is a keyboard which the carillon bells are played with now – since we got here, I’ve been wondering who I write to, to ask them to stop playing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ on the damn bells! Seems such a weird fucking choice, but it here it is, every hour on the hour.

Mr K went for the walk up the top to check out the view for me… no way my knee is having any part of this.

On the way up, is the city’s schatzkammer – or the imperial treasury. Here is where the city hallmarks, the city seal and the city treasury were kept in the Middle Ages… in a teeny tiny coffer, they’d have us believe.

The views look amazing.

The carillon mechanisms.

Back on the ground, we went to find a place for dinner and ended up at a Flemish restaurant (after vaguely toying with the idea of going for sushi, lol) called Vlaminck.

The food was delicious. Beef carpaccio, cheese croquettes, the obligatory frites and the Flemish stew was the best one we have tried.

In Bruges

I slept like a dead thing last night – was much needed and much appreciated. Work travel is all good and well, but when the work back home (or in this case, in the Middle East) keeps going and you’re on even more unusual time zones that you’re accustomed to, it just creates different challenges.

We were up early hoping to see a few things in the morning so we could be back to work this afternoon. First up was the obligatory canal boat ride, to see a bit of the city from the waterways. Apparently 8 million people visited Bruges last year and it sounds like nearly all of them did the short boat trip on the canal which takes little over 30 minutes.

What a glorious day! Saint John Nepomuk, patron saint of boatmen, bridges, priests and all men who have something in common on the water.

Gruuthuse Palace named for the wealthiest family in Bruges in the 15thC.

The Djiver Marketplace, where markets are held every weekend in the summer.

This is the Spiegelrei (Mirror Quay) and it sits just opposite the Jan Van Eyck square with its statue (c.1878), and the “Poorterloge” with its tower.

Pelikaan (N°8) is a pediment house which features a pelican feeding its children with its own blood. It is the symbol of charity and these houses were created as social housing in the 15thC – they are still social housing, even though tiny houses along those canals are worth upwards of €800k.

The Church of Our Lady dominates the skyline on this side of town – it’s a beautiful building.

Palais du Franc is a former law court, now turned museum… like most of the beautiful old buildings in Bruges.

So the building below is the one that Colin Farrel jumped out of in the movie, ‘In Bruges’, which is part of the same hotel we are staying it… you can see our hotel window in this picture – it is the left window of the two with the white painted frames, just to the right of the shot. It’s a great little spot, with fantastic restaurants just downstairs, music and a great ambiance all round. It’s always nice to choose somewhere to stay and it turns out nicer than you had even hoped.

Every visitor to Bruges seems to come to this little point beside the canal for a now Insta-famous selfie spot.

Gabled rooflines were used as a symbol of seigneurial housing, and became the fashion of the powerful bourgeoisie of the free market towns.

Bricked in windows were also evident along the canals – for those who don’t know, many European countries established a window tax, as a way of taxing the rich, and for some people, they took to bricking up their windows to minimise their tax burden on their windows. It sounds ludicrous, but it’s true. It’s also where the term ‘daylight robbery’ comes from.

Tanner’s House.

Bruges’ swan population have been seen as a symbol of the city’s power and wealth since the 16thC.

After our short boat ride, we made our way to the Church to see the Madonna.

Bruge’s ‘Church of Our Lady’ is a Roman Catholic church dating mainly to the 13th to 15th centuries. It has a 115m tower that remains the tallest structure in Bruges and is apparently the third tallest brickwork* tower in the world (after two in Germany)… *not to be confused with stone work edifices.

The construction of the church is in a high gothic style with flying buttresses, which were constructed in 1270-1280. It has an impressive black and white marble floor throughout and several baroque style chapels emanating from the main nave.

Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
Philippe Bernaerdt, 1660. Bruges. Oil on canvas.

Confessionals. Jacob Berger and Ludo Hagheman. 1697. Oak.
This heavily ornate row of baroque confessionals is considered one of the most beautiful example of its kind in existence. The figures represent numerous saints – St Jerome, St Augustine, Faith, St John, St Catharine of Alexandria, as well as the Virgin and Child and St Anne and St Peter.

De Baenst Chapel… named after the a prominent Bruges family.

Passion triptych, Bernard of Orley and Marcus Gerards, c1534. Oil on panel.
Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy died at Nancy in 1477 and was finally laid to rest here in 1563. This painting was commissioned by his granddaughter, Margaret of Austria for the tomb of her own husband, Philibert II Duke of Savoy. Unfortunately the artist, Orley died before he could complete it and it was instead finished by Marcus Gerards the Elder and was later transferred to this chancel for Charles the Bold. It depicts the crucifixion, and side panels featuring the flagellation, the Way of the Cross, the Harrowing of Hell and the Lamentation. Waste not, want not, I guess.

Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Jean-Baptiste de Bethune. C.1863
*Interestingly, Bethune was the nephew of the then Bishop of the church and scored the job of decorating the sacristy from sheer nepotism. He created this entire space in the English style complete with murals and stained glass. They must have been happy with his work as he scored commissions for two more chapels of stained glass after this one.

Tomb of Mary of Burgundy, createdby Jan Borman and Reiner van Thienen. Gilded and enamelled by Pierre de Beckere. 1490-1502, Bruges.
Mary of Burgundy died after falling from her horse on 27 March, 1482 at the Prinsenhof (Ducal Palace) in Bruges. She was only 25 years old, but had ruled the Low Countries since the death of her father, Charles the Bold in 1477. She specifically requested to be buried in the Church of Our Lady. Her husband, Maximilian of Austria, commissioned this tomb in 1490 in a Gothic design. The side panels show her family tree on both her mother’s and father’s side.

While Charles has lions at his feet, his daughter Mary has two rather stunned looking puppies keeping her company in her skirts.

Coats of Arms of the Knights of the Golden Fleece
Pieter Coustain and Jan Hennecart, 1468, Bruges. Oil on panels.
Above the baroque choir stalls are 30 coats of arms of the prestigious Knights of the Golden Fleece. Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy founded the order in 1430 on the occasion of his marriage to Isabella of Portugal.

From 8-10th of May 1468, the order held its meeting in this church and Charles the Bold presided over that meeting. Usually, a member of the order was retained for life, but could be expelled for failure to adhere to the rules of the order. Charles the Bold’s nephew, John of Burgundy was at one point, expelled. His coat of arms were painted black and removed from the choir stalls – the reason for his expulsion was said to be heresy and straying from the faith.

Tomb of Charles the Bold.
Worked by Jacques Jonghelinck (c.1558-1562), Bruges.
While the design of this tomb is extremely similar to that of his daughter’s, it was made nearly 70 years later and shows many signs of typical the Renaissance style – the style of his armour etc.

I can’t get over the detail on his garments – the textures applied that represent heavily embroidered clothing suitable for the noble classes and the expensive fabrics they favoured.

I found these two beautiful embroideries just outside the chancel that held the tombs of Charles the Bold and Mary of Burgundy – unfortunately there was no information available on them, and the musuem staff didn’t know much about them either. They are definitely Opus Anglicanum in style (the 3/4 figures and the elongated hands are very typical of that time frame) and the stitch work is definitely congruous with that supposition – but that could mean they are works from as early as the 13thC. Surely, they wouldn’t just be hanging on the wall in regular daylight if they were 700 years old…? Perhaps they are a fairly accomplished but more recent reproductions done in that style. Very curious…

This, second object was also similarly convincing.

The Madonna of Bruges is definitely the highlight of this cathedral. Sculpted by Michelangelo between 1501 to 1504, it is said to be one of the rare few items of his work that left Italy during his lifetime. It is in an usual arrangement for this subject matter – normally the Virgin and Child motif show a pious mother cradling and looking down on her child, but here you see Baby Jee standing unsupported and appearing almost ready to wander off. It has the typical early 16thC High Renaissance pyramid composition style frequently seen in works from the late 1400s onwards.

The Madonna has been removed twice from Belgium, after originally having been purchased by two wealthy cloth merchants (Giovanni and Alessandro Moscheroni) for 100 ducats in 1504… once during the French Revolution in 1794 and citizens of Bruges were ordered to ship it and other valuables to Paris. It was returned after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815. It was again removed in 1944 during WWII, with the retreat of German soldiers who smuggled it into an Austrian salt mine in Altaussee, where it was found a year later. Seems between this beautiful statue and the Ghent Altarpieces, we are inadvertently doing ‘The Monuments Men’ art tour of the Low Countries. It is stunningly beautiful, and most obviously a huge cut above the other statuary in the church.

Procession of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Snows. Anton Claeissens. 1575. Oil on panel.
This painting draws inspiration from the 4thC legend that Mary is said to have caused a miraculous snowfall on Mount Esquiline, one of the Seven Hills of Rome, in the middle of summer. She wanted to indicate that a church should be built for her on that spot, apparently.

This beautiful little random fresco on the actual wall of the church didn’t have any description accompanying it… but I was quite enamoured with the delicate calligraphy and how well preserved the colours were.

Popping back out into the daylight after the somber shuffling inside a cathedral/musuem like this, can often be a bit jarring. Bruges has certainly turned on a beautiful day for us and we wandered around town for a while checking out the architecture and of course, the famous belfry.

Oddly enough, at 83m high and 366 tiny winding steps, I shan’t be climbing it with this fooked knee of mine. All good, just means it stays on my list and I’ll have to come back. Maybe I’ll see if Mr K wants to climb it tomorrow. 🙂

Bruges has more chocolate shops than I have EVER seen in my life. There must be over 50 of them within a 500m radius of our hotel, they are everywhere.

We walked around behind the belfry to hunt for a more out of the way, quite spot for lunch. Everything here is at full on tourist prices, which I don’t mind so much, so long as you’re also able to get something quality for your Euro. We are skipping dinner tonight, so a decent lunch is the plan.

We found a nice cafe called Tompouce – Mr K was exceedingly happy with his large blonde beer that came out in a glass almost as big as his head.

Flemish stew – rich and delicious gravy with slow cooked beef.

Beef meatballs in a tomato sauce with mashed potatoes. There – dinner is done!

After our meal, we wandered around a bit, taking more pics of the architecture and searching out the hidden little nooks and crannies of the back streets. Bruges is super pretty and being a medieval town, it’s a rabbit warren of little treasures around every corner.

Ah, these pics are for Angus – he said he wanted me to bring back Belgian chocolates for him – but tbh, I woudln’t know where to start! I don’t really eat chocolate myself, and there is so many varieties on offer, it’s kinda overwhelming to try and choose something… plus, who asks for a gift from overseas that is 1) perishable, and 2) cost by the 100gms?! Doesn’t he know I have a luggage allowance to consider! 😉

I finally found the perfect chocolate present… though I dare say these aren’t the same quality as the fancy truffles above.

I also stumbled into a tapestry shop, Mille Fleur’s Tapestries, which contained all locally woven products… so many beautiful things in here, though I didn’t allow myself to get too far into the back of the shop where the obviously large and impressive pieces were. Instead, In content myself with a small Cushion Agenda… I found two fabulous designs based on the Bayeaux Tapestry, which of course, Mr K had absolutely no Cushion Opinon on, and so I have bought a couple for our media room at home. There were even Mondrian designs for BigSal, but I resisted… this time.

Ghet thee to Ghent!

Off to Brugge via Ghent today. We’re having our weekend early because Ramadan is over and we have work to do in Brussels and Zurich… which probably makes no sense to anyone.

I’ll never get enough of European architectures. I met a man just now who asked me if I have seen the Bayeaux Tapestry – which I have not, though it seems like something I should have seen by now, and he said, ‘It really draws you into the whole history…’ and I was like, ‘Dude, I’m Australian, EVERYTHING here draws you into the history compared to back home.’

Totally apropos of nothing, that little green car is the Alfa Romeo Tomale we have hired for the week – it’s comfortable but also a bit fussy in a, ‘trying too hard’, kinda way.

Anyway, Ghent… we approached St Bavo’s Cathedral and the main square from the Jan van Eyck Square which is located behind the church and saw this impressive monument to Jan Van Eyck. Mr K was musing that he wants a huge memorial like this, showing him surrounded by a bevy of beauties with their boosies out after he’s gone… I said he had to do something worthy of being memorialised in such a manner, cos let’s face it – no matter how good you are at at it, there ain’t no way any fucking procurement expert is ever gonna be remembered like this! 😀

Ghent town square

Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, also know as Sint Baafs, is a Catholic cathedral and the seat of the Diocese of Ghent since the 16thC, though it has been a religious site for centuries before that.

Just inside the vestibule to the church, was a large, very modern, very worrying ‘chandelier’? Interesting choice of lighting design for a space like this…

Originally this site housed a timber chapel for St. John the Baptist, built and consecrated in 942AD – I love that all this information has been passed down. The construction of the existing cathedral was started over that structure in 1274 and is in a Romanesque style that is still evident in the cathedral’s crypts. The vaulted high Gothic construction of the main hall of the church began around 1274, and the building was subsequently added to continuously through until the 14thC to 16thC with the additions of a choir, radiating chapels, transepts, nave aisles, the chapter house and a single tower on the western end of the Cathedral. The work is said to have been completed by 7th June, 1569… huge efforts over hundreds of years.

When the Ghent Diocese was founded in 1559, this church became its cathedral, however just prior to the completion of the building works, in the summer of 1566, it is recorded that Calvinist iconoclasts visited many Catholic Churches in the Netherlands (including this one) and smashed statues, shattered stained glass windows, destroy paintings and other artworks they deemed idolatrous. Thankfully at this time, the Van Eyck Altarpiece was saved… and it wouldn’t be the last time it needed to be saved from narcissistic fuckwits with cockeyed ideology.

The impressive pulpit.

What is above is what is available to visit upon entry to the church, however, to see the crypts and the famous Ghent Altarpiece, you need to buy tickets online to enter what is ostensibly an museum inside the church. Now, given the exorbitant amounts it must cost to upkeep and secure these elaborate and important buildings and their historical artefacts, I don’t really mind paying my €16 per adult to gain access to see them, but for some reason a lot of these historical sites seem to want to *value add* these days and man do they miss the fucking mark!

You enter the church amid signs asking for silence a respect to be shown in this place of worship, (as is standard in every single important religious site in the entire world, regardless of the local variant of omnipotent invisible friend being worshipped!), only to be ushered into the crypt and given a VR headset with a loud and blaring soundtrack with heaps of church bells, a gratingly brash American accented narration (on the English setting at least), and a whole pile of glowing cauldrons, crosses, footprints to stand on, holographic models of the town of Ghent and it was just… fuck, no! What the ever loving hell are they doing? If I wanted to see some crass, seppo, bastardisation of history, I could have just stayed at home and switched on the History Channel with it’s over-sensationalised and over-dramatised presentations. I lasted less than five minutes into the one hour virtual tour, before ripping the headset off in disgust and choosing to just see the crypts for what they are… it left me seriously concerned for what I might expect upstairs at the Altarpiece. :/

Here is the info of the VR Tour for anyone who is interested, engage with it at your own risk:

The downside of not sticking with the all hype, no substance VR tour is that there was not a single fucking information plaque down here – just glowing footprints that auto start another onslaught of imagery and shitty narration that put your teeth on edge.

I believe – that the fresco paintings here are c.12thC, but don’t quote me on that. No plaques.

Above: A reliquary to Saint Macarius (whose connection to Ghent I have been unable to ascertain), and,
Below: A very recognisable reliquary of head of Saint John the Baptist. Both 17thC, neither attributed to artists.

The ‘History of Saint Andrew’ painted in 14 panels by Frans Pourbus the Elder in 1572…


Leaving the crypts, we head up a few levels to the ambulatory chapels which are elevated and behind the main nave of the cathedral. The ceremonial tomb of Bishop Anton Triest, in dramatic black and white marble, sculpted by Jerome Duquesnoy.

The Rubens Chapel, so named because it contains a most important masterpiece of the Baroque artist, Pieter Paul Rubens, completed in 1624.

The ambulatory pathway between the various chapels…

Ooh… one of the ambulatory chapels was filled with modern art – I have just gotten over the trauma of the VR headsets, please, no… the Altarpiece is around here somewhere.

Originally the Ghent Altarpiece, which is formally known as the, ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ but here everywhere is referred to as the, ‘Son of Lamb’, was installed in the Joost Vidj Capel on the eastern side of the ambulatory chapels. Now it is housed in the ‘Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament’, all to itself. The work itself was originally started by Hubert van Eyck, but was completed by his brother, Jan van Eyck, after Hubert died. The painting is considered to be Van Eyck’s masterpiece and is one of the most important works of the Northern Renaissance – being an exemplar of the transition between paintings of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This enormous artwork was undertaken in 1420 and completed by 1432, and has such a storied history.


Over 500 year old and so vibrant and detailed…

One part of the painting, the lower left panel, which is known as, ‘The Just Judges’ was stolen in 1934 and has never been recovered. It is believed to have been lost years ago, and possibly even destroyed. A copy of the ‘Just Judges’, completed done by Jef Van der Veken, now sits in its place. Would be very cool if it turned up one day in some dead rich guy’s private art collection or something.

The Adoration of the lamby-lamby ding dong…

I’ve always enjoyed how the rays of sunlight are rendered in this painting… the lines draw the eye around the art work and keep you looking, and finding, more detail. The overall design of the work is believed to have been drafted by Hubert van Eyck, but most of the work executed by Jan van Eyck, who refers to himself repeatedly around this work, ‘as the second in art’ to his brother.

Fecund Eve… just to remind us of the Sin.

It is even possible to see the back of the altarpiece – or rather the front as it would appear if it were closed:

It looks like this when closed properly, but very hard to make out in the darkened chapel:

It truly is a stunning piece. I also feel so fortunate to be seeing it, not just in this chapel where it belongs, but at all. With its turbulent history of having been stolen by Nazis and stored in a salt mine in Austria until it was found at the end of the war by American soldiers, and then returned to Ghent by Eisenhower… it’s perhaps just blind luck that it wasn’t lost forever.

In another of the ambulatory chapels, called the Priests and Bishops chapel which had confessionals lining the walls for the sinners… were these two peculiar caskets. Unfortunately, there was no information on them. They look somewhat like reliquary caskets, but those almost always contain information on what/who was supposed to be contained within. The work on these was absolutely stunning! I’m thinking 16thC embroidery but they could be far more modern, it’s hard to tell.

Metal strap work surrounding the embroidered motifs:

Beautifully executed – I know how much work it takes to create figurative pieces in this style.

The second chest has more goldwork techniques worked in more floral designs without the gold metal strapwork as a background…

Padded and heavily couched goldwork…

The main nave at the top of the cathedral… so much beautiful stained glass. Many panels of the glasswork in the lower part of the chapel appear to have been replaced with modern glass, but in this old section of the church, they appear to be original… thank goodness Hitler was an art lover and tried not to destroy all these amazing buildings.

From the back of the nave looking towards the main entrance of the cathedral.

Back out in the square, the Ghent Belfry dominates the townscape – now a tourist information centre. It was a fairly cold and miserable day, not as windy as out at Volendam thankfully, but we beat a hasty retreat to a local cafe for a hearty lunch with the intention of skipping dinner this evening.

I tried the onglet with champignons, Mr K ordered the Ghent boeuf stew – both of which were excellent and our meal came with some frites and mayo, of course.

Farewell to Ghent for now, we may have to pass back through on our way to Brussells. We are spending this evening In Brugge… you know, of ‘You can’t give ketamine to a dwarf!’, fame.

I had booked us a canal view room in the Hotel Bourgoensch Hof, and the view from our window did not disappoint… the building on the right at the edge of the canal is the one that poor Colin Farrell had to jump out of six times when filming, ‘In Bruge’, here.

The view was even prettier as the sun went down… there is a saxophonist playing out there somewhere and the indistinct chatter of people enjoying an evening aperitif, and the smell of freshly baked waffles drifting up to our room on the third floor.