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Ghent (Gent, Genht, etc)

November 13 , 2004

(Written Nov 21 +)


Dear Families and Friends,


Another weekend. What to do? How about Belgium, not too close, not too far; French cooking and excellent beer? Can't go wrong.

Our goal was Ghent (English) or Gent (Flemish), a small city of good museums, canals, and those perennial favorites: churches, castles, and squares. We'll let the pictures tell our story.


Best regards,

John and Marianne


Gent, Hotel

We now make hotel reservations to relieve us from worry about just "finding" a good rest spot. The internet is invaluable of course, but sometimes we wonder about truth-in-internet advertising. In the case of the Charl's Inn, "the net" failed to highlight the street in front - a major freeway carrying a zillion trucks from the English Channel coast to the rest of Europe. At least we didn't get one of the old motel-style rooms like good old number 126.

Actually, the hotel was set far enough back from the freeway to be OK and the breakfast room was a very pleasant sun-room (if there would have been much sun). Marianne snapped a good still-life shot of the summer candelabra in its fall simplicity.

Gent http://www.gent.be/gent/english/index.htm and http://.www.visitgent.be

Gent itself is as picturesque as the tourist brochures would have you believe. There are plenty of canals crisscrossing the central part of town and leading out to ancient, suburban villages.
We visited two churches. In St Niklaas' Church the details were impressive, including the ornately-carved pulpit.
Not far from St Nik's, we went through the huge doors of St Baafs Cathedral and found ourselves in a funeral mass for Cardinal Gustaaf Joos. The collection of cardinals and monsignors in golden vestments was properly impressive.

Out in the city, there was water everywhere. Since we were visiting on an off-season weekday, the canal boats were tightly covered. Too bad. Next time.

It was good weather for ducks, however. The pond outside "S.M.A.K." was a smelly, slimy place, but the picture makes it look charming!

Gent, Design Museum http://www.design.museum.gent.be

Gent has over a dozen museums, but we managed just a few. The first was the Design Museum, featuring furniture and household decorations both old and modern. In an interesting mix, the old pieces were in a vintage town house and the new in bright, white-walled, modern rooms.
Museums that let us take pictures always get our votes. In this case, it's a picture of a picture being taken.
Some of the decorations required more examination than others. Furniture often seemed much more art than function.
However, one piece of furniture clearly was functional, fine art, and fine craftsmanship. The copper-decorated Art Nouveau sideboard was spectacular.
Actually, the Design museum had a number of fine furniture settings -- and a banana chair. I've never seen a banana chair, have you?

Gent, S.M.A.K. Contemporary Art http://www.smak.gent.be

The contemporary art museum called S.M.A.K. was fun. The first few rooms were the sort of installations that almost force visitors to think "I could have done ..."

("Six boxes Dividing a Room Into Sevenths" , by Donald Judd)

But the upper floor had a wonderful set of installations by Pascale Marthine Tayou, depicting real-world pieces of his life in Cameroon. The "found art" was surprisingly artistic and wandering around the pieces was just plain fun.

Tayou also did small ink-drawings that jumped to life as details came closer.
A room filled with flags and ethnic banners "made a statement" and even John-the-engineer could see some meaning. The blob-on-a-rope was harder to appreciate.
The Fine Arts Museum with many of the Flemish masters is across from S.M.A.K., but the old building is closed for renovation until late 2006. A block away is a very small selection of the Fine Arts collection but our favorite, a Charlie Chaplin silent movie, seemed hard to call "fine art".

Gent, M.I.A.T, Industry and Textiles http://www.miat.gent.be

The M.I.A.T Museum of Industry and Textiles offered a look into Belgium's past as a textile and manufacturing center. Since we were the only tourists in the four exposition floors, we could snap pictures and take our time. The drawback was that there were no guides manning the normally-active displays.

I was fascinated by the elaborate machines from the textile trade. Apparently, these complex devices managed to run for years and shifted cloth making from homes and small shops to large factories in buildings like MIAK's.

The device on the right was an X-ray machine for checking the fit of shoes. In the early fifties, these were quite common - before we really understood radiation!


After two nights in Gent, we moved on to the even-smaller town of Mechelen. Mechelen has reportedly the finest church tower in all of Belgium and, like all the Low Countries, plenty of canals.
We arrived fairly late and could do little more than window-shop in the streets. One art gallery let us into their third floor where the room looked much as it would have when first built 250 years ago.
Back on the streets, the evening chill had emptied the town square. These stair step buildings, called Guild Houses, originally held associations for specific crafts or trades. They can be seen in all the old towns of Belgium.
Finally, the quiet night fell. Good for pictures but the cold it brought ended our stroll through Mechelen.


Every Sunday morning, the town of Tongeren sponsors a huge antique market. That was our real target but passing the town's moat and wall reminded us that Tongeren itself is a real antique.
Several streets get paved with old junk -- but nice old junk, I must say. We should have picked up one of these sleds for our Christmas!
The covered hall has the High Class vendors and the neighboring shed held an assortment best described as Middle Class (or, even, lower Middle Class).
Apparently Tongeren has been a market for more than antiques. These statues celebrate earlier vendors.


ps: overall website:Belgium Tourist Office: http://visitbelgium.com

Mechelen Hotel: http://www.nh-hotels.com


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