Friday, December 9, 2016

Adventures in Belgium Part II: Antwerp, Ghent, and Brussels

Hello again!  Still catching up on all my adventurous posts!!

After Sophia and I conferenced real hard in Bruges, we headed out to explore the rest of Belgium for a few days!  On Sunday, August 21 we caught an afternoon train to Antwerp.  We stayed in a super Airbnb there in an up-and-coming neighborhood, so we stayed around the flat for dinner that evening and went to bed pretty early.

Monday morning, we met Sophia’s friend from UCSB (who now lives in Antwerp) for breakfast.  It was neat to talk to someone who had done research travel during her PhD and then decided to stay abroad!  She showed us to the Antwerp Cathedral, and we gawked at the gaudy Rubens paintings throughout.  Lots of dramatic and theatric Baroque—totally over the top! 

Antwerp Cathedral
Antwerp Cathedral
Antwerp Cathedral
Around lunchtime, we caught a quick train to nearby Ghent to see the cathedral and famous Ghent Altarpiece.  The outside of the cathedral was under quick a bit of scaffolding so it wasn’t much to look at, but the real treasures of Ghent lie within!!

City of Ghent
Ghent Belfry
We made a bee-line for the altarpiece, which is now on display in a small climate- and crowd-controlled room near the entrance of the cathedral.  The altarpiece is behind glass, but you are still able to get quite close to admire all of the sumptuous detail (check out this website that allows you to zoom to see the details).  Of course this is the Holy Grail of the movie The Monuments Men, and is one of the most famous paintings of the so-called “Northern Renaissance.”  In my opinion, it has certainly earned the right to be considered such!  Sophia and I absorbed it for a long while, whispering back and forth about certain details and just staring in silence too.  Truly remarkable. (Unfortunately, no photography whatsoever is allowed.)

Lieutenant Daniel J. Kern and Karl Sieber examining a panel of the Ghent Altarpiece, 1945.
(Thomas Carr Howe papers, Archives of American Art)
In this still from the 2014 movie The Monuments Men, George Clooney lectures in front of a slide of the Ghent Altarpiece.
Photograph (from the web) of the Ghent Altarpiece with wings closed
Photograph (from the web) of Ghent Altarpiece with wings opened
We spent the afternoon in Ghent, took the train back to Antwerp, had some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had at a very sketchy-looking restaurant, and returned to our Airbnb for the night.  In the morning (Tuesday) we had a few hours before our next train, so we split up to make the most of our time.  Sophia visited the Rubens House and I went to the Museum Mayer van den Bergh.  The Van den Bergh is a small(ish) house museum with a SUPER medieval collection!  One sculpture in particular stands out—the sculpture of Christ and St. John is extremely well-known and I appreciated seeing it in person.  So much bigger than I imagined!

Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp
Christ and Saint John, Master Heinrich von Konstanz, ca. 1280-1290
Christ and Saint John, Master Heinrich von Konstanz, ca. 1280-1290
Christ and Saint John, Master Heinrich von Konstanz, ca. 1280-1290
Tuesday afternoon, August 23, we hopped on a train to Brussels.  We arrived around 2:00 or 3:00 and had until 6:00-ish to make it through part of the enormous museum complexes in Brussels!  We decided to focus on the museum of “Old Masters” to really get the bang for our buck.  It was a total feast for our senses, and we did a pretty good job taking our time while also covering a lot of ground.

Sophia in the larger-than-life Rubens Room!
Hieronymus Bosch, Temptation of St. Anthony, 1501
Bosch Detail
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Fall of the Rebel Angels, 1562
Bruegel Detail
Bruegel Detail
That evening, our last in Belgium, we went to a totally cool little restaurant called Restobieres.  Finding the restaurant was quite an adventure in itself, but we eventually got there.  The chef was a large, chatty guy who frequented our table to ask how we were liking our meals, and the interior was decorated with all kinds of antique and vintage housewares.  Totally my style!  We splurged a bit for our final night, and headed home happy and ready to crash.



Travel Partner Extraordinaire, Sophia!
Wednesday morning, we got up early for Sophia to catch her flight back to the States and for me to catch my train back to Wolfenb├╝ttel.  From Bruges to Antwerp to Ghent back to Antwerp and then to Brussels—we sure made the most of our week in Belgium!!!

Next time on Frau Bevin’s Adventures: long-time friend Melody joins in the fun in a whirlwind roadtrip across Germany, with stopovers in Austria, Switzerland, and France!