Hi readers! Just to start with an explanation: this is my reaction when presented with my "moules and frites" the other night. 1.3kg of mussels - all for me. Needless to say, I struggled to find a home for them. So, Merry Christmas from Flanders! We have embraced the Christmas spirit here by attending Catholic mass at St Baafskathedral (St Bavo's). The cathedral was quite incredible. It was built over a period of 600 years, commencing in 1150 but more recently (!) completed in 1559. Needless to say, central heating was not a priority and I found myself examining the font of Holy Water on the way out to see if it had ice on its surface...We were huddled up in our woolies, with steam emanating from our (oral) cavities throughout the service, which was conducted in Flemish, with smatterings of English, French and Dutch. The Monsignor was quite the renaissance man, being fluent in four languages AND having a beautiful singing voice! I do have a tendency to be overcome by the ceremony and artistic licence of Catholicism whenever I visit ancient cathedrals and today was no exception. We had to hold mum back from taking Communion!
But before today was yesterday. Yes, the day we decided to visit the SMAK museum to "one of Europe's most dynamic moderan arn galleries" (source: "Eyewitness Travel guide"). Arrived to find front door firmly locked, no signage and no lights on. It was only Christmas Eve for crying out loud! Went across the road to the Museum voor Schone Kunsten to find the same situation, with several LOCALS also waiting. Nope... no sign of any action. No museums. Zilch.
So, that was the end of that idea. Instead, we decided to walk back to our hotel through the centre of town, which proved to be a fantastic way to get a taste of the non-touristy aspects of Ghent. We passed by delis, grocers, fish stalls, patisseries etc where people were lined up buying their Christmas feast supplies. Belgium is mad for seafood and look at the size of these crab claws from a roadside stall!
We stopped for coffee, chatted with locals and discovered all sorts of interesting shops along the way home. Ordering coffee here is proving to be a revelation. Who could have thought coffee can mean so much to so many different people? Mum wanted a "cafe creme" and ended up with coffee smothered in whipped cream. Spud & I have learned now to just order a plain, no-frills coffee. It is always delicious and usually comes served with a tiny glass of chocolate mousse or a small almond biscuit. It's also quite strange to see dogs inside shops and even though I've come across it before in France, it still gives you a bit of a shock. I wonder what those poor pooches wear on their paws for the cold? Or should I not be concerned with that...?
This is the view along the Graslei, looking at the canal which once formed the medieval harbour of Ghent. It's lined with guild houses, some of which are hundreds of years old. This one below is the guild house of the Free Boatmen which dates to the 1500's. I was keen to do a boat tour but strangely, neither Spud nor mum had the same urge... I seem to be the best prepared, warmth wise, but I am really getting a taste of what cold weather is like. Today has been absolutely freezing and after the cathedral, all we wanted to do was get warm and drink gluwein.
Huddling over the candle, waiting for our gluwein to arrive.
This is typical Flemish head wear for the cold weather....! I have no idea who these people are but they kindly posed for me and probably think I'm mad - and they're not...
We went out to dinner last night to an absolutely wonderful restaurant in the Patershol district for a fabulous Christmas Eve dinner. This is mum all dolled up in her new outfit that she bought in Amsterdam and may possibly never find occasion to wear again, living in Mullumbimby! Staying in a hotel means we've been eating out each night, and also munching a bit during the day between glasses of jenever, gluwein and beer. We have been really surprised at the quality and range of delicious local foods we've eaten. Admittedly, we've occasionally not had a clue what we're ordering but we've been pleasantly surpised every time. And of course, the chocolate is everywhere. I'm nibbling a choccie right now in fact - it stimulates my brain cells you see (ha). Belgium is the place to come if you need to pile on some kilos for a film role you have coming up. Unfortunately, I DO NOT have any film roles in my forseeable future :o(
Today is really our last day here as tomorrow we have another attempt at getting a ride on the Eurostar back to London. Mum & Spud have been planning an alternate route via Calais or Folkestone (!) if Eurostar fails us again but I am staying positive. Despite the cold, snow does not seem to be on the horizon. It's more a damp cold, which I must say is pretty miserable. I admit that until this holiday, I'd never really appreciated how truly lucky we are to have sunny, hot Christmases and it took a taste of the other side of the fence for me to realise it. I can hear the cathedral bells ringing again! There are six church spires within view from our hotel room window and all of them have been dinging their bells all day. It sounds so wonderful! I think the bells now mean vespers. Enough about me... I hope you are all having as FABULOUS aChristmas as me! Cheerio until London.
One more snap for the memory banks... Here is mum about to pour herself a glass of a beer called "Delirium" which is served with a glass with pink elephants on it. If I didn't see it, I'd not believe it. Beer consumption is a really big deal here. Possibly similar to the way the French are with their wines. Each type of beer has its own special glass and there are over 600 beers to try. I've found the beers brewed by Trappist monks to be very good. Unfortunately, I've not had a chance to taste a raspberry beer - or a chocolate beer if such a brew exists!