Around 8:15 a.m., on July 14th, the wheels of our Delta 767 touched down at the international airport of Brussels, Belgium. The once sleepy, medieval town is now the capital of Belgium, the headquarters of NATO, and the seat of the European Union. Between the six hour time change and the virtually no-sleep, eight-hour flight from the U.S., Cindy and I were not hitting on all cylinders.
Unfortunately, our time spent in the capital would be brief. Before we departed Brussels for our first night’s destination, we visited the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in the grandiose area known as Upper Town. The complex contains three museums, each of which we visited over a two-hour time span: The Old Masters Museum (packed with an amazing collection of Flemish and Belgian art, containing numerous works by Van der Weyden, Bosch, Rubens, and Bruegel), The Fin-de-Siecle Museum (containing works from around the turn of the 19th/20th century), and the Magritte Museum (which houses more than 200 works by the surrealist, René Magritte).
We then made the one-hour drive from Brussels to Ghent, once a medieval powerhouse city, made immensely wealthy by the textile trade. It would be our home for two nights. Upon arriving, we parked our car at the parking location for the Hotel Chambreplus. We then clicked and clacked our way across the cobblestone streets on our 10 minute walk to our hotel. Actually, it turned into a 25 minute walk. It turns out the hotel had no exterior signage, so we walked right past it several times.
We took a brief nap in the afternoon before having dinner at the canal-side restaurant, De Acht Zaligheden (“The Eight Beatitudes”; fitting, don’t you think!). After enjoying the excellent Flemish food, we walked around the old town for a while, stopping off at several stages where live music was being performed. We arrived on the first day of a huge, 10-day long, Ghent music and arts festival which draws a million people into town for various free concerts around town. While all the festivities detract from the historical ambience, it was cool to be in town during this time. It wasn’t overly crowded on our first day, but I imagine the crowds will increase as the festival wears on.