Day 8: Brussels to Ghent - Grampies Cross Europe Germany to Spain Fall 2023 - CycleBlaze

September 3, 2023

Day 8: Brussels to Ghent

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We got overloaded today with architectural beauty.  The main Belgian cities really are outstanding. You see this in the streets generally, but the central squares (grote markt) are just over the top. A grote markt will contain a city hall, a church, and a stock exchange, at least. Each of these will have elaborate carving, and usually lots of gold trim. It's very impressive. 

The overload part for us is our own darn fault, because we are charging from city to city.  I mean, we hit three significant ones just today!

We started, of course, in Brussels. Getting around in the city is ridiculously easy, with every street of significance boasting a marked bike lane. And in some cases they really get serious.  Look at this one:

Brussels is mega bike friendly.
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We were not actually looking for the Grote Markt, but just sort of stumbled on it.  This figures, because our hostel was downtown and the Markt there is huge. Would we otherwise have been stupid enough to leave town without seeing it? Possible. We have a pretty deep well of stupidity!

The next six shots come from us just gawking at the Markt buildings. We had no idea what we were looking at, and of course it would take days to see and explore the place for real. As it was, our conversation was significantly gormless: "Does the King live there?" "Naw, I think we saw his house yesterday".

The white tents filling the centre of the square are for the Belgian Beer Festival. Each stall is probably a different producer.
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Lots of gold trim.
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The interesting Brussels architecture is not limited to the Grote Markt. In fact every downtown street is interesting. Here are three images as we began to make our way out of town. Admittedly it was a Sunday morning, but there are no cars in the shots!

Paul is a large bakery franchise, often seen at train stations. But their stuff is very good. No need to stop in this time, because there was lots of food at the hostel breakfast.
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Narrow, quaint street.
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Row housing, I guess, but an apartment here would be neat!
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One thing that we did not happen to seek out or fall over this time was the Manneken Pis. This is a small statue-fountain of a little boy, peeing. Despite so many fountains in Europe swarming with naked gods and goddesses, this little one has caught the general imagination and is the unofficial symbol of Brussels. 

These Manneken Pis statuettes are subdued, compared to the ones that also serve as corkscrews. You can easily guess where the screw part is!
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Kathleen ClassenI inherited a Manneken Pis perfume atomizer from my Mom. Solid brass no less. Who was the person who came up with that idea? I suspect our two boys will both be wanting it when the time comes. It has pride of place in our powder room and always makes me laugh. It is proof my Mom had a great sense of humour!
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10 months ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Kathleen ClassenMannequin Pis is strangely inspiring - like the corkscrew, and now we learn of the atomizer. There could be a contest for other ideas ... like screwdriver, oil can,...
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10 months ago

We found it very easy to make our way out of Brussels. Although there were some big roads, and even the mandatory ring of car dealers, there was always an obvious bike way, and those other stressors anyway were pretty low key. It took about 7 km to feel we were out of Brussels, but that did not mean we popped out into farms or forests. Rather, it was low rise, low key town development all the way to Ghent.

Bike ways like this guided us through everything.
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Belgium is divided into the two main regions of Flemish speaking Flanders and French speaking  Wallonia. Brussels, the capital, is bilingual, but is actually situated in Flanders.

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As we headed west from Brussels, toward Ghent, the language changed to Flemish as soon as we had cleared the city.

French will not be helping us much here.
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I would like to say that our experience of finding the Grote Markt in Brussels had alerted us to looking for such things in towns along our way. But as we approached Aalst at about mid-day, it was actually McDonald's that helped us out. On the highway they had a sign indicating that they could be found in the Grote Markt, Aalst.  "Hey, there is a Grote Markt in Aalst!" was my erudite conclusion. Dodie responded by routing us in. Otherwise we would have missed it.

Just on the outskirts of the square there was a sort of cultural expo going on,  with food stalls from several countries. We looked at Indonesian and Syrian were tempted, but realized we already had lots of sandiches on board needing to be eaten.

A multicultural food expo.
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Looks good!
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Also near the square there was some bike parking. From the photo we can assume that this could include some very long term stays!
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The main square included a nice church with many bells carrillon, and a city council house of some sort out front. The statue is of the first printer in Belgium, from the 1600's.

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Here is a broader view of the Grote Markt
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Really unique design of the buildings.
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We left town and carried on with the basically straight run to Ghent. Any recollection of gritty buildings near the Meuse were long gone, and now we had all sorts of nice and interesting ones.

Our first thatched roof. Further north, in Netherlands, there are all sorts of these, often in combination with shiny tiles.
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An ordinary house made special by a turret.
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This is probably used now just for storage.
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and look, more Belgian Blues!
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At Melle, not far from Ghent, we were stopped at a light when along came one, two, three, many! vintage tractors in a parade. They passed in front of us and proceeded east. Ever aware of wanting to help spot vintage tractors for Ken Graham (spotting tractors often forms part of blogs from Ken and Tricia) we turned and joined the tractors on parade. We expected them to quite quickly land up in a field somewhere, and arrange themselves so we could try to guess which Ken would like to see in a photo. But instead, all the tractors just charged on around the semi-rural roads, with us in hot pursuit. Finally, sort of in the middle of nowhere they all started to stop, turn around, and generally park. Dodie went up to one of the drivers and found that he could speak French. That's how we found that the parade we not ending here, but only stopping for a beer. After that, they were heading off for Laarne, but we did not find out exactly why.  Anyway it was fun and since we don't drink, we circled back to where we had started at.

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Grampies will join most parades.
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Ok, where is the beer?
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Tricia GrahamI have only seen one or two Fahrs. They are very early before they amalgamated with Deutz
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10 months ago
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We hope Ken finds some of these to be interesting.
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We arrived at Ghent, and were immediately greeted with interesting streets like the one below.

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At the end of the street we spied what turned out to be St. Bavo's cathedral.  Just before this, Dodie had passed over a one inch irregularity in the road, and it almost threw her bike.  A heart stopper to watch from behind. But now, looking along to the cathedral, I said "I'll stop and snap a shot of it down along the street".  So I stopped and put my foot down. But an irregularity in the  street turned my ankle, and just like that bike and I were sprawled in the street! My later model Ortlieb handlebar bag with the magnetic closure is useless in such cases, and all my stuff was spread into the roadway. Passers by helped pick me, and the stuff, and the bike all up. No harm done! Later, walking out of the cathedral, I almost went flying again. I put it to Dodie that Europe is too bumpy, but I think she correctly concluded that at this time of day we are too tired.

Much danger in taking this photo!
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A better shot of the cathedral.
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Inside the cathedral there is a painting - Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. You have to pay admission to see it. It was painted by the Van Eyck brothers, who got a statue out front for their trouble - shown here.
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Here is some of the story of the cathedral. Do you think photos of such signage are helpful, or boring?
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Karen PoretTo answer your question..those who want to know will read this, and the others will keep their “reading” to their phones..😬
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9 months ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Karen PoretWe actually find it helpful when we reread a previous blog to have some additional information right in there. At our ages we forget things very rapidly.
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9 months ago
The cathedral is colorful and indeed filled with art.
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Modern looking stained glass
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This is the famous painting of the mystic lamb. We have raised lots of lambs, but none seemed particularly mystic!
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Following are some other scenes from around the Ghent Grote Markt. There was something photo worthy seemingly everywhere we turned.

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Looking back at the cathedral. It's only one of many interesting churches here.
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At least two rivers run through town.
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Another Ghent street scene, as we make our way to our hostel.
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The Castle of the Counts is a fully intact medieval structure. It's one of 63 sights listed in the City Guide. This is a place worth returning to!
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Our hostel downtown, the Draecke, is luxurious compared to last night's hostel. That is, the toilet is in the room, and our beds are on the floor, vs stacked. At this level, though Spartan, a hostel is fine. And, our bikes are in a locked room!

Tomorrow we continue our insane charge around Belgium. The target is Brugge, only about 50 km distant. 

Today's ride: 72 km (45 miles)
Total: 283 km (176 miles)

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Tricia GrahamKen would have been delighted to see that tractor parade. Don’t get into my habit of falling off the bike Steve!
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10 months ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Tricia GrahamYes, I think I went wrong getting a bike with 28" wheels, not to mention the battery up high. Dodie's 26" with battery low was a better choice.
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10 months ago
Tricia GrahamTo Steve Miller/GrampiesIt is the high up battery that is the trouble or at least was for me. When we got to Lousie’s and saw the bike We had left there I realised if I had been on that bike I would still be riding A silly mistake as it was perfect in every other way. Be careful
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10 months ago
Karen PoretIronically on our first trip into Ghent on a bike one person in the group caught her wheel in the rail line and down she went, sliding onto the sidewalk. It was surprising as to the number of passerby who simply stared off into oblivion vs the few who did assist her. Her reason for falling was “the slick wet cobblestone and metal rail track equals disaster”. Maybe it is the bane of Ghent, Steve!
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9 months ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Karen PoretCould be the Bane of Ghent, or could be end of day fatigue and not particularly paying attention. It has happened in other places, so fatigue is the more likely culprit.
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9 months ago
Karen PoretTo Steve Miller/GrampiesFatigue is the “gotcha” every time…
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9 months ago