It’s hard to predict when they will embrace something, or when they will start marking the minutes until we return to the car and start the journey home.
Yesterday was a freak show.
Ghent is this lovely little Flemish city. It is filled with charming 16th century architecture, three rivers, medieval bridges, gothic churches, and art masterpieces. It was even rated one of Lonely Planet's Top 10 Cities to see in 2011.
I tried to sell this little Belgian daytrip to my kids by offering a trip to a castle, a climb of a historic tower, Belgian chocolate, and later, as my arguments fell on disinterested ears, french fries.
I knew we were in trouble when we had not even left the parking garage before Jack started asking how long it would be until we could go back home.
In their defense, it was cold: damp and cold. But surely we should be able to see a few things?
Gravensteen is everything you’d want in a medieval structure. It was rough and ragged around the edges, “a Keep” Jack called it. It was built for defense, but later used as a prison.
Unlike the Tower of London, there were was no glossing over of the Gravensteen’s gory history here. They made it very clear that this place was used for torture and execution. They had a very informative display of torture devices, how long the torture could be endured, and which room was used for which application. When they started using life sized manikins to make their point, I had to get Audrey out of the room. They did have a cool guillotine complete with a burlap sack to catch the head. You don’t get an education like this every day. Any questions, kids?
My kids, on the other hand, were wishing themselves dead.
The whining had been a background noise throughout the castle, but now we were back out on the street. The thought that we would just wander around the old city until we saw a few things was too much for Jack. He started to plan a mutiny. When Audrey started crying because her hands were cold, I thought it was time to pack it up and go home.
Thank God for Belgian chocolate. We ducked into a little shop called Van Hoorebeke on Sint Baafsplein. This Victorian chocolate shop had curved glass counters and shelves filled with fresh chocolates. The aroma from the kitchen below was absolutely divine. While Audrey warmed up, Jack and Jordan made selections from the counter. For five euros in chocolate, I had bought myself some time.
We ventured in to the Gothic church of St. Bavo, where I had heard the Flemish masterpiece “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” had recently been restored. Access to the side chapel with the “Adoration” was four euros per person. I approached Walt and made my pitch. “Walt, there is a very famous early Flemish masterpiece here. It’s four euros to see it.” I watched Walt’s eyes glass over as I spoke.
There is an advantage to 15 years of marriage. You tend to be able to read your partner. I changed my tact and offered, “We could pay that four euros, or I could show you pictures of it on-line when we get home.” Walt broke into a large grin and we moved on.
If you’ve seen the “Adoration” by the van Eyck brothers, let me know if it was worth the money. I’m dying to know.
Cloth Hall, a world heritage site. We spent a few minutes at the merry-go-round. Then it was time to pack the kids up and head home. Jack smiled for the first time that afternoon.
Later, I had an interesting conversation with the kids about what kind of travel they like to do. They agreed that all trips should involve an amusement park with roller coasters, oh, and lots of kitty cats.
I think Flemish and Dutch Medieval cities are done for while. Too bad considering that there are about 50 amazing cities just like that around here. Sigh…