(Above: Ghent, Belgium)
This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to travel to the charming cities of Lille, Ghent, and Bruges with one of my dear friends and an organization called Youth Events in Paris.
Our trip began last week with a 3 hour trek to the Youth Events in Paris office to pay for our tickets (we went to the right address, but there are two of those addresses in Paris..). We got our tickets and awaited our weekend in Northern France and Belgium!
Below: L'Alchimiste, Lille, France
After a quick bus ride, we first visited Lille. It's a far cry from picturesque Paris, but I think I'm a little bias. Not bias in the sense that my love for Paris would effect my judgement.. But since I almost got the cops called on me in Lille, it wasn't my favorite place.
My friend and I decided to go into a Dia (a discount market). While there, I decided to grab a couple photos, specifically of the wine in its long rows and the long streaks of light on it. I wasn't being insane; I kept the camera around my waste with its ((nearly)) silent shutter ready. I only took two pictures until the manager came hustling toward me yelling in French. Granted, I don't know too much French, but I knew enough to understand that:
1) I was NOT allowed to take pictures in the store. 2) I had to delete the photos. 3) I had to leave the store NOW. Right now. 4) If I returned, he would call the police.
Despite my eagerness to follow his rules, the man made sure to watch us walk for the remainder of the street and treated me with such hostility. I've been told I can't take photographs in places, been told to delete photos, been told to leave the property -- it's all the nature of photographing in public. But I have never been treated with such hostility. (I don't think that it helped that he was yelling at me in a foreign language. It gets a little more frightening in such cases.)
Below: Not the man that yelled at me, Lille, France
Thankful to get out of Lille, we made our way to Ghent, Belgium.
Wow. Ghent is an incredibly perserved medieval town. It's quite magical, so I was disappointed that I couldn't spend the next week there. In the 2 hours we had, my friend and I wandered through an exhibit of Picasso mixed with Matisse, Rodin, Braques, and more artistic greats.
(Above: A Rodin sculpture)
Above: The view of the inner courtyard from inside the museum
Above: Picasso takes on finger painting..
The museum felt empty, except for the art. In contrast to the busy Louvre filled to the brim with tourists and their iPhones and selfie sticks.. this was an excellent breather. I don't think there is a better place to see art than alone. (But then again, great art makes it a private experience even when there are thousands of people surrounding you...)
Can you tell that I'm getting a fine art degree?
After the museum, we went to a couple of Ghent's famous churches in the hopes of seeing the Ghent Altar. Needless to say, there is a MASSIVE renovation (2012 - 2018) on that church and the Ghent Altar. So we didn't get to see it in all its glory, but the church was still magnificent. (We decided that it was prettier and grander than Notre Dame, but shhhh don't tell Notre Dame that)
I don't have any pictures from the inside of the church. While that might be disappointing to both you and me, there were signs in the church that clearly defined that no photos were to be taken inside. (A camera with a very large red X over it, so it couldn't be confused)
But whyyyyyyyyy. Because it's incredibly disrespectful to photograph in a house of worship in which people are actively worshipping -- particularly when you're told not to do so.
Some of the tourists thought it'd be best to ignore this kind suggestion. In fact, one couple thought that the stand in altar would be the perfect place to take selflies. When reviewing their photos, they dropped the camera, which broke the silence and everyone watched it slide across the ground for 30 glorious feet. My friend whispered in my ear, "Best example of God I've seen yet." And what a sense of humor he has!
Before we left, we both went to different sections of the church and silently bought candles and lit them. I'm not really sure what the candles represent in the Catholic faith, but I decided that I could just let it symbolize whatever I wanted it to.
After that, we wandered through the beautiful streets before making our way to the bus. (We got the wrong time, and they almost left without us....)
Just another short bus ride lead us to Bruges!
We arrived at night, got into our hostel. I've never shared a room with so many people since summer camp, but they were wonderful people. We shared the 6 person room with 3 au pairs, one from Wales, one from Austria, and one from Germany. They were very kind and interesting!
Unfortunately, I got a migraine for our only night there. My friend offered to walk back with me, which was so nice of her. We got lost -- and not the good kind of lost. We walked for 3 hours, completely confused. We realized that we shouldn't just follow the group, and maybe next time, we should learn the name of our hostel. Eventually, we caught a cab and were able to get back. It was overwhelming relief.
The next day began with a big breakfast - a GREAT way to start! I realized I hadn't had American style coffee in over a month. While it didn't quite taste like American coffee, it still was a happy way to start the day.
We walked into the city, explored a flea market (finally got a purse smaller than my satchel), bought chocolates (heavenly), ate waffles (I think I prefer crepes), drank Belgium beer (still don't like beer much), and got hot chocolate.
Also, did you know that they speak a dialect of Flemish in Bruges? It's certainly not French. (We kept talking to the people in French... At this point, it's more normal to converse with waiters, shop keepers, etc in French.)
The flea market we stumbled on was HUGE.
Needless to say, it was an amazing and exhausting weekend, filled with beauty, good company, and a new perspective. It's an entirely different atmosphere than Paris -- Belgians are much more vibrant and uproarious. It was actually quite shocking to me since I'm accustomed to Paris' emotional reservation.
What a charming town to visit for the weekend. They do have incredible chocolates and waffles, but their preservation of the past... That was easily my favorite part. Having buildings around from the 1600s like it's no big deal? Yeah, I'm impressed. Hoping to return to Bruges another time -- it was such a pleasant break from the hustle (and crammed metro trains) of the big city.
Sending my love from Paris