Off for another sports event! This time was to Eindhoven, Netherlands!
This time I drove and boarded the Eurotunnel (Chunnel) in my own car, which was a new experience in itself, so I’ll tell you about that too. 🙂 I booked the tunnel crossing online before we traveled. Though I learned that you have a two-hour window where you can take an earlier or later train, we still left ridiculously early in case there was traffic on the M-25 (“The largest car park in England” as I’ve heard it called.). We ended up arriving almost an hour early. You pull up to something like a toll booth, but it scans your license plate and your reservation comes up on a touch pad screen on the booth. We were given the option of a train 30 minutes earlier, which we took. The screen then prints out a hang tag for you to put on your mirror.
We had to scan our passports out of the UK and then had them checked by French customs as we drove into the complex that surrounds the trains. We stopped at the services since we had some time before boarding for the facilities and some water. Once we’d done both of those, the letter designation for our train came up on a huge screen and we hurried out and drove through the maze to get to the right train.
There are people at every turn to ensure you go the right direction and then you drive into either the bottom or top level of a really tall train. We were on the top. Once you’re inside, your car goes into first with the parking brake/hand brake up or in park if your car is automatic, and you open any sunroofs and your windows at least half-way (I’m assuming for pressure).
The crossing is about 25 minutes and there is a very slight descent going down and back up. The only hint that you’ve changed depth is your ears popping.
You disembark pretty swiftly once you’re at Calais, and you’ve already gone through customs, so it’s just a matter of driving out and remembering to drive on the right instead of the left!
I made a stop at a wine store because you know, when in France! The coach driver took us to this particular one when we came into France on our way to Brussels earlier in the month, so I went to the same place. It’s called Franglais and I’ve found the people who work there to be kind.
From there we drove north into Belgium and stopped in Ghent (Gent when you’re in Belgium) because I wanted to see an old altarpiece painted by Van Eyck that is in St. Bavo’s Cathedral. We parked pretty close to the cathedral, but I missed the place to pay for parking. I found it when I returned, but don’t make the same mistake I did! I don’t know if I had a ticket, but I hope I didn’t. Nothing was on the window when we returned to the car.
Anyway! St. Bavo’s, which is named for the patron saint of Ghent, is built on the top of what was once the Chapel of St. John the Baptist. In 1038, the chapel was expanded and the expansions continued until it was completed in 1569. The chapel became a cathedral in 1559.
The cathedral is huge and absolutely beautiful. I will say that it was quite chilly, so if you’re visiting during winter months like we were, you’re going to want to have your coat! You’re not supposed to take pictures, though quite a few were doing it in the open. I wish mine were better, but I was trying to be a bit discreet about it. I am always a nervous ninny when I’m not supposed to do something.
We walked around the cathedral and eventually found the ticket box that we missed when we came in to the right of the entrance. You don’t pay admission for the cathedral, but you pay 4€ a person to see the Van Eyck altarpiece.
I could write an entire blog post on the altarpiece alone! It’s history is incredible. It’s often considered the most coveted and most stolen painting in history. Painted around 1432 by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck, it was once known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. It’s a polyptych work and is composed of a total of a total of 12 panels, which are painted front and back. Since its creation, the altarpiece has been disassembled, stolen by Napoleon, almost burned, sold or seized in pieces and even hidden from Hitler in WWII and later recovered by “The Monuments Men” according to a source I found recently. One piece was stolen in the 1930’s and has never been recovered, though a copy now sits in its place. The rest has been restored, and protected behind glass in a small room off the main part of the cathedral.
I do understand why it is kept behind glass, but one of my favourite parts of the work is its detail and I love to look at that up close, which I couldn’t do. It was a lot smoother than I expected but I don’t know if that was a result of the restoration process or because of the glass.
The cathedral has free listening guides to the altarpiece for those who are not familiar with the work or would like to learn more. My only complaint on the listening guides is there is nothing that tells you what number is what panel when you listen. They were informative, though I randomly plugged in numbers to listen to everything.
In the end, I have something checked off my bucket list and it was awesome to see. I have a couple of links below if you want to learn more about it.
Next week: Eindhoven and Carnival