Friday, October 24, 2008

Q: Exactly where is Leuven?

A: About a half hour outside of Brussels.

And that's where we went today.

Our day began with a very rainy morning, but we had finally overcome our jet lag (and our Paris hotel) and had a good night's sleep. We had a beautiful breakfast at our hotel and then climbed to the top of the Belfort (Bell Tower) on Market Square in Bruges. It has over 360 very narrow, steep, winding stairs, and our legs were burning by the top, and when we got there, the wind was blowing the rain sideways, so we didn't stay too long. It was beautiful, but I forgot my camera (I blame it on too much sleep), so you'll have to take my word for it. The walk down was just as crazy, and with wet shoes on ancient stone steps, well, you can imagine. But no one broke their neck, so we moved on to the Groeningemuseum to see the Flemish and Dutch art. They're most famous painting is "The Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele" by Jan Van Eyck. Here's the best image I could find to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:

I have always loved Van Eyck ever since I learned about him in Art History classes in college. His images are amazingly photo-realistic The priest in this picture has the most stunning face, I had to take a few minutes just to look at it. And the draping on the Virgin's red robe, unreal. Actually, all too real because it looks like you could reach out and move it. I had seen some of Van Eyck's other paintings in Amsterdam, but this one is huge so you can really see the detail and the people are close to life size, so they seem as if they could walk off the painting and have a conversation with you.
Another thing I loved about this painting, and many of the others in this museum, was the architectural details the artists showed that you can still see all over in Bruges. One example is the circular, leaded glass windows in the Van Eyck painting above. It was painted in 1436, but walking around town yesterday, we saw some windows exactly like them. Here's a photo:

I think this is one of the reasons I love Bruges so much, it seems like you've traveled through time and are walking around in this world just as it was back in the 1400's.
After the museum, we grabbed some treats to bring home and then jumped on the train to Brussels. We were glad that the same train could take us all the way to Leuven, to where Steve and I are going to the TRANSIT New Music Festival where one of his pieces is being performed. I have never been to Brussels, but after passing it today, I'm not sure we'll go back. I think we're getting a little bit of travel overload, so I think we're just going to listen to music, sleep, eat, and hang out with new music composers (always an interesting group, and when you factor in that most of them are European, we should be in for some fun). And Leuven looks pretty cool too. It was a cold, rainy day, so I have taken the time while Steve went the first concert of the festival to sit around in my pajamas and catch up on the blog (Internet is cheap again). More tomorrow.