Monday, August 31, 2015

Bruges, Belgium; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and Normandy, France

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges is a lovely little city.  It has beautiful little canals and bridges across them; touring by canal boat is a fun little adventure that takes you into the heart of the residential section.

Many of its medieval buildings are notable, including the Church of Our Lady, whose brick spire reaches 122.3 m (401.25 ft), making it one of the world's highest brick towers/buildings. The sculpture Madonna and Child, which can be seen in the transept, is believed to be Michelangelo's only sculpture to have left Italy within his lifetime.

Although it probably had its biggest moment in the 12th century as an important center of the textile trade between the northern European areas and the Mediterranean, the era ended when the inlet upon which it was situated silted over.  In the 15th century, it became famous once again for its magnificent lace, made by hand both then and now by Belgian women.

Bruges Canal, Bruges,, Belgium
Copyright © 2015, Scotti Vaccaro
from Wandering Western Europe,
sketchbook journal entry dated 8/19/05

I did purchase a small piece of handcrafted lace while I was there  -- very expensive -- for a small 15" diameter doily, U.S. $75.00, but I was certain to avoid the cheaper, tourist traps where they sold lace made in China under the name "Brussels Lace."  This now happens all over Europe.  Local handcrafts have made-in-China knock-offs sold at bargain prices.

By the way, the interesting shape of the tree on the right is the result of serious pruning...  I did not make that up!

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

My visit to Amsterdam happened as they were in the second week of a garbage haulers strike, so it was, uh, rather odorous.  Every corner was piled with plastic garbage bags as high as the citizens could throw them on the pile, with more than a few torn open by scavenging animals.  Putting it mildly, it was a real mess. 

Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Copyright © 2015, Scotti Vaccaro
from Wandering Western Europe,
sketchbook journal entry dated 8/22/05

The canals were very, very nice; it was a beautiful summer day and that part of the trip was absolutely lovely.  It's quite striking:  The houses are shades of grey, brown and taupe and the boats and cars are the brightest colors the Dutch can find!  All along the canals, literally throughout the entire city are houseboats tied alongside.  Our local guide told us that at one point, it was because finding an economical place to live was difficult and property taxes were very high, but now the financial advantage has been diminished by governments trying to add revenues.  The houses are tall and slender because real property taxes used to be levied based upon how wide your property was, but not how tall!

The house in which Anne Frank hid is similar to the dark brown one in the center.

Normandy, France

The Seine River, Normandy, France
Copyright © 2015, Scotti Vaccaro
from Wandering Western Europe,
sketchbook journal entry dated 8/24/05

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a love affair going with France.  In this particular instance, I opted out of the general tour activity to do what some of my artistic idols -- Monet, Manet, Pisarro, Hassan, Cortés and others have done:  Find a spot alongside the Seine and paint the countryside.

There is a major highway, that runs on the side of the mountain in the background for the entire length that is the main route to go to Paris from the port of Le Havre and from which you can hear the constant hum of traffic.