Cross-Channel Baggage Handlers.

Our daughter Chloë’s Erasmus year in Amsterdam has finally come to an end. All the early trepidation about spending a year living and studying abroad were soon banished and it’s fair to say that the whole experience has been one of the highlights of her life so far. Its value, in terms of that most fashionable concept ‘personal growth’, has been off the scale; to anyone out there weighing up the pros and cons of a similar decision for themselves or their offspring, I would say just go for it.

It came with certain parental advantages too, providing us with a welcome if barely-necessary excuse for a few visits to Amsterdam while she was there. The latest of these was last weekend, ostensibly to retrieve Chloë’s belongings and transport them back home but, aware that this could be our last trip to the low countries for quite a while, we extended it to four nights including two in Bruges, en route.

I’m pleased to have visited Bruges – it’s a picture-postcard pretty place as most people know – but it does feel somewhat like a film-set that exists purely for the benefit of tourists of a certain age (realise I have to be careful here – this is MY age I’m talking about…). In the evening, by 10pm, the restaurants had a definite ‘Haven’t you got homes to go to?’ atmosphere about them. Undoubtedly worth a visit but party central it ain’t.

The three of us made a little Vine all about Belgian culture while we were there (hover over the image to access the volume control):

The trip accidentally became a bit of a Jan Van Eyck pilgrimage after I discovered a previously-unknown painting (to me), Virgin and Child with Canon Joris van der Paele in the Groeninge Museum in Bruges. The gallery houses a wonderful collection, particularly of the so-called ‘Flemish Primitives’ but this piece towered over everything else there. A miraculously detailed, hyper-real oil painting from 1436, when the medium was still relatively new; a stunning work. While in Amsterdam we discovered that Van Eyck’s generally-acknowledged masterpiece, his Adoration of the Lamb altarpiece (to my shame, another artwork I previously knew little about), was exhibited at St Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, a short detour from our route back to the ferry terminal in Dunkirk, so we stopped off on our way home to take a look. The interior of St. Bavo’s is extraordinarily ornate – a rococo explosion of religious iconography – and justifies a visit in its own right but the undoubted centrepiece is the Van Eyck polyptych, which is encased in glass in its own room (admission 4€ inc audio guide) to be gazed upon in awe-struck reverence. The religious significance, as ever, was wasted on me but artistically, it’s a thing of wonder. If you get a chance, do go and have a look for yourself – reproductions cannot come close.

I’m aware that the chronology of this account is now veering all over the place but also while in Amsterdam (keep up), Chloë took us to see a fascinating project on the north bank of the Ij, the 3D Print Canal House, where experiments in 3D-printing are being carried out including the construction of a house from components made with the huge ‘printer’ they’ve installed on-site. This is still a fledgling technology but there are clearly some highly creative minds already exploring its game-changing potential across a whole range of applications. It will be very exciting to see how this all evolves; the possibilities seem virtually limitless.

I think it might be time for some pictures, albeit with only a tenuous connection to any the above.

The weather in July was wonderful and what joy it was to be living by the seaside. Here’s my post-swim better half drying off in the sun:26July14

My Mum came down for a few days recently and also enjoyed Mediterranean-style conditions:2Aug14

The DFDS Dover – Dunkirk ferry. We’d had a very early start:7Aug14_1

A bit of mutual sketching at a bar on the Markt Square by the Belfort in Bruges:7Aug14_2

Sheltering from the rain with a bowl of superb bouillabaisse:8Aug14_1

Taking a break from dismantling Chloë’s spectacularly disordered room in Amsterdam:9Aug14_1

Biercafé Gollem in Amsterdam. There’s something indefinably perfect about this tiny bar; a plethora of effusive online comments to that effect suggest plenty of others agree. Tucked away but, if you’ve even a passing interest in beer, well worth seeking out:9Aug14_2

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