Jun 2019 - NCL Pearl - Northern European Tour - Part 8 - Belgium Ghent

Day 14 - Belgium - Zeebrugge for Ghent

We pop back out of the Thames overnight and cross over to Zeebrugge port, Belgium. Its a nice day again, good enough for an early breakfast outside. The most popular destination from Zeebrugge is to take the shuttle bus into Brugge - however we were 'In Brugge' not so long ago (on a weekend ferry trip from Hull) and really wanted to see Ghent.

Fortunately, as in Le Havre, we don't have to take the train as originally planned (you could take the train into Brugge and then change to Ghent) as we had the credit on the stateroom. So after breakfast on the aft deck we find ourselves docked at Zeebrugge and heading out towards Ghent.

Ghent is a beautiful city and quite a big Flemish university location as well which explains the thousands of students gathered around the riverbanks studying for their exams - as our guide Johann points out studying seems to involve a bottle of wine or beer and a picnic.

Rather like Brugge, Ghent sits mostly on the canals and rivers and  has managed to keep all its medieval buildings despite the war - where the target was more the port of Zeebrugge.

We enjoy a walking tour with our guide which takes us through the old cobbled streets taking care to avoid the trams and bicycles that seem to fly out of every corner - here the car/bicycle parks have digital displays that tell you how much room is left to abandon your bicycle for the day. Its a lovely day again and a wonderful city to just wander around.

There is lots and lots to see in Ghent as is illustrated by the tourist signs having so many destinations they have more branches than the trees. However the big thing most people come for is to take a peek inside the cathedral at one of the most significant & most stolen, works of art in the world. The bottom left panel is still missing (the theory being the person who bought the stolen panel hid it but has since died)

The Ghent Altarpiece is in St Bavo's cathedral, attributed to the Van Eyck brothers, Hubert & Jan. It's official title is Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a very large & complex 15th-century polyptych altarpiece.

One quite inventive thing they have done inside the Cathedral is they have dedicated one of the side chapels to show a full size printed copy of the polyptych - though it is quite funny watching the look on peoples faces who didn't realise its a copy - when the guide starts tapping areas with his long stick to explain each panel.

 Other notable art works in the cathedral : Laurent Delvaux’s Rococo pulpit

and The Conversion of St Bavo by Peter Paul Rubens

We have a little free time after visiting the Cathedral and this time its a decent amount that allows us to enjoy the city a little - sampling the food (apple pies here are to die for according to Jack)

 And of course the Flemish Beers - I like Ghent a lot more than Brugge. Not masses and masses of touristy restaurants and bars competing to offer you the most expensive Spaghetti Bolognese in the world. Here the restaurants and bistros are good and full of locals.

The beer of course is just as good in both cities and should be sampled at every opportunity - with caution. Most are around 8 - 9% Alchohol on average and can be even higher. Treat them like wine. Incidentally every brewery (of which there are hundreds)  has its own shape of glass made supposedly to enhance the fragrance and taste. 

 The bistro we chose just happened to be next door to one of the most famous Chocolaterie chefs     (L Van Hoorebeke)  in Brussels. So a visit was obviously called for. Again beware as in Brugge; the masses of shops selling Belgium Chocolate to the tourists are often not selling you anything like the real thing.  Here its made on site and only the best quality ingredients are used.

And so we find ourselves for the last time boarding the gang plank and leaving yet another country behind.Six countries (Eight If you split the UK up), twelve Ports, and 15 days in total. A most excellent itinerary - no wonder this ship had so many guests from so many differing countries onboard. We only ever  heard one other English couple but anyone from the UK who dismissed this because it was "too local" has really missed out.

We had paid grats up front on this cruise but as we head for dinner we take the time to find and tip a little extra to a few of the people who have really excelled on this cruise - the guys in the atrium bar, a particular excellent waiter from Bistro and of course our wonderful cabin steward Haj who has over 15 days somehow managed to never repeat a towel sculpture; and of course kept our cabin spotless.

Another great dinner and then a final evening around the atrium bar listening to Ge Luz (great guy can play pretty much anything and everything from Van Morrison to Ed Sheeran - doesn't talk much though)

This has now been our 7th cruise with NCL as they offer good itinerary, price, food & drink offers as well as great service. Staff have always been excellent and friendly. First time on the "Pearl" though we have cruised on "Jade" twice before including one TA. As I said earlier the Jewel class is our preferred size of ship - though I do miss the Ocean Blue seafood restaurant of the NCL Getaway. If I had one criticism I just wish though they had updated Bliss, it's an unfriendly space in effect giving you one less option for live entertainment at night & most people seemed to think the same thing as well.

The guest band on board for this season has been Funky Roots who have put on an excellent show nightly - usually in the crows nest (Spinnaker). Wonderful 6 string bass player and singers who can turn their hand to almost anything.

Day 15 Amsterdam

Before we leave the NCL Pearl just a few things to add; the house band have been excellent especially when it comes to the live music support they have supplied in the main theatre to the guest singers and shows - however I would say they have been lost a little at times doing their own thing because of  being placed in the rather oddly placed Bliss club. Also we haven't mentioned much about the main theatre shows simply because it's not really our thing.Music yes: The Motown show was exceptional, as was Legends - comedians and the current obsession with Cirque type shows, no.

Disembarkation was as smooth as ever (we always just use the "do it yourself method")  - no rush to leave as we had flights after lunch (though Manchester airport decided to have an IT meltdown that day which added a delay of a few hours). Luckily Schipol is a pretty decent airport to be stranded in with a wonderful museum and art gallery, great wine and of course fantastic apple pie..

And so that is it - done - there you have it. I admit its probably a hard cruise to read about and then try to search out and make a booking as it tends to only happen twice annually - but trust us, keep your eyes peeled (it may be a different ship), but they really do tend to have the best itineraries. Thanks for reading and cheers!

No comments:

Post a Comment