Today was good.

It might actually have nothing to do with getting a full six hours of sleep last night,  but that certainly didn’t hurt.  (And six hours sleep is close to normal for me. Even so,  I had a nice nap this evening before going out for dinner.)

It was overcast and drizzly and not as warm today,  so that might have helped.  Today was the first day so far I didn’t need a shower after a day of sightseeing.

But today was good mostly because the stuff I did today was good.

The Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels now ranks among my all time favorite non-art museums. I may have a doctorate in music,  but damn if there aren’t a whole slew of musical instruments I never heard of. They provide an audio guide that allows you to listen to recordings of the instruments you’re looking at, and that really brought the exhibit to life.  The first floor was devoted to traditional instruments from all different cultures. The second floor was instruments of Western art music,  and the third floor was all keyboard instruments,  both early and modern. Something I suppose I was aware of but never really synthesized before is that while all other instruments,  whether blown,  struck,  or plucked, have existed in all cultures,  keyboard instruments are uniquely European.

This is a Geigenwerk, from the 17th century. It was one of the first keyboard instruments capable of producing long, sustained notes. The strings are “bowed” by parchment-covered metal wheels. When a key is pressed, the string lowers against the turning wheel. It required two players: the musician at the keyboard and an assistant turning a crank to keep the wheels moving. This is the last surviving Geigenwerk in the world. It was in a cathedral in Toledo, Spain.
String instruments that probably take a lot of time to tune
I guess this is a piano for someone with short arms.
I don’t know if each note comes out of a different bell, but I’m pretty sure it only plays one note at a time, so why it needs so many bells is a mystery.

The Royal Museums of Fine Arts actually consist of four connected museums.  I wasn’t especially impressed by the Fin de Siecle Museum,  and I didn’t go into the Modern Museum,  but the other two were great.  I loved the Breughel works and the Rubens in the Old Masters Museum, and the Magritte Museum provided an excellent retrospective of his work.

I got back to Ghent and took Rick Steves’ walking tour.  The exterior of St.  Bavo Cathedral is covered in scaffolding,  but that’s bound to happen wherever you go in Europe (see my pictures of the Duomo in Siena). But seeing the Ghent Altarpiece was one of those moments in life that make you feel completely insignificant. One of the wonderful things about traveling in Europe is realizing that, regardless of what you do or don’t believe, there is something extraordinary about the capacity faith has to inspire greatness in artists.

Ghent is the kind of European city that makes me love Europe.  It’s charming and filled with attractive works of monumental architecture, yet it feels totally lived in. I enjoyed a walk down a narrow street nicknamed “Graffiti Street,” established as an official place where graffiti is sanctioned in order to reduce its presence elsewhere.  (I have to say,  there is a shit-ton of graffiti in Belgium and pretty much all of Europe I’ve been to.)

Graffiti Street

And one mistake I made is relying on my phone too much.  Battery life is limited,  and between posting to Facebook and using the Kindle app with my guidebooks installed and using maps to find my way around, I’ve pretty much used up battery life in the course of a day. Next time I think a separate Kindle device with long battery life will be a good idea.

I had the best meal of my trip so far at dinner tonight,  and I was sitting next to an American couple trying not to eavesdrop,  but then they got into a conversation with the couple sitting on the other side of them,  and it turns out they are both starting the same Rick Steves tour tomorrow. So I got to chatting with all of them. It seems the tour was originally supposed to include some time in Brussels,  but they canceled that part of the tour and added it to Ghent after last month’s bombings. One of the couples said they are going to Brussels tomorrow morning on their own before the tour starts, so I gave them some tips. One tip I should have taken for myself was not to take a local train from Brussels to Ghent when an express train is leaving four minutes later.

Tomorrow I will see some of the sights in Ghent that I haven’t had time for as of yet, and then I head to Antwerp. Til then…

2 thoughts on “Everything’s better after a good night’s sleep

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