Our first stop on our trip to Southeast Belgium was at the Abbey in Orval. This abbey is still working - it has about 30 monks, runs a retreat hostel, runs a cheese making factory, and has a brewery. It also has the ruins of the original abbey. You are only allowed to tour the ruins, so we were not able to see the cheese or brewery areas - we had hoped we would be able to do that.
The ruins are amazing - it's almost beyond comprehension that structures like these could have been built so long ago. We had a fun time going around and learning more about abbeys. Turns out they are all built with the same general plan - church, cloister, library, dorms, and so on all built in the same layout situated in the same direction. This makes for some interesting comparisons after all this time has passed.
This abbey was apparently funded by a lady who dropped her ring into a lake and had it returned to her by a fish - she was so pleased that she wanted to do something so she built an abbey. Sometimes these stories seem a little bit out there!!
The more amazing thing is the growth and changes each one of these abbeys goes through over time. This one had a museum that showed pictures of the abbey superimposed over each other so you could see the change from one time period to the next - very fascinating.