Welcome to Ghent, Belgium. Oh wait…your not here…we are. Well, that sucks for you because this place is great. It was pretty uneventful getting here other than just a really long travel day – San Francisco to Frankfurt to Brussels and then a train to Ghent. Most of the Belgians speak English but they do like to mess with us by not putting many signs in English so we were pretty sure we were on the right train to get here but didn’t get confirmation until we were way the hell out of Brussels.
We met with our friend Johan’s son, Thomas, who went to college here and then stayed to work. He was a great tour guide and really good company. The only disturbing thing is he looks a lot like my middle brother Steve, albeit 30 years ago but has the same mannerisms as our exchange student from Germany of a few years past, Tammo, who we’ll be seeing tomorrow in Bruges. Thomas says that the Belgians are not terribly patriotic about the county but there are three things that you just don’t do here:
1) Don’t drink crappy imported beer when you are in Belgium. If you do, they will throw you out of the country with handcuffs made of empty Bud Light cans.
2) Don’t bad mouth the French Fries. Belgium has the best French Fries (not sure why we call them French Fries if the Belgians say they have the best but who am I to question a thousand years worth of wisdom). They are pretty good but apparently, I’m not discriminating enough to be a French Fry connoisseur. By the way, the Belgians call them Pom Frites.
3) Don’t bad mouth their chocolate. I’m not sure what happens if you do but we did walk by a meat market and not everything hanging from the ceiling looked like it came from a pig or a cow…
The downtown area is great for walking but the cobblestones can play havoc with your balance if you drink too much, (gleaned from watching other people, not doing it ourselves – we’ve actually been remarkably restrained so far). A sense of direction is required because not a single street is straight or level and then there are two winding rivers thrown in with various bridges to really mess with you. We had one full day in Ghent so we walked the downtown Centrum district which dates back past the middle ages. Usually my sense of direction is great but a couple of times I got turned around and Karen…yes that Karen…the one who can get lost in her own closet, knew where we were. She was dead on. I was torn between being proud and a little freaked out wondering if someone had switched my wife with a body snatcher.
Downtown Ghent has three large towers; two from cathedrals and another that is a bell tower. It was a market town going back for centuries so there are a few areas that still retain the atmosphere of what they used to sell, particularly the fish market area.
We hiked up all 255 steps of the Belfrey (a bell tower) to get a view of the city and early the next day before heading to Bruge, went though Gravensteen castle which was founded in the eleven hundreds. It’s a smaller scale replica of a massive crusader castle that was built in the Middle East.
Tomorrow, off to Bruges. also called the Venice of the North. If the stories from my brother, Dennis or Steve H. (a friend from the UK), are correct, Bruges translates to “the land of many hangovers”. This could be fun!