Day 10 – Ladies and Ghentlemen!
Day 10 — Ghent.
Having done our Brussels stuff, we found ourselves with a choice — go downtown again to see the comic museum or to the train station and spend the day in the Belgian countryside in Ghent.
We chose the latter.
It was a midstream correction that paid off.
Ghent is actually a pretty big city, nearly 300,000, but the old town and canals are pretty medieval and the cobblestones will make you hobble like crazy.
It was August 15, which is a national holiday in Belgium. Nobody could tell us why but a Google search revealed that it was the Assumption of Mary, one of 12 official holidays in the country. That meant that most everything was closed.
So we pretty much had the touristy old town to ourselves… and a few thousand others. So we had time to relax and meander through the place.
The commanding sight of the town is a 300 foot bell tower, which was began in the 15th century but finished in the 20th, to serve as the symbol for the 1913 Ghent World’s Fair. (None of the rides were left … except the little boats that cruised through the canals of the town.
We used Rick Steves’ guide book and followed his city walk to discover Ghent, and it turned out to be just what we needed. We visited St. Nicholas’ Cathedral, which like so many Catholic churches in this area had been sacked by iconoclasts after the Reformation.
Genevieve went to ask the church representative a question only to be told “No French. English?” That’s right folks, we were no longer in Brussels. We were in Flanders, and they would rather converse in English than French, even though the country is officially bilingual. Reminded me a lot of the struggles of the minority French speaking population in Canada. But here in Belgium, there was revolutions, beheadings and a lot of swearing in gutteral tones. The Flemish are fiercely proud of their culture and still resent the Francophones.
That was the biggest takeaway from Ghent. That, and the fact that the restaurant where we at our late lunch offered horse steak. In fact they offered horse prepared a number of ways. Thankfully there was no Whipped Horse or Horse Meuniere (which sounds way too close to something else and probably would be accompanied by some kind of apples…)
The Cathedral of St. Bavo is the other large sight in the center of Ghent, featuring a couple of paintings by Peter Paul Rubens (can you say “Fat Jesus?”) and a couple of other Flemish masters.
The architecture spans centuries … and they even have a street devoted to grafitti. At the entrance there were a few cans of spray paint, but someone had already written “Piss Off” at the entry to the two or three block alleyway, so I really had nothing more to add.
We completed a delightful afternoon and got back to Brussels in time for a late supper.
Great day trip. Tomorrow, we’ll get even more medieval and get an early start to our last full day in Belgium with a trip to Bruges. We’ve been holding out on the chocolate poisoning so far … I think tomorrow we’ll succumb.
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