Medieval/ Chocolate/ Beer/ Fries/ Waffles. Belgium!
We arrived in Ghent to what could only be described as a medieval ghost town. Five major factors for this were: 1) It’s a bit of a college town and people were off on summer break. 2) It was the middle of a Belgium vs Italy EuroCup football match (which garners the attention of a March Madness/ Superbowl tournament). 3) The old town of Ghent is the largest car-free/ pedestrian-only zone in Belgium. 4) It was slightly raining. 5) It was also 9:30 in the evening.
^Our hostel, the one with the red umbrellas in front
We spent two and a half days in the peaceful old town of Ghent visiting chocolate shops, eating fries and waffles, and drinking gueze lambic beers, as recommended by our beer connoisseur friends.
On one of the days we took a Free Walking Tour. I highly recommend these whenever possible. the knowledge gained adds an extra layer of perspective. Just simply tip the guide at the end. From the tour we learned about the architecture and history of the city. Each building’s facade tells the story of who lived there or what work they performed. We learned that during the middle ages, Ghent was the second largest city in Europe (after Paris) thanks to its wool textile & port industry. We also explored chocolate shops and the Free-Grafitti alleys where street art is not only legal but encouraged.
^Castle Gravensteen, or “the castle of the counts”
^The “Our House” & The Bond Moyson Socialist Buildings
^Walking out of the old city center toward the train station, Ghent emerges as an incredible modern city.
En route to Bruges we expecting more of the same. Admittedly, the movie In Bruges is what drew us to the town, it being “ like a #@&%ing fairytale or something.” And though it was lovely with “those canals, and bridges, and cobbled streets, and those churches, all that beautiful @#$%ing fairytale stuff…” it was also overrun by hordes of tourist as well as the many shops catering just to them, removing much of the authentic feel Ghent had. Though that should have been expected as summer was in full swing. I’m sure in the spring or autumn it retains its magic. Still, the charm did win this grumpy old man over and we had an enjoyable time wandering the village and listening to a free concert in the square by The Belgium Navy Orchestra, while drowning in some Belgian stew and fries.
Note: we spent two nights in Antwerp. However, all we saw was the impressive main train station, the Hasidic Jewish neighborhood 5 blocks away from the train station where our AirBnB was located, and a market where we got groceries for the two days we spend locked up in our apartment relaxing, recuperating, and resting before heading to the Swiss Alps next!