Thursday, 20 June 2013

Oh Flander: Day trip to Ghent, Belgium



Ghent (Gent), in the Flanders region of Belgium, is a much less known cousin to her fairytale-esque cousin Brugge. Once considered amongst the richest cities in Europe, the city's former glory is still evident in her architecture.

Ghent, Belgium
With a quirky personality that is as attractive to the traveller as her churches, Ghent was an ideal day trip option for me when I was living in Aachen.
A quick bus ride to Eupen allowed me to avail my Go Pass (more on that later). Trains leave from Eupen Bahnhof for Gent St. Pieters (Ghent) 15 minutes past every hour and complete the travel time in 2 hours and 21 minutes.






The first thing that strikes you in the city is how young the crowd generally is. This is due to the large number of students that live in the city.
I went to Ghent at the end of October and the weather was pleasantly cool. I spent the entire day on foot, from the station to the city center and back to the station.
Most guidebooks suggest walking in the city center since it is small and compact. However, I felt that walking to the city center from the station also allowed me to see things I would have otherwise missed.
I saw a bed and breakfast "Aanaajaanaa" ("To come and go" ) that immediately made me homesick.
Aanajaana Bed and Breakfast

 Further down the lane, there were more quirky store displays.

First Class Second Hand - a shop selling second hand clothes
Decapitated mannequin in a shop window announcing discount offers
Just before I reached the city center, as I was looking for a place to sit, what should I see but a house with a stone man sitting on its front stairs.

Sit a while with me




City Center



I was already smiling to myself, Ghent has that effect on people I suppose, when the street I was walking on opened up to the city center and I drew my breadth.  No, it's not as grand as Paris or as varied as Berlin, but it still hits you, with all its quaintness and old world charm. It hits you softly and quietly and suddenly you feel very warm and happy.




Immediately noticeable in the city center is the Belfry or the Belfort Tower from which the city bells have tolled since the Middle Ages.

Belfort and the Cloth Hall


Belfort

Close to the Belfry is St. Nicholas' Church or Sint Niklaaskerk.

Sint Niklaaskerk
I went inside the church as stayed there for a while, sat and watched people pray, lit a candle, listened to the organ playing, saw the sunlight pour through the stain-glass windows and generally felt at peace.








After a while, as hunger called, I got out of the church and went for a walk along one of the canals. I saw a vendor selling snails in a wine broth and I thought to myself, that's my lunch.

Snails in wine broth


 Some lazing around by the canal made me spot the canal tours starting nearby. The tour are generally cheaper for students and I paid 4.50 for the trip.

Boat tour

The boats usually have flags on them indicating the languages that will be spoken on them. All you need to do is identify the flag corresponding to the language you want and get on. The boat ride took me around most of the tourist spots in Ghent and gave me a chance to see the buildings I did not have the time to visit. Of these, Het Gravensteen, the imposing Castle of Counts, was the one I missed exploring the most. It looked remarkable rising from the canal waters like some subterranean monster.


Gravensteen

After a long day, as sun was setting, I called it a day, caught a train back to Eupen, sat for an hour at the deserted bus stand for the last bus to Aachen and dreamt happy dreams of Ghent on the way back home.

So long Ghent, you lovely little town with your little alleyways full of surprise, your huge churches and gloomy castle, dark canals and memories of an era gone by... So long Ghent, till we meet again.