Saturday, September 19, 2015

An Afternoon in Ghent.

Ghent.  Posing in front of the most beautiful place in the city - Graslei.

W

e arrived into Ghent around 1p and by the time we settled into our Airbnb apartment and hit the streets, it was close to 3p. One nice thing about traveling at this time of the year is that the day is still relatively long. We have a few hours, to see the historic city, before night falls.

Our Airbnb hostess had marked the location of the historic city relative to where our apartment is and I noticed Z taking a look at the map and his iPhone.  No doubt he had downloaded the Ghent app onto this phone and just needed to make sure he could locate our apartment on it.


Off we went!  Even though we had a tram ticket that could have taken us to the old city, I think we forgot about.  We walked.  As usual, my head is turning every which way to take in the sights and my camera is at the ready.

The neighborhood streets were quiet and it was a nice stroll.  There's a mixture of old and new buildings here but they are much larger and taller than the ones we saw in Ghent.  Already I get the sense that Ghent is a much larger city than Bruges.  I just kept hoping it was just as nice.

Along the way, I kept my eye out for a supermarket or small convenience store as I want to pick up some items for breakfast tomorrow morning.  We popped into one place that was like a mom and pop convenience store that sold some fresh produce and had some frozen items for sale.  Not exactly what I was looking for but it would do if we didn't come across a better place.

It was about a 20 minute walk before I noticed anything that looked like a historic building.  It was around the same time that quiet neighborhood street turned into lively, commercial street filled with shops, cafes, and restaurants.  Outside tables were filled with people dining in the sun.  It felt like the whole of Ghent was out enjoying the day.  Of course, there are plenty of tourists here as well.

I noticed the Number 1 tram moving slowly along the tracks.  Note to self, if we get tired, we can take the tram back to the apartment.

I knew we had arrived into the heart of the historic city when I saw the two churches.  We'll have to visit both churches later but for now, we just strolled by them.

Sint-Niklaaskerk (Saint Nicholas, on the left) and the Belfy of Ghent on the right.

The Belfy of Ghent stands 91 meters (299 feet) tall makes it the tallest belfry in Belgium.

Another view of St. Nicholas Church.

Ghent is renown for having the largest pedestrian only historic city.  It's most certainly very nice to be able to just walk and not worry about your eye out on any sort of motorized traffic crossing paths with you.


By now, it was obvious that Ghent is a much larger place than Bruges and surprisingly, I like it much better.  I like the vibe here.  Bruges felt like a museum city with lots of gift shops.  Ghent feels lived in by *regular* folks - tourists are not overwhelming the place as was the case with Bruges.

As with both Brussels and Bruges, there is a lot of outstanding architecture here.  I absolutely love it!

Facade of Stadhuis (Town Hall)

The flags mark the entrance to Town Hall.

Just in case you need a reminder!

Some of the buildings are just so cute!  I'm sure some were homes back in the day but now, they're commercial establishments.

Like Bruges, Ghent is a canal city.  Every time I see a pretty view like this, I dream of living in an apartment overlooking it so I can see it all the time.




Everywhere we walked, it was one charming building after another.


It's Saturday today so there are lots of locals out and about.  Weatherwise, it was perfect for sitting and enjoying a drink or a meal outdoors.  I would have been happy finding a place to have a cup of decaf coffee, a dessert and just watch the world go by but we're only in Ghent for a day and a half so we do have to make sure we cover all the tourist spots.  I'll relax when I get home to the US :-)


By late afternoon, I decided we should start the hunt for a place to eat.  So far, if I leave it up to Z, it takes about an hour of wandering and checking out menus to finally settle on a place.  Today, I was going to give myself a head start :-)

Every now and again, my nose would catch scent of something sweet being cooked.  When on a street in Belgium, that would be waffles.  The sweet smell was so strong at one place that I had to check it out.  The waffles were being freshly made and if there hadn't been a long line, I would have gotten one.  Instead, I was drawn in by a small cart, standing right outside the door to the small waffle place, selling cuberdons, the iconic candy of Ghent.  The classic ones are purple in color and raspberry flavor which these were.  I decided I had to buy a few for Z and I to taste.  

As we walked about, I kept an eye on places to eat.  I know we should be eating Belgian cuisine but touristy Belgian food just doesn't satisfy my palate.  I wanted something different but I knew it would be difficult to convince Z to do otherwise as he, understandably, wants to savor the food of the place he's visiting.

As I learned, Japanese food is Z's favorite cuisine and as luck would have it, we happened upon a Japanese restaurant that had an all you can eat menu.  As far as I was concerned, it was a win-win situation so I flagged the waitress down and got us an outside table at the very front of the restaurant so we could eat and take in the view.

The waitress came by with the menu and the piece of paper that we could indicate our selections on.  Basically, you get to order three times BUT....whatever you don't eat, you have to pay for so we had to pick carefully.  Since Z knows his Japanese menu better than I do, I let him do the picking which of course, a few requested items from me.  Z is a BIG eater and this was his first meal of the day.  I think going all you can eat was a smart decision on my part.  I need to fill him up! :-)


Our waitress was originally from Beijing but she's lived in Ghent for 15 years.  When I asked her what it was like living here, she said it was boring.  I think she meant quiet and I can see how that would be.  Well, any place in Belgium would be quiet compared to chaotic Beijing!

Our sushi came served on fanciful wooden boat.  The fish slices were like slivers - there was more rice than fish but it was okay.  According to our waitress, the restaurant owners have to go all the way to Amsterdam to get the fresh fish and other Japanese food supplies as there are no Japanese grocery stores in Ghent.  I think there are Asian food stores though.


It was nice to sit for a while though it did get chilly at times as the sun went in and out of the clouds.  Both Z and I realized we had underpacked for this trip in terms of bringing warm clothes.  The historic weather charts indicated temperatures in the high 60's but when it's cloudy, it feels colder.

Z actually ordered 3 rounds of food - he was indeed famished!  Poor kid.  I'm going to have to encourage him to speak up when he needs to eat.  I'm at the opposite end of the metabolism spectrum these days - one good meal can last me all day!

When we were eating, I took the opportunity to ask the waitress about supermarkets.  She pointed out a couple of Carrefours including one that was in eyesight of the restaurant.  She said that was the more expensive of the two so after we paid the bill and left the restaurant, we went in search of the cheaper place.

More crow stepped gable rooftops.

A Do Not Throw Trash here sign.  I got a chuckle of the items they selected for including on the sign.  A teddy bear?  Headphones?

Sint-Jacobskerk (St. James Church)

We followed the waitress's instructions and found ourselves walking alongside a street that had been completely torn up - fencing had been installed to prevent both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.  I had fired up Google Maps to navigate us to Carrefour but for some reason, we couldn't find the place so I suggested we give up and just to the one on the square, near the restaurant.  We might have to pay slightly higher prices but given how little we would buying, I wasn't worried about the extra expense.

As we neared the supermarket, we spotted what I can only describe as a horse drawn beer truck.  I think they were parked outside a bar.  In any case, there was an older gentleman, dressed in a suit topped off with a bowler hat, standing before a pair of beautiful and perfectly matched Belgian draft horses.  Seated in the red carriage was the nattily dressed driver and his loyal sidekick, a Jack Russell terrier.  It was quite a sight to see!  I got a chuckle watching both men swigging beer from their glasses.  I guess it's okay to drink and drive your horse cart here :-)


Nearby the horse drawn beer cart was a fresh fruit stand.  I decided we should get some fruit.  There was a man selling some plums.  They looked so I got a few.

It's already fall in Ghent.  The pumpkins are out!
In Carrefour, I focused on getting food items to cobble together a simple breakfast which meant some eggs, a package of speck, a carton of citrus juice, yogurt, and a small baguette.  The pantry and fridge in our apartment was pretty well stocked with other basic items like butter, jam, and tea.  One thing I like about the supermarkets here - the DO NOT supply bags of any sort so you have to bring your own.  Everything I bought today fit in our backpacks but I had also brought along my trusty collapsible tote just in case we needed it.

With purchases safely stowed away, we continued our walk through the historic center.  Z was periodically looking down at this phone, presumably looking at the map to take us spots we had yet to visit.

Our walk had us going back towards where we had started from.  It was nice to see the same landmarks but from a different vantage point.

The Belfry of Ghent.  Town Hall is on the far right.

Town Hall.

Carvings on the facade of Town Hall.

That odd looking structure is called Market Hall and is designed and built in 2012 by Belgian studios Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee.  It's basically a large covered pavilion so I guess it's a multipurpose space.  I don't know.  Not my architectural cup of tea.

A small building adjacent to the Belfry.  The belfry, together with its attached buildings, belongs a
group of 56 belfries in Belgium and France, that were collectively inscribed on
UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1999.

Beautiful St. Nicholas Church.

The Old Post Office clock tower looms over the buildings of this charming medieval city.

The Old Post Office. Too bad my neighborhood post office doesn't look this grand. 


The more I see of this historic city, the more I love it.  Z was walking fast and I didn't want to lose sight of him so I just quickly snapped photos as I scurried along to keep pace with him.  I had originally planned for us to go to Antwerp tomorrow but I'm thinking we should just stay here another day.  There's so much to see that you can't absorb it all at once.

From the Old Post Office, it was a short walk to the River Lys.  On one side is the quay and streets of Graslei.  On the opposite side of the river is the quay and streets of Korenlei.  In medieval times, trading activities took place in this area and it was the harbor for the city.  Today, it's filled with a few restaurants and is a picture perfect spot to just sit down somewhere and watch the world go by.  By far, this is the pretty stretch of city in all of Ghent and I think it's even lovelier than any place I've been to in either Bruges or Brussels.

Graslei on the left, Korenlei on the right.  St. Michael's Bridge and Church in the background.

Looking up at the buildings of Graslei from the dock.

Looking over the river at Korenlei.

Another view of Korenlei.  Boat cruises are popular here but I don't think we'll be doing one as I don't think it is nice as the one we took in Bruges.

Another view of Graslei.

And one more view of the buildings of Graslei.  This truly is the most picturesque spot in Ghent.

Rooftops of Graslei and the Old Post Office clock tower.

Z taking photos of landmarks. He claims he's taken more photos on this trip because as
I stop to take photos, so does he.  Sure :-)  He better get a bigger SD card soon!


There's always time to take a break from looking at buildings to look at sweets, especially chocolates in Belgium!


Peering up at Sint-Michielskerk (St. Michael's Church) from beneath St. Michael's Bridge.


Walking up from the bridge to the side of the church.

Looking back at Graslei from St. Michael's Bridge.  St Michael's Church is just to the right of me.

I have no idea what this building is but it's beautiful especially in the warm light of the late afternoon sun.

Z had taken us on a whirlwind tour of Ghent, according to the map on his phone.  We were done after St. Michael's Bridge and Church.  Thankfully, because my feet were starting to get tired and I was long overwhelmed with all the sights - the historic buildings were becoming one big blur!

Of course, I could count on Z to take us the long way home.  By now, I was pretty tired of taking photos as well and only took two shots as we walked through part of the grounds of the Sint-Elisabethbegijnhof  (Grand Béguinage St. Elizabeth).


A sculpture caught my eye.  The memorial is called Bruges la Morte and depicts a dying woman lying half sunken in the ground.  It was named after the eponymous novel by Georges Rodenbach for whom the sculpture was created in memory of.  The sculpture was designed by Belgian artist, George Minne and erected in 1903.


We made it back to the apartment before nightfall and before it got too cold for the clothing we had on.  I was glad to be back in our studio apartment which was extremely comfortable.  Z was thrilled to finally have good WiFi!

I unloaded the groceries we had bought and then staged the cuberdons for their photo op.  They do taste like raspberry but are much too sweet for my liking.  Perhaps, they would be better as accompaniment to a cup of tea. They sure are darn cute looking though!


Next, it was on to doing the laundry.  As you might be able to tell from the photos, Z and I have been wearing the same sweatshirt/jackets for several days now....not to mention our other clothes could do with some washing.  I've gotten used to European washers and dryers - they are s-l-o-o-o-w so you need to allot a good amount of time to laundry.

As the dryer continues to toss our clothes dry, I am doing some reading for tomorrow after which I will finish writing this posting and then hit the sack.

Oh my God!  Z is freaking out.  He has spotted what he believes to be a mosquito.  Poor kid bloats up whenever he gets bitten.  I'm trying really hard not to laugh as I watch him spray Deet on himself.  Yes, he will have insect repellent on him while he sleeps tonight.....inside our apartment in Ghent....in late September....not exactly mosquito season.  I am having to put my head in my pillow to muffle my laugh.  I am dying trying to keep a straight face.

On that note, goodnight from Ghent!