Tag Archives: Ghent

Traveling in Europe: Ghent

Europe 2011: Ghent

Clicking on the above picture will take you to the photo album.

After two days in Antwerp, I took a train to Ghent. I stayed at Het Rommelwater and Renee had sent me directions and which station to disembark from. It was a short walk down the major road, where the street curved away. Like Holland, Belgium has many tall narrow buildings and I lugged my heavy suitcase up to the second floor. The room was a double (since renovations were underway outside of the single room), and had a little sitting area and table. Outside the room was a fridge, toaster and microwave for use by the guests. Like many guesthouses, there were maps and information on the city.

gargoyles, waterspouts, belfry, belfort, clock tower, Ghent, Gent, Belgium, gothic, medieval

A view from the belfort overlooking Ghent.

 

I probably could have taken a bus but I walked to the city center along one of the canals in about twenty minutes. The weather was excellent so I didn’t mind the walk and a chance to take pictures. It looked like Ghent was going through a major reconstruction of some of its oldest buildings, which included the  town hall, a mixture of several centuries’ architecture. Some places you cannot get into unless you take a tour so I signed up to see inside the stadhuis. I was the only non-Dutch speaker (Belgians speak French and/or Dutch but it’s called Flemish) so I ended up getting a private tour. This was awesome because I could ask all the questions I liked. The hall is a blend of gothic architecture at one end and the more plain 17th century architecture at the other. As buildings of civic fortitude it wasn’t magnificent but it was interesting. There was even a throne room, with red velvet, a canopy and some ostentation. Supposedly one of the round seats with a cushion on top actually hid a commode underneath.

After the stadhuis I went over to the belfort, constructed in the 1300s. It also was the old cloth hall and this part of Belgium was known for its linen, wool and especially its lace. From the guildhall you could go up the clock tower or belfry, which houses at least four floors including many bells, a giant music box tumbler that controls the carillon bells, and the metal skeleton of the last gilded dragon that adorns the steeple. I decided to walk up all the stairs, that’s 366 or so, although there is an elevator that goes part way up. I stopped in at each floor to read the displays and let myself breathe. At the very top you can lookout over the heads of gargoyle waterspouts in 360 degrees. I took the elevator down, then wandered about the streets.

gothic architecture, medieval, Ghent, Gent, Belgium, travel, history,

This medieval building had more modern whimsical statues.

I did go into Saint Bavo cathedral but after the churches of Holland and Antwerp I was a little oversaturated and it was pretty tame in comparison.  I found Het Gravensteen (meaning castle of the count), which was built in the 12th century. Unfortunately it was so late in the day that it was closed. The castle is not as large as a city block, though it looks impressive and has a tiny moat around it. I would have loved to see the inside as castles were few and far between in these areas. Still, the weather was lovely for wandering along the streets and canals.

When it came time for dinner, there were many restaurants lining the canals. Ghent was my biggest food fail of the whole trip, which included England and Holland. One place was canopied, looking a little better class than some of the other places, and had this variety of shellfish including whelks and cockles. I’d never tried these so I walked in and asked for a table. They told me to take a seat outside and a waiter would be by. As I perused the menu I saw that you received a selection of shellfish for about 35 euros, definitely not cheap. But I waited and waited and waited. I don’t know if there was a prejudice over serving a single person, I wasn’t dressed well enough or the waiter just couldn’t see me sitting there but after 15 minutes with no service I left.

Ghent, Gent, Belgium, canals, architecture, travel

Ghent's canals are wider and fewer than those in Holland's cities.

The next place I chose didn’t work because the menu was almost all fried food. By the time I found a place to eat it was dark. I sat outside since the weather was still fairly mild and decided to try the eel, which I’ve only had as sushi before. The eel was cut in chunks and deep friend, rather tasteless and greasy. It came with a salad and mediocre fries, which is saying something for a country that prides itself on its frites.

I think the combination of all the construction around the cathedral and clock tower, the sad dining experience and some places being closed before I got to them, left me with little memory of Ghent. I was also coming down with a cold. The travel guide said you could do Belgium in two days (if you just hit the highlights) and Ghent could definitely be done in a day.

Ghent, Gent, travel, Belgium, belfort, belfry, clock tower, history

These life size statues were in the bottom most level of the clocktower.

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Accommodations: Of B&Bs and Hotels

Part II, I suppose. I just covered the places I stayed in, in Horley, England and in Holland. In all, I stayed in Amsterdam, Delft and Den Bosch. I found I liked the smaller cities and towns more than the big cities, though there is so much to see that you have to go to Amsterdam for a couple of days.

Mabuhay Lodgings, Antwerp, accommodation, travel, B&B, bed and breakfasts, guest houses

Mabuhay's room

Originally, for Belgium, I was going to go to Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges and Ghent. I arrived in Antwerp fairly early in the day but couldn’t check into my B&B, Mabuhay Lodgings, until after 8 that night. So I checked my luggage into storage at the train station. A bit of a fiasco that, since half of the containers were out of order. I had to walk a very long ways (probably equivalent to 4 city blocks)  to the other end of the station and the other lockers. Here is where cash won’t get you far. It requires a credit card and cost me about $10 for the day.

I headed to the old quarter and spent the day going to museums and cathedrals (more on the actual cities in another post). The problem was, that by the time I was ready to go to the B&B, it was rather late and on a Sunday. There few people to ask and it was not very clear on where to catch the tram to the right area. While Holland had trams with either signage or a system that called out the stops, Belgium did not. I was at two wrong spots before I got the right one. Luckily they were all within a hundred feet of each other.

I have no problem asking for help and directions and the tram driver wasn’t sure which street was Drakstraat (three or four streets converged to one at that point) but there were both transit people and police standing at the junction. I asked them and even they had to look it up. Lo and behold, in front of us, the street going left was Drakstraat and the tram had come down it. Tells you something about how often Belgians look at their own street signs.

Art Nouveau, buildings, architecture, art, Antwerp

An Art Nouveau facade in Antwerp

Eric and Herman were the owners of Mabuhay and Eric helped me in with my luggage. Again, they were on a major street but all streets are somewhat major or minor, with cars and trams going over cobblestones. The rooms here share a spacious bathroom with a shower and a tub, complete with rubber duck, and two sinks. The rooms have a sink as well so you can do some basic ablutions or get some water when you want.

Eric was very helpful in pointing out sites to see, giving me a map and mentioning a section of great Art Nouveau buildings near by. The breakfast seemed to be toast and cold selections (meats, cheese) but since I was still not feeling well I didn’t eat one day. But there may have been other items too. This B&B was around 45-50 Euros, standard price.

I had arrived in Antwerp on a Sunday, and was going to go into Brussels the next day but many museums are closed on Mondays in Europe. I chose to just hang around Antwerp, then I moved to Ghent for two days and stayed at Het Rommelwater. This B&B is about a ten-minute walk from the train station (Dampoort) but again, you will hear cars in the morning. I dont’ think there is a place in Holland or Belgian where you won’t, what with thin insulation, large windows and cobblestones.

Het Rommelwater, Ghent, B&B, accommodation, bed and breakfast, guest house, travel

Het Rommelwater's double bed.

Reneé met me at the door and gave me some lozenges for my sore throat. I opted for the non-breakfast option, which was available, and the price was a very reasonable 38 Euros. The room was spacious and clean, with a small fridge for guests in the hall. All of the above B&Bs included Wifi. I ended up with a double bed because work was going on outside the other, single room. I have not mentioned bed comfort in any of these posts because that really depends on the person. The pillow was a bit too small but otherwise, everything was fine. There also were maps and other information available for the traveler. Het Rommelwater was about a 15-20 minute walk to the town center, along a canal.

The last place I stayed in continental Europe was in Calais. I needed to catch an early morning ferry to Dover so it was just a short stay. The Hotel Richelieu included breakfast but I again, didn’t eat it since I had to get up too early. This is a small hotel, almost a guest house, owned by a man doing the renovations by himself. The halls are kind of tatty but I obviously stayed in one of the rooms that’s been redone. The wallpapers in different rooms are representative of the Baroque and Rococo eras.  There is no air conditioning but balcony doors that help cool down the room. (It was very hot in Calais.) In fact I’m not sure any B&B had air conditioning or fans. I also booked many of these places online. If you can, bring a phone that works. Next time I’ll have to see if there is a cheap cell phone I can buy there. Next post will deal with the last places on my trip: Canterbury and London.

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