On 12 August, we spent a long travel day to Gent (Ghent), Belgium with what was supposed to be 3 train changes. As happens from time to time, one of our connections was cancelled so D figured out a different one while we were traveling, but it made for 4 train changes and a very, very long day to Ghent. We arrived tired but looking forward to our week-long stay at our spacious Airbnb. In the 17 days prior to our arrival in Ghent, we had only 3-4 night stays and that takes its toll on the intrepid DamClark’s.
Ghent is located in the northern Flemish region of Belgium. It’s a canal based 12th century city with a port, and a large pedestrianized area around the old town. When we arrived, our hosts had given us a bag of the local confection called Cuberdon (Gentse neus, neuzen, or noses). It’s a conical sweet that we both think reminds us of the orange peanut shaped marshmallow candies from when we were kids. We aren’t big candy eaters but enjoyed trying out the neuzens.
Sint-Baafskathedraal (St. Bavo’s Cathedral) A huge imposing building, but has an odd mix of styles. Overwhelmingly in the baroque style, the interior didn’t fit in with the Gothic architecture of the building. But who am I to say? Although, we have seen a number of Gothic cathedrals over the years. We found the crypt’s fading frescoes and ceiling work to be the best part of the structure.
While staying in Ghent we were glad to have a week so we could move around the rainstorms. Between two rain days we found a dry, beautiful travel day and grabbed a train to Bruges, 25 minutes away. Upon arrival, we started our day with a café stop then met up with a free tour of the city. Free tour means if you felt it was worth your time, tip the guide. After 2.75 hours, we had indeed seen the city, and heard about the history as well as funny stories. Although longer than we had anticipated, the tour was a good use of our time on this day trip. After the tour, we stopped for a much-needed rest at the 1856 De Halve Maan (Half Moon Brewery). They serve up Brugse Zot (fool). Why fool? The people are known as fools of Bruges, a historical nickname from the 1400s. The alcohol content of Belgium beers can be much higher than even the craft brewing in the US. For example, the lightest Zot was 6%, I had the Dubbel at 7.5%, then it went from 9-11%, but goes much higher at other breweries. Unfortunately, they did not do flights so I wasn’t able to do a taste test without possibly passing out from 4-11 oz. heavy beers. We had a nice hunk of local cheese with spicy mustard and it went great with the beer.
After our break, we walked backed through areas we had wanted to return to when doing our tour. We stopped in at a free 40 minute harp concert that turned out to be quite enjoyable. It featured a number of instruments from the harp family played by Luc VanLaere (grand concert harp, Celtic, Chinese and Japanese, Psaltery, steel harp, and a large instrument with 240 strings built by the artist which contained a number of 20 stringed mono harps).
As we wandered, we passed a lace maker in the doorway of her home doing what she does best. It was amazing to watch and hear the bobbins clicking away as she worked. But we couldn't figure out how she could keep track of the minuscule pattern.
We stopped for dinner at a quiet little café then made our way back to Ghent on the train. Our day trip was 12 hours long and I showed 11 miles walking on my Fitbit!
A few more words on Belgium beer:
I hear there are over 600 Belgium beers in a country the size of Maryland in the US, so I’d say they know a thing or two about brewing. Beer may be brewed with hops, but many are brewed without, known as a gruit or grut, and instead use herbs and spices as part of the brewing process. Interesting thing - even in restaurants and bars here they have more bottled beer and usually only a few taps. The larger percentage of beers are heavy beers with more alcohol content at 5% and up. The Guden Carolus Tripel I tried, thanks to a tip from my Uncle Ray Carolus in the states, was de-licious. It was a 9% beer and I enjoyed every bit of it. I had done some research on Belgium beer and had a nice conversation with a waiter one night regarding taps vs. bottles. Basically, it would be difficult with all the different beers in this country to do taps and keep beer fresh as it would need to be tapped out within a week - otherwise it would get flat and lazy. Also, in the UK they serve up a pint while in Belgium it is an 11-oz. chalice (due to the heavy beer alcohol content I am told). These are beers to be sipped not sloshed down - although the ales I had in England were 5 - 9%, and a 16 oz. ale most often costs less than the chalice beers served up in Belgium.
We found Belgium to be a bit higher in basic food prices which carries over into restaurants. We had difficulty finding really great food in restaurants and decent service. But after reading a number of restaurant reviews, it’s not just us. Fortunately, we were eating more of my cooking since we were here for a week and I had a kitchen. That being said, both Ghent and Bruges are lovely towns that deserve time spent. Ghent is a mix of old and new while Bruges maintains more historical quaintness. Prior to leaving Ghent, we walked the old town after dark to see the night lighting. It was quite beautiful and made for a dramatic walk on a mid-60s night.
Thanks for joining our journey.