In this column I want to talk to you about Ghent. Ghent is the capital of the province East-Flanders in Belgium, a small country in Europe, and has about 225 000 inhabitants.
My main purpose is to give you a first impression of the city I live in since a couple of years. For this, I'll take you with me to some places that made a big impression on me … until now. Keep in mind this will not be a complete tour to all places of interest in the city! This wouldn't be possible anyway as there is so much to see and to do. Shall we leave?
Can I ask you to close your eyes? We will walk to the place from where you get the most impressive view of the city: the Saint-Michael' bridge. Now we are standing on top of this bridge, open your eyes. Do you like the view? The towers you see in front of you are the three most famous towers of the city: Saint-Nicholas' church, the Belfry, and the Saint-Bavo's cathedral. In the later, the famous painting "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" (Jan Van Eyck, 1432) is hanging, which is considered as a high point in the 15th century Flemish art. Now I want to draw your attention on the area under the bridge. Here the Graslei and Korenlei are situated. The numerous waterways passing through the inner city all flow towards the former port at the Graslei. The elegant facades of the Graslei and Korenlei represent different architectural styles. Each facade reflects a period of history remembering the visitor of the spirit of enterprise and the busy commercial activities of the old guilds. During sunny days, people are gathered at the waterside to talk, read, make music, have a drink etc. This is a fantastic area to overlook the day. Maybe you can relax here tonight before going to bed.
As regards me, the most impressive building in town is the Castle of Counts (Gravensteen), a medieval castle that was built in 1180 by Philip of Alsace, count of Flanders. Originally, until the 14th century, the castle had a military role (protecting the citizens). Afterwards, it has been used for a variety of purposes: mint, court, jail and cotton mill. The castle contains a crypt and a dungeon and also houses, court museum, and a collection of historical weapons and armors. Enter into the medieval times and discover it all during your self-guided tour! Don't forget to walk along the castle's encircling wall, from where you have a beautiful view over the city.
Lets continue our sightseeing in the "Patershol". The "Patershol" is a tight web of brick terraced houses dating from the seventeenth century. It is really nice to walk in these small streets, with a lot of good restaurants. Maybe we can come back here to have dinner later on!
At the other sight of town, at the "Sint-Pietersplein", excavations are carried out at the moment. Once a week, an archeologist gives detailed, updated information about these excavations (for free), which makes it even more interesting. While there, we should take advantage of the opportunity to visit the nature museum as well. Concerning me, it is worth the walk as you can discover other beautiful places in town in the meantime as well. Shall we have a look?
It was worth the effort wasn't it? Do you need to go away from the commotion in the streets for a while? Well, in that case I'll take you to the "Blaarmeersen", a recreation park with nice promenade walks, lawns where you can relax and read a book, playgrounds for the children, a big lake where you can surf, swim, kayak, etc. In other words, this is the perfect spot to relax and take it easy.
For the nature lovers, the "Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen" is a good alternative, a nature reserve where you can make nice walks, in complete silence. Binoculars are a must, so those who have them with them, don't forget to use them!
Ok, lets get back to the city center and have dinner in one of the restaurants I showed you earlier today (Patershol). For those who want to explore the nightlife, nightclubs and cafés are spread all over town. Don't forget, you are in Belgium, the European country known for its beers. But, always think about the day after…!
If you think one night of partying is not enough, you should come back in July as the Ghent Festivities (Gentse Feesten) take place then. For ten days, the whole city is turned upside down. Partygoers, culture lovers, and even children come into theirs own for sure. There are several performances on a number of podia and bars in town, street theatre, kermis, etc. A great time for young and old!
With this tip, I'll leave you to it. Remember there is a lot more to see than the places I showed you! Enjoy the rest of your stay, and maybe we'll meet again. See you!