Friday, 28 October 2011

First Impressions of Ghent

Our campsite in a suburb of Ghent gave us any number of choices:  a 20-minute bus ride into the city centre, a 30-minute bike ride into the city centre, a 2-mile walk to Sint Pieter train station.  Bill often did the cycle way into a supermarket, Carrefour, for food, but I only cycled into Ghent the once. 

Even though cyclists nearly always have right of way - over cars and even pedestrians, apparently; even though drivers were very patient (our helmets and gloves clearly marked us as tourists), I still found it quite nerve-racking.  Yep, I'm a big chicken.  Once we got into the city, I simply didn't have the cycling skills to weave between the unpredictable pedestrians.  So, we tended to take the bus into the city and either to walk or get the bus from the train station.

Ghent is a lot like other major European cities, with the lovely squares, the tall old buildings, the cobbled streets, the cafes on squares or along waterfronts, the many cyclists and the slightly dressier clothing styles.  

The tourist information said the city had an historical area and an artistic area.  We walked everywhere we could think of and took maybe a dozen or so photos (every minute), but there wasn't a clear distinction that I noticed between the different areas.

What I did notice right away was how much modern life was overlaid on top of history, sometimes not in a pretty way.  We experienced this all over Belgium. 

Ghent isn't a city most people seem to visit; Bruges is more the tourist town. 

Bill chose the place he did near Ghent because it was between Brussels and Bruges, which seemed fair enough.  

Ghent seems more just a place that people work and live, though there were plenty of tourists around, judging from the languages we heard. 

Even Wikipedia says that Ghent is a place most people overlook, but when all was said and done, of the four cities we visited, we decided we liked Ghent the best, though it might just be a case of familiarity breeding fondness or something like that.

Bill was initially struck by the Flemish architecture. 

Most of the buildings seem to have the triangular facade at the top and the (what I call) stair-step roof line, but there were plenty of variations as well. 

Bill decided that the load bearing walls were such that a nearly infinite variety of window arrangements were possible and if the front is only a facade then that too was quite flexible. 

They did talk about an old Guildhall that had been 'lost' behind a facade, mind!

We came back to Ghent several times during the two weeks we were in Belgium, so I'll probably show you more of it later.

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