The Graslei: Historical houses in medieval port

WOW, what a picturesque city.  I am so sorry that much of our time in Ghent was spent in damp weather and our pictures don’t do justice to the sights that you see as you travel around Ghent.  The city isn’t “cutesy” but it is lovely with its variety of architecture, its canals and wonderful skylines.  We walked and listened to one of our self-guided audio tours in Ghent.  There were 24 stops and there were still many amazing buildings in the city centre that weren’t even mentioned.

On our first day in Ghent we just cycled through the town to get an overall feel for it.  Around almost every corner was another really picturesque sight.  At one point we came upon a medieval castle right in the centre of town.  That surprised us.  Like Brugge, Ghent has canals and rivers running through the city which are always nice to see. 

Castle in centre of Ghent

We had been told that Belgium was very good for bike paths and bike trails and it is true.  They try and separate the cars from the bikes, although this isn’t always possible.  The drivers are much more aware of cyclists and stop when they see one approaching a crosswalk.  Mike was amazed when even a very large truck stopped to wait for us and we hadn’t even got to the crosswalk yet. 

Bike parking lot

The picture here is of one of the many bicycle parking lots in a train station in Ghent.  How would you ever find your bike at the end of a long day????  Given how many cyclists there are we were quite disappointed in how poorly the trains were set up for bikes.  France, which often wasn’t great, still had better setups for bicycles on trains than we have seen so far in Belgium.  Typically in Belgium, we have had to stand on the train holding our bikes and trying, often unsuccessfully, not to not block the aisles and doorways.  I mentioned to one conductor that I was surprised about the lack of support for bicycles on the trains and he said “Where do you think you are – Holland!”.  Next year we will be taking our bikes on the trains in Holland and look forward to seeing how well set up they are.  My editor and Dutch husband pointed out that my previous sentence is actually incorrect.  He insists that I should use “the Netherlands” instead of “Holland”.  North Holland and South Holland are only two of the thirteen provinces in the Netherlands.  Mike was born in one of the other eleven.  I don’t understand why, as children, we were taught that the country was called Holland.  I wonder what Canadian schools teach today.  Obviously the Flemish conductor is still using Holland when he really means the Netherlands.

In the last article I talked about the town we were staying in having two common names Brugge and Bruges.  Brugge being the local Flemish/Dutch name while Bruges is used by the English.  Last week I felt that I had to go with what the locals called their city.  For some reason I haven’t followed that logic in this article.  Gent is the local name for the city we are staying in while Ghent is the English name which I have used here.

Great skyline from the Graslei in Ghent

One of the loveliest areas of Ghent is known as the Graslei.  It was a medieval port with a great row of historical buildings.  Supposedly if you actually get to see the sun, these buildings are all reflected in the long river.  Even without the sun, they were lovely.  This area is often used as a meeting area for residents and a place to relax and enjoy a drink in one of the many cafés.  The picture at the top of this article is also a picture of the Graslei.

Completely out of place City Pavilion

The picture here is of the City Pavilion in the centre of Ghent.  It actually looks a little better in the picture because it is a dark day and it looks like it might almost blend into the area, it doesn’t!  I firmly believe that the architect of this glass and wood open structure must have been a fan of the pyramid at the Louvre.  This one is equally out of sync with its surroundings.  I have to admit that, like the Louvre, there are different opinions.  I read that this pavilion was a “Masterpiece of contemporary art”.  It really looked out of place to Mike and I and didn’t fit the neighbourhood.

Sundays in much of Europe are much more like Sundays used to be in Canada 40 years ago with closed shops, grocery stores etc.  Even in tourist areas many of the tourist type stores are closed.  So far in Flanders or the Flemish portion of Belgium we haven’t had much of a problem with restaurants closing at 1:30 like they often do in France.  The other day we drove to the pretty town of Tournai which was in the French region of Belgium and they seemed to have accepted the French tradition of closing all their restaurants down for the afternoon which is too bad.  The rest of our time in Belgium will be spent in the French region of Wallonia.  We will be back to not being able to eat when we are out on our bikes for the afternoon.

We did drive into Brussels and spent one day doing the self-guided audio tour in that city which was very nice.  We are leaving tomorrow for a campsite on the other side of Brussels so we will return to visit Brussels a few more times.  I will post my thoughts and pictures next week.

We have just spent 10 days in a campground in Ghent that is 4 km from the historic centre.  It is so nice to just be able to bike into the city.  Overall Belgium isn’t as good as France is for having a lot of campsites with many of them close to city centres. 

Multiple churches in Ghent

Ghent has a number of churches and cathedrals that are just great to see and with their steeples that add to the overall skyline. 

Friends of ours from Canada shipped their camper to Europe in 2019 and we have met up with them a couple of times.  They joined us here in Ghent for a week.  They are getting ready to ship their camper home very shortly.  They are very disappointed that their last month in Europe was very wet with it raining for at least part of almost every day.  We seem to have quickly gone from heat waves and droughts to days of cold weather when the rain doesn’t stop.

So far we have managed to bike from the English Channel south through Brugge, Ghent and into Brussels.  If the weather cooperates we may try and continue cycling right through Belgium.  At some point the remaining time before we have to find somewhere to leave the camper for the winter may become a problem.  We leave Ghent tomorrow for a campground that, in high season, takes 900 campers and has a huge number of activities for children and a large aquatic centre.  I am actually glad to say that most of these recreational facilities have now closed for the year.

Vrijdagmarkt (Friday Market) square in Ghent
Royal Dutch Theatre

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