diamond geezer

 Saturday, July 01, 2017

Ghent is Belgium's third largest city (1st is Brussels, 2nd is Antwerp). It's part of Flanders, or more correctly the Flemish Region, which is a broad densely-populated strip to the north of of the country. In the Middle Ages it was one of Europe's wealthiest cities, thanks to the cloth trade, but has suffered several economic and political knockbacks over the centuries. A lot of old buildings survive in the centre of town, their setting enhanced by broad canals and an extensive car-free zone. And the locals never call it Ghent, they call it Gent, because that's the Flemish way. [Visit Gent]

Stuff to see in G(h)ent

» You're never too far from the looping chain of rivers/canals through the city centre, a network not quite at Amsterdam standards, but several rungs better than Birmingham. Hence tourists in Ghent always gravitate towards the waterside and the historic buildings which line them, each tall and narrow in true Flemish style. Some are now bars and restaurants, others banks and chiropractors, and others fractionally further out are homes, you lucky people. The most celebrated stretch borders Graslei and Korenlei, or would be celebrated were two buildings not scaffolded with a crane looming overhead, but you can't go wrong with a camera along most of the adjacent quays.

» A thriving market in canal tours exists, in what look like oversized rowing boats, with 40 minutes floating out and back for €7 looking like a decent bargain. Perhaps not quite so recommended in wet weather, however, as snowflake passengers shelter under large rainbow brollies shielding the beautiful architecture they've come to see. I made sure to walk a little further out of the central zone where the rivers grow wider and more residential, then metamorphose into post-industrial dockland with wharves, cranes and a giant power station. Only the city centre is properly chocolate box, and Ghent remains a living city.

» At Ghent's heart is Castle Gravensteen, or, if you prefer, 'The Castle of the Counts'. This proper Euro-fortress (with circular turrets) dates back to 1180, and comprises a lofty keep protected by an outer ring of sheer stone. For €10 you can tour the interior, wandering in through the main gate from the square where the lampposts flash, then up a spiral staircase or two. One of the upper rooms acts as a Torture Museum, replete with thumbscrews, bridles and anguish pears, plus a guillotine blade once used to decapitate local citizenry. There's a great view from the roof, assuming it's not drizzling, and also from the top of the gatehouse, assuming you spot the right stairs partway round the wall-walk. I enjoyed the non-Norman influences in a variety of uncluttered rooms around this self-guided tour.

» Ghent's well-known for its towers, and from one particular spot on St Michael's Bridge three of them line up. The closest is that of Sint-Niklaaskerk, a tall Gothic church, and the furthest rests atop St Bavo Cathedral. Pop inside to see The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a 12-part van Eyck altarpiece deemed one of the finest surviving Renaissance artworks, yours for €4. But the most iconic tower is the free-standing Belfry, proud civic symbol of the city's medieval wealth, from which a tuneful carillon of bells erupts every quarter hour. Take the stairs, or the lift, to the toppermost chamber to enjoy the view... or if it's grey and raining maybe save your €8 for another day.

» If you enjoy a good museum, Ghent has several. The Museum of Industry, Work and Textiles (MIAT) is located in a former three storey cotton mill and looked fascinating, but was closed on Wednesdays. The Design Museum has been in place since 1922, and I very much fancied a visit, but it was also closed on Wednesdays. I hoped to be able to look round the recently updated Ghent City Museum (STAM), but that turned out to be closed on Wednesdays too. This did leave the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK) and the Museum of Contemporary Art (SMAK) in Citadelpark, which close on Mondays instead, but I didn't feel the urge to go inside. If you enjoy a good museum, think twice before coming on a Wednesday.

» Yes, Ghent has trams - four lines in total. Line 1 connects the station to the city centre, which is otherwise a 30 minute walk. I walked it in both directions and didn't get on a tram all day, just to niggle those of you who like trams.

» Yes, Ghent has bikes. Cyclists are everywhere, weaving through the central pedestrianised zone and out onto separate paved segregated lanes, like somebody's planned all this from the bottom up. I didn't get on a bike because I like walking, and it was hard enough doing that while remembering to look the right way.

» Yes, Ghent has beer. Belgians love their beer and are damned good at making it, so several local brews are sample-able in a variety of relaxed hostelries. I didn't stop for a beer either, sorry. Or chocolates. Or frites. You might well have different priorities if you visit.

» Yes, Ghent has shops. For a conurbation the size of Leeds you'd expect nothing less, with a lot of designery fashiony boutiques for those who like them, and not especially targeted at tourists. Indeed tourism has yet to smother the city to any considerable extent, thanks to Bruges being quite close, hence Ghent remains a bit of an undiscovered treasure. I'm delighted to have made its acquaintance.

» For a free town map and tourist guide, locate the Fishmarket opposite the castle and the Tourist Information Centre within, where paperwork in a multiplicity of languages is available. Don't disregard the 'seasonal magazine', because this has a historical city walk pullout with a particularly useful map. Digital natives can find all the relevant documentation here.

My Ghent gallery
» There are 25 photos altogether [slideshow]

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream