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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Travels in Ghent, Belgium

Written by Bill Blimes:
Toward the end of our first week in Europe our hosts, Christophe and Houria Selosse, invited us to go to Ghent, Brussels with them.  We had been visiting places around Sailly sur la Lys and Lille but hadn’t yet gone too far afield.  We were excited and happy to have them take us on our first big trip. 
The history of Ghent began in 630 when St. Amandus chose the site to construct an Abby because it was located between two rivers, the Lys and the Sceidt.  Ghent is located in the Flemish region of Belgium and is the capital and largest city of the East Flanders province.  Until the 13th century, Ghent was the biggest city in Europe after Paris; it was bigger than London, Cologne and Moscow.  
The center of Ghent is a “no traffic zone” meaning that no motor vehicles are allowed.  This means you park where you can and then hike into the town center.  Many of the streets are cobblestone which can be a little treacherous to walk upon.  We found a free parking spot along a street and then began our trek.  If I had realized how far it was and what shape I was going to be in by the time we were done at the end of the day, I would have offered to pay to park in a car park near the town center.  But I didn’t and so off we went on our big adventure.  

As we got into the center of town, we found huge crowds which seemed to grow larger as the day went on.  We learned that Ghent’s annual cultural festival, was in full swing.  Every year this long-established, ten-day cultural event takes over Ghent’s historic city centre. There is free music on all the central squares and hundreds of other activities, plus three international-level festivals.  I read somewhere that it is “one of the craziest festivals in Europe."

We walked around through a market along one of the canals.

We visited a couple of churches, and then made our way to a small restaurant where we sat in a corner near the front door and enjoyed typical Ghent food.  We got to talking to the people at the table next to us and found out they were from New Orleans.  They were part of a crew shooting a movie in Brussels and as they had the day off they had come to Ghent to see the sights.  It was nice to run into some Americans.  

 After lunch we got in line to ride a canal boat through the city.  Because of the many canals twisting through the city you get a whole different view of the sights and you get to see them sitting down.  We had an excellent tour guide and as our boat had tourists from Belgium, Spain, England and America he repeated everything three times in three different languages.  It was all rather interesting.   

We went under an old bridge that was built in the thirteenth century.   (Yes, we ducked.)

We passed a line of buildings that were sitting next to each other but each from a different time period reflected in their architectural style.   

We passed houses that had docks right on the canal that were like a porch on their home.   

We went by the Gravensteen, or "Castle of the Count" in Dutch, which dates back to the Middle Ages. The present castle was built in 1180 by Count Philip of Alsace and was modeled after the crusaders' castles the count encountered when he participated in the second crusade.   

 We also saw the 91-meter-high Belfry of Gent that overlooks the old city center. Over the centuries, it has served not only as a bell tower to announce the time and various warnings, but also as a fortified watchtower and town treasury. Construction of the tower began in 1313, 

We passed by the oldest house in Ghent.  It is built of wood.  Early Ghent, even the city walls, at one time were all built of wood. 

At last our day in Ghent ended.  We began to make our way back to the car and I think Houria could tell I was done in.  She suggested we all wait at the edge of the square and Christophe would go and get the car.  I was so relieved.  I don’t think I could have made it back to the car.  I ached in every bone in my body.  With the company of such kind hosts it was a memorable trip - even though we didn’t get wet!

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