During my very last week in Belgium, as my stay in the monastery was coming to a close, I realised there was still one place I needed to visit before I left. Ghent.
Ghent is an incredibly old city in the Flanders part of Belgium. By the 1300s it was the second largest city in Europe after Paris and today continues to thrive as one of Belgium’s best kept secrets. It’s home to students, artists, musicians and anyone you can label as “alternative”. You know a city’s pretty trend when there are vegetarian restaurants everywhere and a queue outside a place that only sells soup!
Anyway, I needed to get there. One of the women I’d been working with lives in a small town outside of Ghent and invited me to spend the night there and go on to the city in the morning. Perfect! Everything was running smoothly, I charged up my camera, super excited to take some awesome photos, I cached a map of Ghent on my phone. I was ready.
Firstly I forgot that the ticket machines for the trains in Belgium only accept coins, so I was running around like a mad thing trying to find something cheap to buy so I could even just get to Ghent.
Then it began to rain.
But no problem, it soon cleared up and I was happy to put the shaky start behind me and start my adventure. I took out my phone to make sure I was heading in the direction of the centre. Oh, my phone refused to save the map and now I don’t know where I am? Breathe breathe. Street signs are your friends.
I kept walking in the direction that seemed the most logical. The centre couldn’t be far. Then I spotted a woman with an amazing greyhound type dog. Photo time! Quickly I took off my backpack and started up my camera. Dead battery. Whaaaaaat!? Breathe breathe.
I shunted the camera back into my bag and slung it over my shoulder. Suddenly the weight became very apparent. Dead weight. That I would have to lug around all day. I gritted my teeth and tasted bitter disappointment. Come on come on, just find the centre.
Somehow I managed to walk in circles for a very long time. I don’t know how I missed the centre but it seemed to be always out of reach. I was on a wild goose chase except the goose was dead and I wanted to kill everything in sight. I glared at my phone, at the map my host had drawn for me the night before, roughly shoved my pack further up my shoulder. A Ghent Nose (cone shaped soft lolly you can by in Ghent) managed to stick itself to the bottom of my shoe. Fuuuu! I was in a bad way.
I tromped over to a bench and sat down. This was where I had to have a hard talk with myself. I was in Ghent. It was beautiful. And I was ruining it because what? I couldn’t take pictures of all the amazing things? I needed to concentrate on street signs instead of convenient technology? After allowing myself a few choice words I stood, looked at the beautiful canal in front of me and allowed myself to be happy.
And then everything changed.
Ghent is beautiful. I have to say that even with all the frustration and disappointment it was my favourite city in Belgium. Yes, I eventually found the centre. I walked up the belfry and learned how the bells were made. In fact, the timing was so perfect that I reached the top just as the midday bells began to toll. Looking out over the city with the bells ringing all around was truly magical.
I visited the castle thing that was both a prison and the home of the mayor in medieval times. If, like me, you grew up reading far too many Horrible History books then you wont be disappointed by the stories of imprisonments, torture and executions.
There’s even this weird monument to commemorate an old legend about a man who was imprisoned and sentenced to death by starvation. Luckily (??) his daughter was a wet nurse and was able to keep him alive by visiting his cell and letting him drink from her breast. Eeesh.
I found a really nice café just off the main square (avoiding starbucks at all costs!) where I enjoyed an ice coffee and a slice of apple pie. I was content.
And just as I was preparing for the walk back to the train station, one of ladies all the way back at the monestary text to say her brother (who lives in Ghent), was coming for a visit so could drop me back. Hooray!
I pretty much experienced every emotion over the course of that day, but I’m so glad I didn’t let the initial frustration ruin my trip. And in the absence of pretty pictures here are some nice ones I took during my earlier trip to Bruges: