Up until recently, Ghent was somewhere I simply saw as a landmark on the car journey from London back to my home in Germany. After turning left at Calais, it's an hour and a half drive away and, from there, just under a four hour schlep to my house in Paderborn. However, after a passing conversation with a neighbour, Ghent came up and my neighbour asserted that it was not only similar to Brugge in style and substance, but far superior. Having fallen into chocolate induced love with Brugge before Christmas, I promised myself that I would test my neighbour's theory as soon as possible.
The Easter break afforded me such an opportunity. My mother even signed up to my Belgian experiment. With a view to emulating Thelma and Louise, we decided to drive from her house just outside London and catch the Eurotunnel from Folkestone. As ever, the Eurotunnel was quick and efficient. Thelma and I turned up at 9ish, bought coffees and got on the 09.50 which left at an unusual tardy time of 09.54.
Two hours later we were in Ghent. Unusually for a Carr's car, there were no navigation or traffic issues. Thus, the journey took five hours door to door, with minimal stress and with the added bonus of Spring sunshine. The door we ended up at in Ghent, was the one of Hotel Harmonie. Thelma's organisational skills, always far superior to mine, found this little four star gem. The central location was stunning due to its canal frontage and the staff hospitable and friendly.
The concierge told us to make use of the midday sunshine and have lunch outside at one of the brasseries on the banks of the canal - either the road called Graslei or Korenlei on the other side. It was an excellent suggestion and we ended up at a place called De Mitte Leeuw. Mum chose best by playing safe an ordering a huge goats cheese salad, I lost by trying the local chicken stew called Waterzooi. I could see that this could be a delicious dish, but my chicken was dry and the broth was otherwise bland. The scenery and strong beer more than made up for an edible, though over priced, dish.
From lunch, we ambled around a handful of the many churches and cathedrals that Ghent has to offer. Having studied art history at university, I have been to a lot of churches and read about even more. Yet I was still overwhelmed by the sheer amount of them in this Belgian city as well as their size. The three that we visited, Sint Michielsplein, Sint Niklaaskerk and Sint Baafskathedraal are all with 300 meters or each other and all worth a look at the very least. I found them all to be visually stunning. The cathedral has two extra pulls for an art loving tourist - the altar piece 'the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb' and a Rubens that is 'in situ'.
After totting up churches, the mothership and I meandered back to nearer our hotel through the very pretty streets. It is hard not to get a stiff neck walking around Ghent - my eyes were always pointed up looking at the intricate pointed rooftops. The shops within them were unfortunately closed as it was a Sunday. From outside, however, there seemed to be lots of interesting little design stores, chocolate shops and artisan retailers. I was disappointed not be able to go inside, my wallet perhaps not.
However, given the sun, the streets were still busy with locals and tourists alike. The mothership and I found a place to take a load off outside Gravensteen, the Castle of the Counts, which was another impressive backdrop. We latterly went inside which was interesting, although perhaps not worth the €9 entry.
Slightly too dear prices seem to be the order of the day in Ghent. One does seem to pay for the beauty of the town, much like Brugge. A weekend to Ghent will certainly not be cheap, but that seems, to me, to be one its only drawback. The town is simply beautiful. The food and beer can be a gastronomic treat (see here). The journey time short (a massive plus for me).
Importantly, in terms of my mother and my experiment, in comparison to Brugge, Ghent is lesser known so doesn't suffer the crowds quite so badly. However, I must, in an effort to to make this a fair test, say that I visited both towns at incomparable times. Seeing Brugge the weekend before Christmas was perhaps always going to make the streets busier than Ghent on a random Sunday afternoon in April.
Either way, I hope you enjoy my pictures. I became a bit obsessed with the Gothic style architecture and picturesque canals that pervade the city. Ghent is a Flemish masterpiece that makes for a fantastic weekend away. I could not recommend it enough.