9 March 2015

A full day in Ghent following waterways to find stones and art

Monday was the one full day that I had in Ghent for exploration (I had travel on both Saturday and Tuesday, and the opera on Sunday) and I was determined to make the most of it.

I had seen some places that I wanted to visit on previous walks around the city and had identified some others simply by looking at the tourist map.

I had a fair way to go that day and while I probably could have walked all of it I thought that I would save a little effort and a little time by taking a tram part of the way to the first place that I wanted to see.

The tram conveniently dropped me off next to a bright baker shop and that was breakfast sorted. I had to wait a fair while for the two women police officers to get served, and they must have been buying things for the whole station, but I was in no rush and I was just pleased to find somewhere nice to eat in a part of town that looked somewhat seedy compared to the other parts that I had seen.

Once fuelled, I walked the short distance around the corner to the Begijnhof, where a small community of nuns lived. I went for the architecture, not the nuns, as I had at similar places in Amsterdam and Bruges. There were pretty white cottages and cobbled streets around a grassy square with a church.



From there it was a short walk to Het Rabot, a small castle built to defend the canal that ran under it. This dated from 1488 and had seen much change since then, not least the main road that now runs past it.

It was only a small castle but a castle is a castle and this one had the decency to look the part with two round stone towers.



It was not what I had gone there to see so it was a pleasant surprise to stumble across a tower block on the other side of the main road that was in the process of being demolished. In the process what was left of the interiors was exposed. The painted walls made it look like a work of art (I've seen worse) and I almost regretted that it was being demolished.



I followed the canal protected by Het Rabot back into the city where I found the main castle that I was my next planned destination, having walked around the outside of it the day before.

I just about managed to get my ticket for it ahead of the large party of school students and was able to find a quite route around without having to deviate from the official plan too much. There were about a dozen stops on the trail and I skipped the first and then did it as my final stop on the way out.

It was not the biggest castle that I had been to but it was a proper castle made with proper stone and there was something reassuringly atavistic about that. Grown men like stone in the same way that very young ones like sticks.



Climbing the prescribed route through the castle took me up to the battlements and that gave me some good views across the city. The weather was particularly unhelpful, it was a thick muggy grey all day, and my camera had problems finding any colour or detail to make something of but I was pleased enough with the conditions as it remained dry and was not that cold, which made it ideal walking weather.



The camera could cope better when taking pictures of closer things, simply because there was less water vapour between it and the object, and I took this one because I liked the juxtaposition of the rugged stone castle and the traditional looking buildings next to it.



A quick visit to the tourist information office alerted me to the Concrete Canvas Tour of street art. This was similar to the comic book tour that I did in Brussels the previous year in concept though the art was very different and, because it was not from comics, it was unknown to me.

I liked the art and I also liked the way that the tour took me to parts of Ghent that I would not otherwise have seen. In this case it was across the north side of the old town. There I had the same luck that I had in the morning and found a very nice cafe for a somewhat late lunch in a part of town that seemed devoid of such things. It probably helped that this one was opposite what looked like an art school.



Continuing east I hit another waterway, as the map assured me that I would. This was the Dampoort area and was the start of the main industrial port where the waters got wider and started to be flanked by cranes and warehouses.

It was still charming though this was one time that i wished there had been at least a little sun to make something of the colours of the buildings.



Colour was not a problem for this young woman listening to music while resting over the canal wearing just a pair of boots. She sat by the impressively named Slachthuisbrug (Slaughterhouse Bridge) but does not seem to have sat there for very long as I have been unable to find out anything meaningful about her on the internet.

Also next to the bridge was a little amphitheatre looking north up the river/canal. A more successful google search suggests that it is there for events like firework displays.

From there I headed west and south following the path of a canal that had been partially filled in at some point and which looked as though it was going to be opened up again. In the middle of this section a stretch of water lay landlocked and abandoned.



I soon rejoined a main waterway and I followed it west as it ran across the south of the old city. On the north bank were familiar buildings like the opera house but this was the side of themselves that not many saw and so they did little to make themselves lovely. That did not work on me as I find industrial views lovely too.

This section of the waterway was sunk a few meters below street level so it was pleasingly private, almost secret, and that is the sort of exploration that I love. It feels much more like proper exploration if there is nobody else there.

All to quickly the secret waterway joined one of the main ones and I was back in the heart of the city, just a few hundred meters more-or-less due south of where I had started my tour in the morning. It had been a long day with lots of walking so it was time to head back to the hotel for a rest.

I stirred up some energy later to go to Greenway for a nice vegetarian meal. The small cafe was full of students and that gave it a friendly buzz. The food was good too. Walking back to the hotel from there I made a short detour into Café De Karper (a pub!) for a Leffe. This was even livelier (I learned later that there was a party about to start) and was made more interesting by some unusual cycling memorabilia and a DJ playing an odd mix of even more unusual 60's and 70's songs, including Neil Young's Hey Hey, My My. A lovely ending to a lovely day.

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