7 March 2015

To Ghent

It probably sounds a tad pretentious to say that I went all the way to Ghent just to see an opera but that is essentially true.

It also gave me a good excuse to spend a few days there exploring the city which seemed like a good idea after I spent a happy week in Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp last year.

The simple plan was to catch the eurostar to Brussels at a sensible time on Saturday morning and then a train to Ghent arriving there late afternoon with time to start exploring the city. The opera was on Sunday afternoon and I was travelling back on Tuesday afternoon so that gave me plenty of time to explore.

The journey to Brussels Midi was uneventful and I had a bit of time there before my next train to eat some lunch. I find Midi depressing in its structure, colour and content but it has one big redeeming feature, the little corner dedicated to Tin Tin.

I had chosen a hotel in Ghent close to the station to make handling bags easier and once settled in I quickly left again for the walk in to the centre. This was about 2km the first km of which was pretty dull. Then I took the hotel's advice and headed off the main road and on to the canal which I followed the rest of the way in.

It was late enough in the day for the light to be fading significantly but that did nothing to dampen the good spirits enticed by the water sprites.

For no logical reason, I had not expected to see so much water or for the waterside to be so pretty. I kind of assumed that all the pretty canals were in Bruges and had not considered that another city close by could share some of its beauty secrets.

The old town proper started with the palace of justice and the public square in front of. A golden barge emphasised the grandeur of the place and tempted me over the bridge.

There were lots of bridges and I spent the next half an hour or so crossing lots of them as the middle of a bridge is the best place to get views like this, a view with two more bridges in it.

The city was lively on both banks. There were plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants, all of which looked busy. There were also seats and steps where people congregated to meet and drink the many cans they had brought.

Just in from one of the main waterways was Korenmarkt (Corm Market, obviously), a large square filled with restaurants. I chose a bistro that had a spare seat inside (it was moving from chilly to cold). It looked like a bit old fashioned but appearances were deceptive and the excellent food was presented in the style of a gasto pub.

When I came out after my meal the sun had all but given up for the day and could only reach the top of the buildings.

The gloom was no excuse for ending the exploration and I continued my wanderings around the centre of the city safe in the knowledge that I would have plenty of time to come back over the next three days if I found something that needed sunlight to be properly appreciated.

I was following an interesting road through the largely car-free centre when a lot of lights suddenly sprung on to highlight the back of the town hall. I learned later that Ghent made a feature of subtle lighting.

Walking around to the square in front of the town hall I discovered this amazing pavillion.

The futuristic wooden roof was a refreshing contrast to the traditional brick and stone buildings around it. Not only did it look great but it had wonderful acoustic properties that amplified the efforts of a busker at one end. I was tempted to shout to test the acoustics myself and it was only the fact that nobody else fell into this temptation that stopped me.

It was a fitting place to end my exploration and from there I walked the 2km or so south back to my hotel.

The first day in Ghent had delivered much and promised more.

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