Ghent, Belgium

So “yay” to Snuffel Hostel in Brugge for somehow pulling off the feat of being a party hostel where you can also sleep when you want.  They had a band playing, but only until about 10, and their bar was packed but you never really heard it.

“Nay” to the two girls who came in late at night and started asking me “why are you sleeping?” and other important questions before passing out, at which point one began snoring like a narcoleptic grandfather.
Went for a quick climb of the Belfry tower to get one last look at Brugge, and let me give you some advice.  If you’re going to do it, get there early.  They limit the people in the tower to 70 to keep things from getting crowded inside, but the lines and crowds were growing as I left, and I’d imagine it would be a LONG wait later in the day.  Then I was off to the train station for a quick trip to Ghent.
Oh, by the way, I’m sticking with one spelling for each, maybe not the one you’d use, but it’s a right one.  They seem to take the h off and spell It Gent here, but I like the h.

Ghent’s centre is a fair distance from the train station, but the city is well serviced by its trams and, in no time, I was passing through the historic centre.  First thing I saw was a castle called “Gravesteen”, the “Castle of the Counts”.    Figured it was as good a place to start as any.
Now, it’s not uncommon for a site like a hall or castle to have some kind of art exhibit in its halls.  Gravesteen, which provides some great views and eerie interiors, had a display called Departures and, no, it wasn’t all about my favourite show.
No, this one was about death, and how people deal with it.  It had pieces ranging from a slideshow of Victorian photos of people posing their dead, to the picture of the two Bangladeshi clothing workers hugging each other in rubble, set under bars in the old castle prison, to before and after portraits of people who we’re going to die, plus their written reflections of that fact.  Amazing exhibit, chilling and humbling, hard to get through at times and really enhanced the castle experience.  Well done!
Stopped for a lunch of Belgian fries with samurai mayo, a spicy mayo, before heading down to the canals to get the typical Ghent photos.  Meandered over some bridges, in and out of squares, up another belfry , which provided better views of Ghent than this morning’s did of Brugge AND an elevator!!!  Got my vistas, then made my way down to a massive church.
The church was actually St. Bavo’s Cathedral, a wonderful structure whose insides could easily rival to any church in Rome.  The highlight, which I almost didn’t do because it cost 4 Euro, is The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a massive alter piece that was painted by the Van Eck brothers.  The reason I almost didn’t see it is because I was having trouble justifying paying money to see one painting.  However, once you go in, you are given a free and very thorough audio guide, and it really is a beautiful work, so when in Ghent…
I definitely need to say a big thanks to the two anonymous Belgian hikers we met atop Adam’s Peak.  I mentioned I was going to Brussels and Brugge and asked if there were any quick trips I could do, and they recommended Ghent.  They actually recommended Ghent over Brugge, and I can understand why.  Brugge is beautiful and does a really great job promoting the sites it has, but the strings and wires of tourism are definitely showing, and it doesn’t quite feel like a city at this point, more just a town that people drop in to to look around and take pictures.  And, yes, I recognize that I am one of those people, not putting myself above the horde what-so-ever.  However, Ghent actually feels lived in.  Like, outside of the historical centre, things happen and, even within it, you find little things like a bulk discount department store where you can buy more laundry detergent than a tourist would need.  Sure, there were a couple of tours going around, the ubiquitous cruise ship lollipop, but overall, Ghent handles its (admittedly smaller) tourist load a lot better.

It’s not a “if I had to pick one” situation, as Ghent is an easy day trip, and so is Brugge.  It’s more of a “glad I made time for it.”

Tram ride back to the station was quick and painless, as was the ride to the airport where THEY HAD MY LUGGAGE!!!  Of course, now I’ll have to pay to check it with Aer Lingus, but hey, I won’t be living out of a smaller backpack for a week.  So, win!

Off to Dublin!

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