An April 2011 trip
to Ghent by flyingscot4
Quote: Continuing with the Journal series about Belgium - "Caution - Belgium Will Sneak-up On You," this Journal features Ghent. This city of 60,000 residents joined by 60,000 students is a place for young and old, rich and poor, and those looking for intelligent conversation.
Best Way To Get Around:
Belgium has a great rail system. It also has a wonderful benefit for senior citizens. For men over 65 and women over 62 years of age, a senior can travel anywhere in the country and return in one day for only €5.20. These tickets have some limitations (see http://www.b-rail.be for more details). The website will also give more details on other money saving methods of travel for all ages. The cities all have very efficient tram, bus, and metro systems and it is possible to combine different rail tickets with local transportation tickets, a further savings.Belgium, as part of the "Low Countries," is quite flat in the Flanders area. Bicycles, therefore, are very popular and there are free bikes and rental bikes available.I generally prefer not to rent a car, but in the area of the Ardennes and Waloonia, it might be a good idea. There are places in the mountains to stop and enjoy the scenery which one can't do on a train or bus. One of the reasons that I don't like tour bus travel is that while the guides point out all the wonderfully scenic places and lovely towns, the buses don't stop to let the passengers enjoy the environment. To me, the tour bus is my last option.Lastly, there is walking which is the best transportation of all. Whether in cities, towns, or rural areas, it is by far the best way to enjoy just about anyplace. European cities are alive and wonderful. Where our cities in the US have lost to "urban sprawl," the cities of Europe have maintained and indeed continue to increase in vibrancy and popularity. But the small, picturesque towns, along with the warmth of their people will always paint a better picture of a country, and the truth of that statement absolutely applies to Belgium.Next stop - Ghent
Getting There and Staying there
Ghent is central to the other three major cities of Flanders (Brussels, Bruges, and Antwerp being the other three). Train time to the other three varies from 35 minutes to 55 minutes, which allows one to stay in Ghent and travel by train to the other cities, eliminating moves which take time (packing and unpacking, checking out and checking in, travel time, and unpacking again) and energy. Also, because I am a "senior," I prefer this system because for us "seniors," the train ticket is €5.20 return, but for others on a tight budget, it might be less expensive to move. It is certainly more work.I prefer the Hosteling International HI De Draecke Ghent hostel in Ghent. For me, it's a super place. If you are not a member of Hosteling International (HI), there is an additional charge of €3.00 per night that is charged to non-members. It is not the cheapest place to stay, but its location two blocks from the Castle of Counts and just a few more to the Graslei and St. Michael's Bridge. The bunks are well made (actually quite comfortable, but you'll have to make and then strip your own bed) and there is excellent security. For HI members, it is about $30 per night (considering the current weakness of the dollar). It is more than convenient, and for me, worth the few extra euros. So much for the "business" part of the city.
This is the important part. Ghent is less romantic than Bruges and less spectacular than Brussels, but the city is no less remarkable and is far less touristed. Sint-Bavoskathedral can rank with any of the other major churches and cathedrals in Belgium, and there are beautiful scenes all over the city. Like Bruges, I have found the tourists in Ghent to be very well-behaved, even reverent in the churches, and like Bruges, very much appreciated by the local population. Ghent is a very friendly city to everyone - tourists and each other equally. To illustrate, a tourist was using a flash in one of the museums, and was asked very politely to discontinue the use of the flash. The tourist got angry, but the caretaker continued to explain why the use of flash is disallowed and what the ultraviolet light does to color pigments. The tourist stomped out, but surprisingly to me, was back in a very few minutes to apologize to the caretaker. My respect for both of them grew proportionately.To sum up, Ghent is as great a destination as Bruges or Brussels, and you won't face the crowds of tourists. As a final note, a man in a pub told me the the best place in Belgium to drink beer is in Ghent. I'm not surprised. So, a toast to Ghent!