on December 1, 2007
Castles are always good things to tour when traveling with a kid, so we walked over to the Gravensteen one morning. You must remember that at one point Ghent was a powerful city state. Flanders itself was rich because of its cloth. There were close ties to England. Money meant power, so this wasn't just a tiny hamlet that was without consequence. A count here was as a good as another country's prince. Sooo, it's only logical a suitable castle would be erected. The one you can visit was built in the 12th century by a count who was doomed to die in the crusades. Our visit: Though opened at 9am, we seemed to be the only people at the ticket office when it was pushing 10. That was fine with us. We like having monuments to ourselves. The cost was under 7 Euro per adult, and our son's ticket was just a fraction of this. There was an additional charge, however, for a recorded tour. Having gone to castles galore at this point, my son shook his head when we asked if he wanted one. "No, thanks." When the gentleman pulled out a mini-television, however, the kid got re-interested. Indeed, I've never seen a recorded tour quite like this one anywhere else. It's like a little movie on its tiny screen. How was the audio/visual tour? The idea behind the presentation is really kind of brilliant. The actors in the tour are able to stage each room you see for the scenes of intrigue they play out. History is relayed through their dialogue. This would be especially appealing to older kids... 9+. With that said, I think the idea could've been executed better. The makers tried to be a little too clever. They have the actors "break character" and carry on a subplot in modern times at certain points. I guess this was to make the "show" more interesting. But that just added time to the tour... and made some of "the story" convoluted. I mean, I don't care about watching a sitcom when I'm visiting Belgium. I was only interested in the background about the castle itself... and the historical countess on whom the story focused, the one who called herself Queen. So I give the tour a mixed review. It does add something, but it's not gonna blow your mind. How's the castle without the TV tour? Certain exhibits are marked such as the French guillotine (!) near the room that houses instruments of torture. Don't miss the grated pit in the middle of the floor near the chapel. It was here in which unfortunate souls were sometimes kept prisoner. The observation tower does give you a nice view of the town itself, and I could easily imagine counts of days gone past scheming about how they could leverage the money of the merchants while pacing back and forth, surveying the "kingdom." It's not the Tower of London, but the Gravensteen is still worth seeing.
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