I love Ghent! This Spring, 2011, I again found it to be a wonderful city, friendly and helpful, and even better than I remembered. I wish I could live there for a couple of years. I had a full and terrific day and evening, and a beautiful morning; met some super folks, and I wanted to tell people about it. First, though, I needed to do a little fact checking and I'm still looking.
I try not to bore readers with a travelogue that is nothing more than a regurgitation of information available online and in book stores. As a photographer I am visually oriented so it is natural for me to take and to use a lot of photographs. I become so much more interested in a place that I can see as opposed to reading a written description of the same location. My goal is to show other travelers what I have seen and experienced, and why a place interests me emotionally. I do not look for that which I find negative about a place; my goal is to give others a reason to visit a place. Consequently, I don't write about places which I have visited and not enjoyed. I remember Ghent as a very special place because of its' beauty, and because of the city's character and ambiance, and my delightful experiences there.
Back in 2006 (or 2005, whenever) and I was researching my Spring trip for that year, I fell into the trap of: if there isn't much information about the place, it must not be worth much time. I have since learned different. What others find land less interesting, I may find fascinating. I don't write about food and seldom write about restaurants because restaurants are too expensive for my travel budget. I eat to live, not live to eat, which that puts me in the minority among travelers.
My first visit to Belgium was in 1963, and there was a huge lack of information about the country available to military personnel, except that the beer was great and the Belgian girls were even better. All of that was true and I was fascinated by both.
Five years ago, and 42 years later, my interests had changed, but with the exception of Brussels and Bruges, Belgium was still kind of a second-class destination for American tourists (not European tourists). As the capital city of the European Union, Brussels enjoys an international reputation and lots of tourism which it deserves. Bruges is one of the most romantic cities in the world and is also big on the tourism map. In contrast, Ghent and Antwerp have surprisingly little information available in comparison to many other European cities half their size. I am still incredulous at the dearth of information available for both Antwerp and Ghent among other Belgian cities. My friends in Germany and Austria agree. They love Belgium.
When traveling, I usually transfer my images and make notes on my netbook at the end of each day. I carry a small pad of note paper during my walks. Then, when I get home, and start thinking about journals, I review my notes and do some fact-checking online, or in travel guides. I don't need much information, just enough for verification. I also need a photograph to make sure I have the right place stuck in my head. One of the reasons that I travel is to make photographs and I go overboard - the Spring, 2011 trip was almost 4,000. Even with the bad ones and duplicates, that's a lot of places to identify. It normally isn't a problem, and I haven't had any corrections submitted by readers, but Ghent has been tough because I am attempting to identify each image that I submit (hopefully it is a benefit for those who would rather look at photographs and skip over written comments).
Anyway, the problem is that travel guides usually have very few photographs. They are packed with information but short on pictures (one exception is the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides). Consequently, I have spent hours online attempting to make sure that the photograph descriptions are correct, but in many cases, I find descriptions, but few photographs. (I am so thankful that IgoUgo does not (yet, anyway) limit the number of photographs submitted. Thanks IgoUgo!)
There is a system that others use that I have tried in the past, and need to reassess. Every city or town has small tourist guides that are available for five euros or less. I pick them up at the local tourist information office basing my choice on the recommendations of the office personnel. These guides generally show photographs of sights with a small amount of history for each. They are a good idea for a couple of reasons. First, the attractions are pictured. Second, the guides give amateur photographers the best angle for a photograph. The last part of the system is to mail them home after visiting the town in pre-addressed shipping envelopes brought from home. (Don't carry a bunch of them around - they get heavy! Send them home!)
Finally, Ghent is one of my favorite cities. It has everything that interests me. It is a Medieval city, very old with lots of Gothic buildings, marvelous vaulted ceilings, magnificent art treasures, a population that is friendly and most helpful, and very tolerant of tourists asking the same questions. Arriving in Ghent is an emotional high for me and it seems to get better throughout my stay. There are new things around every corner and in every building, church or cathedral, municipal buildings from the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries, museums that are all very interesting. There is all of that, but most importantly, Ghent is fun.
Note: Most of the photographs are identified on the lower part of the image, but it is necessary to view them in "Full" mode.