A Very Belgian Weekend
According to locals, Ghent is usually kept under a nice cover of clouds, well nice being my word. “How lucky you’re here for such warm days!” they keep telling us. And yes, it is nice to have the sun out, yet Corey and I again face the European tolerance of limited A/C.
Our motto for this weekend was drink beer, stay cool. The best place for doing both of these things in Ghent is found in renovated church turned foodie destination known as “The Holy Food Market.” With 17 food stalls and two different bars in a stained glass atrium that pumps in the cold air, this is my new favorite place.
A girl by the “Iovine’s” stall convinced me to order the bruschetta plate. She told me “Ghent has so many churches but no one’s religious, so we have to find something to do with them.” This to me is an acceptable explanation for the full-service bar.
Belgian-style beer has always been my favorite and here I get to drink it in it’s purest form — crisp and thick from the tap. Now, something they don’t warn you about is how much higher the alcohol volume is here. I have yet to find a beer that’s under six percent, and most of them are around nine. So I max out at around two drinks.
Ordering here is very simple… we just speak English. We found out pretty quickly that Belgian’s are less appreciative than the French when you try to speak their language. Everyone knows English so if someone says something to us in Dutch we just say “Sorry?” and they quickly switch over — even throwing in a “Cheers!” (most probably think we’re British.) We do, however, offer up the occasional “Dank u wel.”
Friday night, after the nine percent had faded from our bloodstreams, we ditched the bars for a midnight bike ride around the city. Ghent lights up beautifully in the dark, in a yellow glow that seems to creep up from the still canal. We cycled up a tall bridge decorated in purplish lights, and I might’ve let out a small yelp as we flew down the other side.
Saturday morning we decided to head to Bruges for the day. The quick thirty minute train ride drops you ten minutes outside the city center. Corey and I sat behind a group of students dressed in swimsuits headed for “Oostende,” a beach town one stop after Bruges. I plan to make it there before we leave.
As we walked into town, more people seemed to be walking with us. By the time we got to the Minnewater or “Lake of Love” we were surrounded by guides holding up numbers, trying to gather their tour groups. I told Corey it felt weird because no one around us actually seemed to live there.
Lonely Planet says, “If you set out to design a fairy-tale medieval town, it would be hard to improve on central Bruges.” It’s true, Bruges is perfectly medieval, just as it is commercialized. You could hardly turn your head without seeing a souvenir shop or an “authentic bakery” with piles of waffles in the window. Yes, I did have a waffle — and we bought some amazing Belgian chocolate — but I missed Ghent.
Ghent has all the medieval architecture of Bruges, with a third of the people. Just look at Gravensteen, located in the center of Ghent, it looks like a place King Arthur would’ve lived.
Sunday, back in Ghent, we soaked up some more of food culture at the Maatjesfeesten. I believe a “Maatjes” is some type of fish, but the word also means “buddies.” The festival was held under the Stadshal, a modern structure for outdoor events, I posted a picture in the last post without realizing what it was.
Not being much of a seafood fan, I got fried balls of cheese, which were exceptional. I watched in awe as Belgians slid entire herrings down their throats.
Today, Corey and I are back at De Krook getting some work done. I’ll have to dedicate an entire blog to this place as we’re here so often. Today we found an English menu at our usual table — I think the staff is catching on.
More to come soon!