Brussels, a day trip to Ghent

Sometimes, plans go astray but you make do anyway and it turns out great! On Monday, I decided I’d go to Ghent for the day. It’s just a short 30 minute train ride away (assuming one gets on the right train!)

The day started out a bit later than planned as I was wide awake from 2 until 4 am then slept until nearly 11 am! Not exactly usual for me, but hey, I’m on vacation and everything works! I figured I’d just wander the city but instead my feet led me to the train station. I managed to miss my train by seconds so went back to the ticket counter to purchase all the tickets I’d need for my stay (Bruges and then back to the airport later in the week).

There are wonderful boards in the train stations that list all the departures so it’s easy to jot down your options (or take a photo as I saw at least one person doing).

Twenty minutes later I was on the train to Ghent. The slow train to Ghent. Instead of 30 minutes, I arrived after about an hour. Only a few times wondering if I was even on the right train! Thank goodness for the map functions on my blackberry, I was able to have it point out my location.

Using my handy Rick Steves book I purchased my tram tickets from the Relay shop inside the train station and boarded the #1 tram toward the city center. A 15 minute ride later and the touring began! Although since you couldn’t see the tram stop signs, it was a bit of a crap shoot as to where to get off! Once you see big church spires, bell towers and a plaza – get off. Its also just past McDonalds of all landmarks.

Ghent is rather lovely. Young with its’ university, the city has a lively crowd of locals and tourists enjoying the sights, canals and waterfront bars and cafes.

After orienting myself, I began the self guided walk through town. The highlight was the Cathedral of St. Bavo which features Jan and Hubert Van Eyck’s “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” altarpiece. While the church is free, for 4 euro you access the chapel where the altarpiece is displayed. A complimentary audio guide is included. Worth every euro!

Many of the other sights are worth seeing, but not perhaps worth paying to see. However the belfry tour enabled me to duck out of a quick rain shower.

After wandering along the waterfront for some time, a lively beer house beckoned and I found myself at the Waterhuis Aan de Bierkart which translates roughly to “water at the beer hall.”

The location is that of a 15th century water house! Since the outside tables were full, I found a seat at the bar inside where I was able to chat with a few of the waiters and servers learning about the location and of course – beer.

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For example, the beer makers in Belgium all make (or order) a specific glass for each beer. Not for the brewery as a whole, but for each beer. Since the bar serves over 160 beers you can imagine their glass racks! I couldn’t really figure out the consistencies between the glasses either. I enjoyed blondes all poured with different glass shapes. It has begun to be entertaining to see what glass comes with the beer!

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After a few beers it was time to head back to the train station and the higher speed train to Brussels – only 30 minutes!

Tomorrow, will be another day trip out to explore Bruges.

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