Ghent, or in other words- the great wind…
Our day started with even more beautiful views than yesterday, sometimes the time difference is a plus, even if only an hour.There won’t be another chance to see the sunrise without trying to get up too early.
The trip started on the path we already knew – on foot to Gare Noord and hoped on a warm train to Ghent.
The ride took only 20 minutes, so we couldn’t relax very much.
We arrived at Gare Sent Piters – beautiful and magnificent, it made me think about the rail stations at home and what could be the reason of their so negative look. The building seemed a lot more like a castle than a train station, it is comfy and warm and is covered,on the inside, with paintings of flowers.
As planned, we had to take a tram to the city center, but it turned out quite hard. We saw rails on the ground and stops, but couldn’t get with the directions… We spent some time wandering around and after a while found a map, which showed us that our stop is on the side of the station, not as I originally thought – in front. However, this maybe was a sign that me and Ghent wouldn’t get along.
During the planning of the trip I’ve read that it is often cloudy in Belgium, the first two days showed us exactly how much quite well, but today the weather gave it’s best. The clouds were really dense and to top it, the wind was blowing like crazy. I had a hat with myself , but for unknown reasons hadn’t put it on, and the results showed quickly – my migraine started to grow, slow but steady.
But let’s get back to the tour – the tram left us right in the center, behind the St Nicholas Church – the oldest and one of the biggest landmarks in town.
Around the church are the Town Hall and the Belfry, which looks a lot like the one in Bruge. We wondered if we want to get the top of it, because of the wind and the cold and in the end we didn’t.
The Belfry is 91 m tall and is a UNESCO site. During the centuries it was used as a watch tower and a vault for important town documents.
Right behind the Belfry is the St Baavo Cathedral – the diocese seat. It’s most famous feature is the altar and especially a painting by Jan Van Eyck. There are more masterpieces there, including ones by Rubens. The facade was renovating during our visit and I can’t show you any nice photos.
If you walk past it, on the left site, you’ll see beautiful memorial of the Eyck brothers and the Geeraard de Duivelsteen castle, meaning “the castle of Gerard the Devil”. It was built in the 13 century and was home to knights, monastery, arsenal, school and episcopal seminary . It was turned to asylum and orphanage in the 17 century, part of the building – a prison. It’s dark history ends in the 20 century and now it stores the city archives.
Our tour continued to the City Hall, where a cinema festival was being prepared and after an advise from my favorite app – triposo, we went searching for the ” Graffiti’s hidden alley”. If you don’t know it’s location it’s easily missed, but was different and interesting site.
Around this time our bellies started to rumble and beside looking at lovely building we started to look for whatever food we could find. It turned out that we are in a completely foodless part of the city … Now, imagine how I felt – my migraine was already increasing and me, hoping that the food will make it go away, admired buildings trying to convince myself and my husband that everything is just fine. Thankfully, he knows me well enough and my misery was put to an end. However, I really saw beautiful and interesting sites.
After this walk, that seemed hours to me, and dreaming of a hot soup we finally found an shwarma place. They didn’t have soup, it was served only in the winter … Apparently we have different opinions about what temperature is suitable for soup. However, I ate a duner, that made the situation a little better and prepared myself for the most anticipated site – Gravensteen castle.
The origins of the Gravensteen date to the reign of Arnulf I .The site, which sat between two branches of the Lys river, was first fortified in around 1000, initially in wood and later in stone. This was soon transformed into a motte-and-bailey castle which burnt down in around 1176.
The current castle date to 1180 and was built by Philip of Alsace on the site of the older fortification. It may have been inspired by crusader castles witnessed by Philip during the Second Crusade. As well a protective citadel, the Gravensteen was intended to intimidate the burghers of Ghent who often challenged the Counts’ authority.
From 1180 until 1353, the Gravensteen was the residence of the Counts of Flanders. It was used as a court and prison until the 18th century. It was later sold to an industrialist who converted the buildings into a cotton factory and various small buildings were constructed on top of the Medieval remains. At one point in time, it was scheduled for demolition. After gradually buying up the castle, the city of Ghent heavily restored the castle in a romanticising Gothic style between 1893 and 1907. However, many details of the present-day Gravensteen, such as the flat roofs and the windows of the eastern outbuilding are not thought to be historically accurate.
The museum inside the castle isn’t anything extraordinary, but gives a good example what the life was during that times. Unfortunately there are a lot more evidence from the prison times of the castle than of the reign of the Counts. The most funny thing were the toilets for the castle’s guards – they were right on the wall and led to the water in the moat.
The wind kept blowing and our strength decreased rapidly, so our only hope was a waffle on the canal, but even that wasn’t enough to relight our desire to explore more and we decided that it’s time to go back to Brussels.
My memories of Ghent will remain mixed – despite it’s beauty the city didn’t impress me as much as the rest of the cities we visited. I won’t even mention that the prices were, at least, few euros more for no reason at all. The wind and my headache also added to the tone of that not so exited diary. If I have the chance I’ll visit it again and will try to make amends…
Nevertheless here are some lovely views from Ghent: