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Ghent on a 48-hour City Card: Day 1 - News from Nowhere [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Ghent on a 48-hour City Card: Day 1 [Jun. 14th, 2017|06:05 pm]
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Our first evening in Ghent had given us a taste of the city. Now we had to decide whether to buy the much-advertised City Cards. Our reasoning was that this was unlikely to save us money, but it might encourage us to do things we would not otherwise have done - and this turned out to be the case. I'm particularly glad we took the boat trip, which was worth doing for its own sake, and doubly so because it gave us angles from which to approach things, as well as ideas of things we wouldn't have known we wanted to see. It also made traveling by bus much less daunting (no need to ask for a destination, just show your card). So while the card isn't necessarily the cheapest option, it worked very well for us.

All our explorations of Ghent started with the same view: turn left out of the hotel, and this is what you see from the end of the street:

The Belfry in evening light

This is the classic view, in evening light, but feel free to imagine it as we set off on an overcast Good Friday morning to visit the Tourist Office and purchase our cards.

We registered our cards and started the clock at the Castle of the Counts, a massive pile in one corner of the square. You enter through the gatehouse:

Ready for my close-up

and I have no idea what is going on here. The Castle may or may not be the birthplace of John of Gaunt (it was not the only castle in Ghent at the time), and none of the tourist information seems interested in the connection. It is very solid, and very grey, and has lots of stairs (and the route takes you up and down all of them), an interest in torture which I did my best to evade, and an agreeable walk round the battlements. None of which gives you any idea that if you approach the Castle from the river instead of from the town, it looks like this:


So we didn't discover that until later. By the time we had explored the Castle, we were ready for lunch, and had already identified the restaurant in the Grote Vleeshuis as the place we had eaten on our previous visit to Ghent (which I think must have been in 2004), a glass box tucked inside the old Butchers' Hall:

Grote Vleeshuis

half restaurant, half shop, promoting local produce. The menu was in English, but maintained its inscrutability by giving the dishes names, rather than descriptions. My salad "A quick break" turned out to be a substantial bowlful of leaves and beetroot, weighed down with ham, pears and blue cheese; [personal profile] durham_rambler's soup and bread was "A good day"... Dessert was coffee accompanied by what were supposed to be tiny tastes of things, but included an eggcupful of advocaat, something which I have just identified as vlaai (which is not what you think it is if you have eaten vlaai in the Netherlands, but a kind of milk and gingerbread pudding, and excellent) plus a slice of gingerbread and enough biscuits and chocolates to keep us supplied for several days.

Time to walk this off, and then perhaps a boat trip. And since entry was included on our City Card, a quick visit to the House of Alijn, a warren of little houses concerted into a museum of everyday life. There's a sequence of rooms in which objects are displayed thematically, in collections, of which these ex voto offerings were my favourite (and I wish there had been more explanations of the individual objects):

Ex voto

In another sequence, shop and domestic interiors are reconstructed, from an old-fashioned pharmacy to a 1970s household (like a cross between Beamish and London's Geffrye Museum). There's a marionette theatre hidden somewhere in the middle, and the whole thing is grouped around a charming restful courtyard. We were ready for a rest, but we'd already decided that a boat trip would be a great way to combine some more sightseeing with a much needed sit down.


This is Rabot, the fortified lock which was the furthest point of our trip. We couldn't have gone any further, though I didn't realise this until we walked back the following day for a closer look: the canal has been filled in beyond this point. Not far away is this sculpture:

Angel of Purification

Yes, it really is an angel wearing a gas mask. Sculptor Tom Frantzen explains that it represents Saint Michael, patron saint of Brussels, who in this modern version has become the Angel of Purification.
Due to the pollution, both physical and intellectual, the Angel is forced to wear a gas mask which inhibits him from playing his celestial music. This angers the Angel and, using his trumpet as weapon, he attempts to put man back in his place.
I like the way he stands against a backdrop of building works - and that the statue is made of epoxy resin, which must surely be a sign of modern decadence.

By the time our boat trip ended, we were full of ideas of things we wanted to revisit for a better look - but not today. A little light retail on the way gave us a picnic for our evening meal, and a happy time in a second-hand comic shop, where I was saved from over-indulgence by the fact that the stock was almost exclusively Flemish. There was more English on offer than French, so I just bought a couple of things to show willing.

And that was Good Friday.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.