Ghent (2018)

belgiumghentgermanykolnSeries: Western Europe 2018

This post follows directly on from the last one, describing some very hastily planned travel in Western Europe in the summer of 2018. For context, see the previous posts.

The city center, viewed from the Het Gravensteen
The city center, viewed from the Het Gravensteen

I've always preferred taking the stairs to taking elevators.

An elevator might never come, and can move at a lethargic speed if it does.

On foot, however, I can leap with the speed of a gazelle (and none of its grace), arriving to wherever I climb as an undignified, sweaty mess. But, a mess that didn't have to wait for a stinking elevator.

I booked a bed in a hostel dormitory.

I think I may have tried to book an AirBnb or something, but virtually everything was already booked, and I fortunately realized that the site misleadingly increased my search radius to such a large area that the results it gave were countryside farms, far away from the quick city daytrips I was engaged with.

So, I bought a cheap padlock from the train station convenience store (along with some hair ties), and bounded the steps to a dormitory bed.

I looked at the reviews enough to feel confident that the risk of a bad experience was minimal, but not enough to realize that the hostel was at the top of a multi-story parking garage.

The single elevator, ponderously slow, cramped, and already occupied by motorists.

Up I went.

Not Worth The Money

The Gravensteen, viewed from the city center
The Gravensteen, viewed from the city center

There's one of them in every hostel, isn't there?

A fellow with an English accent, busy spending as little money as possible, and complaining about how he was underwhelmed by things.

"I snuck into the castle thing, because I didn't want to pay admission, and let me tell you, it wasn't even worth sneaking into."

The Gravensteen was a medieval castle. It was originally constructed in 1180 and used as a castle until 1353, after which Wikipedia tells me it was "re-purposed as a court, prison, mint, and even as a cotton factory."

Seems phoney

It was later restored to its former medieval glory, with some ahistorical embellishments between 1893 and 1907, and later opened to the public as a museum.

"It was a total waste of time and money. There was nothing in there."

The city center, viewed from the Gravensteen

I found the architecture to be really interesting. You can tell that it's an amalgamation of a bunch of structures gradually built onto it, so it has the look of something that has had a bunch of additions done to it, and it's definitely unique in that respect.

As for the interior, I did enjoy the fairly extensive exhibit on medieval torture implements, but will concede that it was indeed not really full of castle stuff, probably on account of the 665 years between when I visited and when it ceased to be used as a castle.

Your mileage will vary based on your expectations and budget, however.

Steve Makes a Nuisance of Himself

A park, which lay somewhere between Het Gravensteen and Ghent's art museum
A park, which lay somewhere between Het Gravensteen and Ghent's art museum

I visited a couple of art museums, SMAK (a small contemporary art gallery which had some nice bleep bloops but nothing super memorable), and MSK Ghent, the Museum of Fine Arts, which had a lot to offer.

I had heard about great Flemish and Dutch painters in at least one bland history textbook. Looking through the galleries, I was certainly impressed at the variety and quality of the artwork.

My new favorite painting, doubtless improved by being photographed on a phone
My new favorite painting, doubtless improved by being photographed on a phone

I looked through the museum giftshop, hoping I could find a poster or postcard of my new favorite painting, Jenny Montigny's "The Gardner". They did have it on a postcard, so bought it along with a few others so I could mail them off to people.

While I was looking, one thing caught my eye. There were a couple of LP's and CD's with artsy covers. I couldn't really tell what they were, or why there were random albums in the art museum giftshop.

The main title was Cluster by An Pierlé.

I was intrigued, so I asked a museum employee what it was. She explained to me that the artist had been doing a residency at the museum.

Apparently, she had been going there and doing some experimental stuff, playing notes repeatedly, screaming, and generally making a lot of noise. It was clear from the tone and description that the museum employee did not enjoy having Ms. Pierlé making such a racket on premises.

The employee offered to play the CD for me. Given that I am a fan of people screaming while banging on pianos, I absolutely accepted. However, it turned out that they had no speakers, nor a CD player, and the employee went through quite a lot of effort to get some whisper-quiet pianos to come out of a stone age desktop.

The museum folks were astonished to hear that it was... basically, some pop music. There was no screaming at all.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed not to hear something atonal.

I put the CD back on the shelf, paid for the postcards and left.

Evening

My roommate Mike is responsible for first introducing me to the Tripel, a golden Belgian ale that is generally a bit bitter and high in alcohol.

I will say that I greatly enjoyed having a couple of beers on tap at a bar. Couple that with the last waffles from a street vendor as they close shop, and you can have a very enjoyable evening's culinary experience... if you're me.

Ghent in the early evening
Ghent in the early evening

Where Next?

So, it was when I was in Ghent that I realized I was in a bit of a pickle.

I was in a bit of a rush when I did my travel booking in Aachen, and I made one simple mistake.

I forgot a day.

Let me explain...

I was set to return to the U.S. on Monday, and to visit a certain city in Germany on Sunday, and to spend Friday in Ghent. I had made all of my reservations and plans with the assumption that... there wasn't a Saturday in between them.

I gladly would have spent more time in Ghent, or in Belgium. It is a gorgeous city, and there is a lot to see and do there!

Unfortunately, the hostel where I was staying was fully booked for the following night. In fact, when I searched online... virtually all of Belgium was booked for the following night. Anything available either did not accept single-night reservations, or was exorbitantly expensive.

I weighed my options and made a decision.

Thanks for reading!

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