F or all I know, Belgium could be the best country in the world. But to me, Belgium is mostly Brussels as I haven’t been to other places and Brussels well just… kinda sucks. I think Brussels score really high in my list of worse places to be. Most of the times people criticize me for saying this – there actually do exist people out there loving the place. They could be right. I almost changed my mind the last time I was there. It was the first time that bad things have not happened to me. But this does not change the fact that Brussels to my eyes is such an international place that in fact it is soulless. You could be in Brussels and if noone told you, you could think that you could be anywhere else – somewhere indifferent in Europe. I am exaggerating a little bit here, but I am simply making my point that my expectations for anything belgian (except of course the wonderful chocolates and the above expectations beers) are rather low.
So when I had to visit Ghent for work, I was half-hearted. Maybe that was the reason I could not manage to convince any of my friends to join me on the trip, despite all those big headlines on different travel sites on the great big internet about how Ghent was the hidden jem of Belgium, one of the less known european cities definitely worth a visit etc etc. My bad experiences from Brussels have planted the seed of doubt, so no matter what I read, it was not enough.
As soon as I landed in Brussels, a terrible weather welcomed me. I had left the wonderful greek summer at the end of June to find myself in heavy rain and rather chilly temperatures… It was not starting well… After arriving at my hotel a little bit on the wet side, I took off my waterproof jacket and decided to go for a walk anyway. It would be either a terrible mess and I would find myself in a bar tasting all the different beers or it could end up being something interesting and then… I would find myself in a bar tasting all the different beers.
All northern european cities I have been are generally nice (Brussels excluded) when the weather is sunny. When it is not, they are depressing for a mediterranean guy like me. Ghent is not an exception despite being quite picturesque and full of life from young people as it is student city.
The good thing about Ghent is that the weather changes fast. Very fast. Leaving the hotel with a rain coat proved useful for about 5 min and then all rain stopped and by the time I walked a little bit around in the city, a bright evening sun appeared in a clear sky. The switch from a depressing city to a wonderful city was immediate.
Suddenly all the roads, alleys, river banks were full of people and a vibrant atmosphere cheered me up. Now that I am thinking of it, maybe my mood was actually improved by a yumi yumi waffle that I ate by the river. And by the bestest ever hamburger that I had on a lovely cafe as I was walking back to my hotel. Along with a couple of beers.
I guess that when you have a great meal, everything around you seems nice. And I can attest that in Ghent you are going to have lots and lots of opportunities to keep your belly happy.
My good luck with the weather kept the next day too, giving me the chance to walk around a little bit more.
What I really liked is that people seem to be out there to enjoy their city. Public spaces are full of people hanging around, sitting by the parks and river banks, having picnics, dancing. Not a great comparison with my everyday reality, where public spaces feel a little more “hostile”, as if they are nice only to pass by and not stay in a place to enjoy it, unless it is a cafe or a restaurant.
The bright sun soon turned to a massive downpour. What comes around, comes around they say. But I guess this could only signal a shift from walking around the town to bar hopping. And there are plenty of reasons for that. They are called “belgian beers”. Hooray!
In the end, after two days in Ghent, I can only remember good things. A lovely city definitely worth a visit.