Ghent Under My Skin

I am fortunate enough that most of my travels are in a sense, co-sponsored by the company I work with. I travel for work, be it coach camp, conference or training course, and always take the opportunity to take a few days either side of the event to explore the place I’m at.

This time my travels took me to gorgeous gorgeous Ghent, in the Flemish region of Belgium. The 3 days I spent in Ghent was enough to whet my appetite to want to return and spend more time exploring. I also want to return in the spring or summer months, because the 2 degrees (celsius) weather is something I am not used to. It was icy and I bundled up sausage-like with gloves, scarf, woollen beanie, and layers of clothing underneath my coat.

Ghent in 2-minutes

Ghent in Motion was shot over one year,  in and around the city, trying to catch the daily vibe of the city. Have a look at the video below showing a 2-minute teaser.

How I got there

From South Africa, I flew to Amsterdam (next time I will fly via Paris, it seems to be more straightforward), and took a train to Antwerp where I hopped on to an intercity train bound for Paris that stopped at Ghent St Pieters station.

Amsterdam to Antwerp, then on to Ghent
©2018 Regina Martins

Transport in Ghent

I walked everywhere, starting with a 1km trek from the station lugging my 14kg suitcase. I really must start travelling with a large backpack. Easier to carry and will encourage me to pack light, although I have to say that this time around I packed lighter than what is usual for me. I could have taken the tram but I had no energy to figure out how to buy a ticket and ensure that I got on to the right tram. The trek helped me get the initial layout of the area in my mind, and it put a whole lot of steps on my daily 10,000 steps requirement. Eventually, I realised that all trams go past the station and tickets can be bought at each stop at a coin-operated machine.

By the time I got to the Airbnb the sun was setting and I saw no food shops, coffee shops or restaurants open in that part of town. I was tired from the travel and all I wanted was to do was take a hot shower, have a decent cup of coffee and cocoon in the warm flatlet.  And eat something that was not bread-based or served in small plastic containers. On my trek to the flat I saw someone on a bicycle with an Uber Eats cooler bag at the back, so Uber Eats it was. The food arrived within 30 minutes of my order (on a bicycle). I was mightily impressed.

Ghent also has the largest pedestrian area in the centre of the city and most people cycle. It has a street where bicycles rule (and cars have to stay behind the cyclists). It’s the largest car-free area in Belgium. Oh, and there’s boats too.

The pedestrian friendly streets of Ghent
©2018 Regina Martins

The food, coffee and chocolates

Ghent has the most vegetarian restaurants per capita in the world. I was spoilt for choice and this was a new reality for me, where I battle to find vegetarian food in most places I go to. The city has meat-free Thursdays (Donderdag Veggiedag) with vegetarian options promoted all over town with the distribution of veggie street maps. How delightful and thoughtful is that?

My first cup of coffee was the next day, where I ambled into an Irish pub for breakfast (they advertised breakfast, I promise) and was served coffee liqueur and chocolate with my cafe-au-lait. If this was going to be the norm (the liqueur not the chocolate) at the rate I drink coffee I was going to get drunk just on coffee.

Getting drunk on coffee in Ghent
©2018 Regina Martins

Chocolate was everywhere. Shops selling chocolate, hot chocolate, people walking the streets with a cup of hot chocolate in hand (as a sweeter alternative to the ubiquitous cup of coffee), waffles with chocolate. The tea buffet at the hotel where my training course was at had a selection of chocolates and cakes and cookies…all of them with chocolate. The smell of chocolate pervaded the streets – yum!

Festivities, festivities, festivities – and shopping

The Christmas lights were still up and the final days of the Christmas festivities happened the weekend I was there. I’m glad I caught the tail-end of it. When I left the stalls, Winter Wonderland exhibition and fun fair rides were being taken down. Of course, the winter sales were on with some good deals on the go.

The architecture

It’s the kind of place where every photo I took was a great photo because the subject matter was just perfect. Well preserved Medieval buildings sat right next to more modern ones. I visited the Gravensteen Castle and St Niklaas’s Church dominates central Ghent. The city houses many churches and I loved the sounds of the bells tolling each day (and twice on Sundays), calling the devout to mass.

St Niklaas Kerk to the right
©2018 Regina Martins

As mentioned before I want to return to Ghent, to get to know it better, from the history to the food to the people. It’s a city of quiet canals, chocolates, bicycles and friendly people. Ghent is rich in history, architectural wonder and cultural heritage, and it has got under my skin.