Europe’s best kept secret

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Just some hundred years ago, Ghent was the European metropolis. Bigger than London and certainly than Berlin or Brussels, only Paris outranked it in population and importance. Today, the city is nicknamed „Europe’s best kept secret“. I couldn’t stop thinking about what that suggests for our contemporary places-to-be. Will New York City in 250 years be a charming university town, is Tokyo going to be some kind of romantic getaway in 300 years?

Ghent sure shows off its former significance – and wealth. The Cathedral alone with all its splendor would be enough to remind the visitors of the grand days; the Belfort, all the other churches, the castles and all the old houses recount the history that Ghent can be proud of. Even thought it’s a bit too medieval (they consciously revamped the city some years ago to make it look even older), it charmed me more than Antwerp and maybe even more than Bruges. (I mean, Bruges feels more like a theme park, albeit a wonderful one.) Ghent breathes student life and vibrant vibes. It has the reputation to be a bit of a hippie place with headstrong inhabitants and on our night arriving there, we sat outside a wonderful bar (De Alchimist if you wanna go) in the shadow of the very impressive Castle of the Counts next to us enjoying the lit up streets and young people strolling by. Oh, yeah, and we enjoyed one of the 16 variations of Gin Tonic the bar is famous for.

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The first Ghenter I encountered, fell in love instantly.

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Ghent has lots of interesting graffiti and our map guided us there.

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Medieval Manhattan is what they call this skyline of three towers

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“Again one car less”, this sign says

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Jesus would disapprove

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Ghent sells very peculiar things

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In the midst of all cathedral, they built something that looks like a cathedral without walls, it serves as a public space for concerts

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Dignity in dress and manners. Sounds like a generally good motto for life.

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See the golden bar between the two houses? We couldn’t figure out if that is art or needs to be there to keep the houses stable.

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Adorbale umbrella logo

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Do you see the graffiti cooks?

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Waterzooi is something Ghenters eat a lot, it literally means Water Mess.

In Bruges

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It might speak of my ignorance if I say that the first time I really heard about Bruges was when the movies „In Bruges“ was new. In German, the title was „To see Bruges and die“ which suggested to me that if there was anything you should do before dying, it’s visiting Bruges. As I have not seen the movie, I have no idea if my interpretation is anywhere close to the plot (probably not), but it made me want to go visit the much-talked about town.

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Is this art or can we interact with it for a photo?

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My friends patiently tagged along, warning me beforehand that Bruges was hyped. And boy, was the inner city crowded. I am not sure if I saw any locals at all, if we don’t count those working as tour guides, waitresses or horse carriage drivers. It’s not surpising tourists flock this town – it’s basically a living fairy tale. I would not have been particularily shocked if a knight in shining armor had turned up at some corner. Things I noticed Bruges has a lot of: lingerie shops and statues of Mary. Add to that the designated „kissing spots“ and tell me how that all works out together. The kissing spots were somewhat ironic: while they were mostly located at very romantic places in Bruges, they were so well known to tourists that any potential kissing would have to be done in front of an audience of on average 53 people. But maybe thats’s what rocks the boat for Belgians…?

I thought Bruges was absolutely picturesque but I would like to come back at 3 a.m. to be able to enjoy it in more privacy.

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Oh and yes, by the way, Happy Pentecost!

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The weirdest thing we saw was an exhibition on the Bruges Belfried.

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“The Blue Eyed Lady”, a series sold for 700 euro each.

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The afternoon we spent in De Haan where they have really pretty houses that all have names.

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Throw your hands in the air

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“Of all Belgian cities, we have the best style. […] Our dialect is a world language. […] We have the best nightlife. […] Our cathedral tower is the prettiest in the country. […] Even fleamarkets are fun in Antwerp. […] Antwerp has the best painters, theater makers, choreographers and fashion designers. […] We have the prettiest train station in the world. Every international newspaper has written so. […] We have soldiers on the streets. Lots of them.”

This is what the “Use it travel guide”, that believe has been written after the U.S. election of 2016, says about Antwerp, the city that marks the beginning of my road trip through Flanders with my Dutch friend and my Belgian friend. The last time we all saw each other as when we studied together in Uppsala, so it was about time for #beneger to reunite and see Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent.

Antwerpians don’t seem to be well-liked in Belgium and I still have not figured out if it’s jealousy or if they really are stuck-up. What I have learned so far is that the name Antwerp comes from “throw hand”: legend has it that local hero Brabo cut off the hand of a giant who wanted to tax people. He threw the hand away and that is what “hand werpen” means. So…throw your hands in the air to fit in, I guess.

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Yeah, they mean seaweed

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In the castle there is a photo machine and if you leave your picture, they put you up on a large wall in the month you took it

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While my friend Manon as enjoying her “lost bread” (Dutch for French Toast), the waitress got into a heavily violent fight that included choking, right next to us. Apparently Belgians are not avoiding conflict. Still a little shocked.