I don’t even know how to keep up with all the things I’m doing. Today, I suppose I should highlight my
trip to the Belgian city of Ghent. The name might sound familiar to Americans, as it is where the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War was signed. It’s a city that is a 40 minute drive from Brussels. It is tremendously old and full of a splattering of different architecture styles. Canals run throughout the city; a testament to an era when canals were the lifeblood of the trading economy of Europe. Lining the canals are houses from 17th and 18th centuries. Ghent also has an abundance of cathedrals packed into a small area. Even when the city fell on hard times, glorious cathedrals were erected, trimmed in marble and gold. My companion and I first went to the heart of the city, which I consider to be Gravensteen Castle. The structure was made out of greystone and looms over a large and lively square full of tourists. The day was cold and windy but the streets were still full of visitors. I can hardly imagine how busy it must be when the weather is nice!
My companion and I dined at a cafe facing the castle. I insisted on sitting outside where we could view the castle’s outer walls. The restaurant offered thick fleece blankets and a space heater for us nutso patrons that want to dine outdoors. I ordered a Flemish Beer Stew with frites and a local abby beer. I really think I’ve been spoiled by the strong flavors of Tripels because the beer tasted a little weak to me. The stew was wonderful, though the broth was a little sweet to eat a lot of. I think next time I make stew at home I will add some belgian beer into the mix.
After lunch, I took a walking tour of Ghent offered by the Ghent tourism office. I had the distinction of being the only American in the tour group, so whenever the guide mentioned the US, he would gesture towards me and ask for little responses on the topic he was discussing. The buildings in Ghent range from Gothic to Baroque to Rococo, sometimes even on the same building! I really enjoyed the tour, but it was to COLD in Ghent after a while I started losing feeling in my toes. Even when we entered the grand cathedral that didn’t help since the church was as cold as the outdoors. In the church a great piece of panel art was kept called The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. It’s called the Mona Lisa of Belgium, but I’m afraid to say that I’d never heard of it. I didn’t get a chance to see it either, because the church keeps it sectioned off and you have to pay extra to see it. Quite the commercial operation.
After the tour, we raced back to the castle so we could enter it before it closed. I should mention that I have a certain fascination with castles. Perhaps this stems from my love of old buildings and the foreign concept of castles. As an American, we just don’t have castles back home. To me, a castle resembles something exotic and fantastic. Perhaps I may reflect on the numerous fantasy novels I’ve read that feature castles prominently: Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Dragonriders of Pern, Redwall etc. Castles hold a bit of mystery and excitment for me, although the castle of Ghent doesn’t have a pleasant history. After it was built, the many who commissioned it deemed it too uncomfortable to live and the castle instead became a prison. Not your every day prison, but a place for the condemned to be stored until execution and prisoners were tortured. Seriously, this place has a torture dungeon and torture museum. Sadly, I was unable to live out my dream of going inside the castle and catching the view of the parapets because by the time we arrived to get it, no more tickets for entry were being sold for the day. This handily won my award for biggest disappointment of the week.
For the last hour or two, I popped in and out of
shops in Ghent, specialty coffe shops, lace shops,chocolate shops and beer novelty shops. There certainly was a lot to look at. I even bought some street vendor candy called cubedons. These cone like candies are mana droplets fallen from heaven. The cone shell of the candy is filled with raspberry, grape or licorice flavored goo. You want one. Trust me. They are made almost exclusively in Flanders (Dutch Belgium) and their composition is such that they crystalize a week or two after being made. The result is, apparently that you can only get these little cones in the area. If I go back I’ll buy a dozen more!
Orval – I think my favorite of the Trappiste ales so far, even more than Chimay. Three cheers for Orval!
Ramee Blonde – Sort of a generic belgian ale. A solid choice but I think I prefer something a little more special.
Augustijn – Abby Ale from Ghent. A little short on flavor. Very crisp. Maybe better for warmer months.