Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Europe - Pit Stop 1 - Ghent, Belgium

When you think of Europe and vacation, not many travelers (including me) consider Belgium. Having spent three fabulous nights in Belgium, I must admit i am pleasantly surprised and happy. Nestled between France, Germany and Netherlands, Belgium is one of Europe's best kept secrets. It's famous for its beer, waffles, chocolates, sprouts and lace. Perfect for a summer getaway. The temperatures are cool and the days are long. Beautiful and picture pretty.

We landed in Brussels (the capital of Belgium) from JFK and took the train straight to Ghent, our base for the next two days. Ghent was once famous for its textile trade. Now it's just a well preserved picturesque town with a great night life and charming museums. It's a 35 minutes train ride from Brussels.

Once you arrive at the main station called Gent-Sint-Pieters, you can either take the tram (1.20 Euros, a 15 min ride) or a taxi (10 Euros, 15 min ride) to the main city centre. Our hotel NH Ghent Belford was right next to the City centre, the hub of all attractions and tours. While the daytime is full of tourists, evenings are beautiful and less crowded. I highly recommend taking a stroll in the night once it gets dark and the city is all lit up. The monuments have a different charm to them in the night. Btw just a word of caution it does not get dark here in the summers till after 9:30 - 10 pm. So the days are definitely longer.

The most famous places to see are:

St. Michael's Bridge: One gets the best views of the city from this bridge. The bridge faces the waterway which was once the city's busy harbor. Lining the embarkments on the right of the bridge are beautifully decorated guild houses (meeting halls for the traders). There are plenty of locals (students) and tourists in and around this place, drinking, chatting and having a fun evening. The air is vibrant and light, the city shines like a star and the weather is prefect for a slow and lazy stroll.

Korenmarkt: The "Grain Market" is a small square in the city. From here you can see the three main buildings in Ghent - The church of St. Nicholas, the Belfry and St. Bavo's Cathedral. It is said that you can determine the age of a building in Ghent by the stone used in its construction. Before the year 1400 when Ghent was a wealthy town and trade was flourishing, they built with gray limestone. By 1500 as the economy slowed down, they started using yellow sandstone. And after 1500 when Ghent's economy tanked due to competition from other cities, they resorted to the cheap red bricks. Interestingly each building has several centuries of construction.

St. Nicholas' Church: This Gothic church is mostly made of gray limestone. The entrance is free and it is open daily from 10:00 - 17:00 pm. You can clearly see the transition from the gray limestone to yellow sandstone in certain parts of the church.

Belfry: This is one the biggest and most interesting buildings in Ghent. I was instantly attracted to the dragon topping the spire. Upon further reading i discovered that the dragon symbolizes a protector who never sleeps as it watches over the city. One can go up the belfry for a view over the town. It's open daily from 10:00 - 18:00 pm.

Cathedral of St. Bavo: This is the main church of Ghent. Entrance is free and it's open from 9:30 - 16:45pm mon - friday and 13:00 - 16:30 pm on sundays. Since this church was built over many centuries, all three materials were used in the construction. The highlight of the church is the Jan and Hubert Van Eyck's Adoration of the Mystic Lamb alter piece.

Ghent is a beautiful city which is specially charming in the night. Spend a day or more in this relaxed town. It's central location makes it a great home base while traveling to nearby cities. The city has beautiful monuments which come to life in the night. Make sure you're cameras are well equipped to capture the night time beauty. Here are some shots my friend and I took during our visit.

St. Michael's Bridge
St. Michael's Bridge
Ornately decorated guild houses
Another view of the city in the night 
A view of the famous buildings

St. Nicholas' Church


Cathedral of St. Bavo
Cathedral of St. Bavo 

5 comments:

Tiffany said...

I want to go now too!

Tiffany said...

I want to go now too!

Shruti Kapoor said...

Tiffany, you will love this place...it's beautiful!!

Christophe said...

I'm always happy when people like my hometown. And that's why i'm so sad to be a hair-splitter. The translation of Korenmarkt should be grain-market in stead of corn-market. If you want to see Ghent really alive, you should come during the Ghent festivities. (http://www.gentsefeesten.be/en). They start every year the saturday before the third sunday of july. But then the NH Belfort hotel is in the middle of the festivities. BTW, congrats on the foto's.

Shruti Kapoor said...

Christophe, thank you so much for the correction, I will make the change right away. I am glad you liked the photos. I did love your city and wish could spend more time. Hopefully I will make it back during one of the festivities soon. Thanks once again!!