We Went to Ghent - Days 676 – 677
Our first port of call was going to be Amsterdam until we looked at the astonishingly high accommodation prices. Instead, we decided to visit Ghent in Belgium, and I was thrilled to find coach tickets from London Victoria to there for a mere £15.21 each.
At the coach station, we got chatting to Eva from Stockholm. She had come over to the UK with her husband, spending time in Scotland. After her husband flew home, she met up with some old friends. Being conscious of the climate crisis, she decided to go back to Stockholm by coach and train via Amsterdam, Hamburg and Copenhagen.
Later on our 7 hours coach ride, Eva came to join us for a chat. What a delightful lady. She told us about various wonderful places around Stockholm, the woodlands where she collects blueberries and mushrooms, and she highly recommended visiting the Island of Gotland. One for another time.
We arrived in the evening at our Airbnb and met our host, Sander. What a charming young man. He works as an Account Manager for Natuurpunt; an independent voluntary association that protects vulnerable and endangered nature in Flanders. We had such a stimulating conversation about the climate crisis, extinction rebellion, sustainable energy, the pros and cons of electric cars etc. And what’s more, his flat is lovely. Five stars all round.
Our first full day was walking around Ghent, or is it Gent; the tourist board states that it is Europe’s best-kept city. It is a very young place with over 70,000 students living here. I mentioned to Tim that the average age here is 50 years younger than Belgium’s city of Bruges; he believed me!
First impressions? All good. Lots of cyclists and trams, not many cars, great places to eat especially for vegetarians such as the climate crisis conscious café Green Way (my maiden name is Greenaway, so seemed very apt), where we ate delicious plant-based burgers.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very kind and rained for most of the day. We found haven in the gothic building of St Bavo’s Cathedral, what a place! The inside was an assortment of periods and artwork, including pillars built by 12th century Romans, a Rubens’ masterpiece Saint Bavo enters the Convent at Ghent, and a fabulous new stained-glass window which was unveiled less than a year ago. This was created by Van de Perre after his friends donated money when they heard that one of his outstanding wishes was to design a window for the cathedral. The only instructions he received for the project was the word ‘Mercy’ and ‘Father Damien’, a Belgian saint known as ‘the martyr of charity’.
The main attraction is Van Eyck’s The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. We paid a small fee to see the original with an audio explaining the panels of this masterpiece. It is stunning with intricate details such as the jewels in Christ’s crown, the writing in the old testament that John the Baptist is reading, the specific features that represent key figures such as Saint Stephen, who is carrying the rocks used to stone him with and St Agnes who is carrying a lamb.
The artwork has certainly had its fair share of drama, surviving a revolution in 1566, being split up and sold to the King of Prussia, being stolen by the Germans in both World Wars and lastly two-panel were stolen in 1934 with the thief returning the “John the Baptist” panel to give credence to his ransom of 1 million francs for the “Just Judges” panel. Sadly this piece has never been found, despite the alleged thief giving details to his lawyer just before he died of a note which read: "[it] rests in a place where neither I, nor anybody else, can take it away without arousing the attention of the public." Got any ideas? Even 85 years later, the police still have not located it, but progress apparently is still being made.
It was time to face the rain and walk to Patershol via Graffiti Street, an area for street artists to be let loose with their spray cans. Sadly, I wasn’t that impressed; there was too much scribble layered over better artwork.
Patershol is the old neighbourhood dating back to the Middle Ages, with narrow, winding lanes lined with tall, narrow buildings. These were originally homes for the military, then lawyers, taken over by merchants and then became a working-class area with many buildings split into flats. It is now a rather trendy neighbourhood with many bars, restaurants and art studios which all seem to shut on Tuesdays. We came back to our Airbnb for a nice cuppa, and a gestreken mastel, a traditional Ghent pastry which is like a cinnamon bagel with butter and sugar in the middle and is supposed to be then ironed flat, however, like me, the baker also doesn’t do any ironing.
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