Tuesday, 1 January 2013

A view to knock your socks off.


Day 165 26.12.12 Ghent

The view from St Michael's bridge in Ghent, Belgium

Castle of the Counts aka Gravensteen in Ghent, BelgiumWe got up early (for us) to find bright blue skies and even some sunshine.  Pleased to see a brighter day he headed straight out to town.  The route wasn’t too obvious and took us through some of the rough outskirts of town.  I have to admit I was beginning to worry if Ghent would live up to what we had heard about it.  It certainly didn’t seem as welcoming or as safe as Bruges.  Soon enough though we found St Michaels, a relatively ordinary but large church which we knew was close to the centre.  Unfortunately it was closed so we couldn’t look inside.   We walked on and soon reached St Michaels bridge, the most famous viewpoint in the city.  It just blows you away.  All of the city’s main sites are here together and it’s incredibly awe inspiring.  After such a rough looking route in, this is exactly what we needed to restore our desire to look around this city.  I think of all the places we’ve seen so far, no single view has quite knocked me off my feet as much as this one.

Castle of Gerald the Devil aka Geeraard de Duivelsteen in Ghent, Belgium
First we visited the church of St Nicholas which was some amazing features, it is however let down a little by some of the worst sculptures I’ve ever seen.  Obviously moulded upside down, these atrocities have club feet and very misshapen heads!  We then popped inside the Belfry tower though didn’t pay to climb to the top.  Whilst no doubt a very pretty building, it’s not as impressive as its counterpart in Bruges.  Next we moved on to the Cathedral of St Bavo which is outstandingly gorgeous.  As we walked around we were accompanied by the music of a man playing the harp in one of the many detailed cloisters.  The stained glass windows here are tremendously attractive and the sculptures worlds away from St Nicholas’.  The crypt down below plays home to many of the cathedral’s treasures, mostly embroidered cloaks and gaudy gold trinkets.

St. Michael's church by the canal in Ghent, BelgiumWe then walked down to see the oddly named Castle of Gerald the Devil, a gorgeous French-looking chateau on the canal.  It doesn’t appear that you can go inside (not on Boxing Day anayway!).  We headed back through town taking in the stunning canal-side views towards the Castle of the Counts.  It’s a much more functional and sturdy looking castle than Gerald’s, but very impressive.  Interesting fact: the street lights around the castle are linked to the town hospital’s maternity department and flicker brightly every time a new Ghent-citizen is born – a lovely feature.  We headed back to the van shortly after for lunch and then headed back out reinvigorated, particularly smug that we had taken our dinner break during the only rain thus far today.

Vrijdagmarkt square by night at Christmas time in Ghent Belgium
We strolled around the rest of town in the afternoon, particularly enjoying being beside the canals.  The canalside buildings are astoundingly beautiful.  Many of them have been quite sympathetically turned into bars and hotels but retain all of their traditional facades.  It’s certainly a place to stop for a while and take it all in.  On our wandering we ended up in the Vrijdagmarkt area of town with its grand square and quirky curiosity shops.  Chris is in heaven marvelling at all the weird and wonderful things to be found here.  One of the places we enter feels like walking around the house of an eccentric hoarder, there’s no sense or theme to the things for sale but it’s great fun looking around!

St Bavo cathedral by night with Christmas market in Ghent, BelgiumSt Micheal's bridge view by night in Ghent, BelgiumIt has soon got dark and we opt to head back to the van taking in all the lit up buildings as we go.  They don’t seem to have done it as well as Bruges did though and despite a good while spent trying to take a nice picture from St. Michaels bridge I grumpily give up and we head home.  It’s been a great day of sight-seeing and we return to the van pleasantly exhausted.  

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