Since Randolph had a 3-day weekend for President’s day we decided to go on a little weekend trip. We settled on Ghent, a cute little medieval city in Belgium that is close enough to drive to.
The first step was to finally go get our international licenses so we could drive outside of Germany. This was actually quite easy – you just go to an office in the city with some documents, a passport photo, and money… and you walk out with your little international license booklet.
The second important part of planning a road trip here is carefully planning our gas stops. The gas ration card we were issued gets us American gas prices at any Esso station in Germany. This meant that we needed to fill up at the closest Esso station to the German/Belgian border so that we could avoid having to buy gas “on the economy”, since the local gas prices are somewhere in the area of $6/gallon. Unfortunately, the area of Germany we’d be last driving through is an Esso station dead zone, so it was still a 3 hour drive from the station to Ghent. Because of that, we knew we wouldn’t quite have enough gas to completely avoid buying non-Esso gas, so we wound up getting 5€ of gas on the return trip to get us back to the station to fill up. And the empty light came on as we were getting off the exit for the station…talk about perfect timing!
The first two days in Ghent were cold, rainy, and windy. We didn’t get to walk around and explore the city as much as we would have liked to since we were trying to jump from indoor activity to indoor activity as much as possible. It was pretty miserable weather, but being in a very cool and pretty city certainly helped counter it!
We arrived around lunchtime and met up with our Airbnb host at the apartment. It was a really stylish, fun apartment! Pretty much the kind of place you always hope to find on Airbnb. It was a cold, rainy day and drinking hot tea with our host while she gave us her suggestions was so perfect and cozy.
Once we’d had a chance to warm up a bit, we ventured out into the rain to start seeing the sights. First up, Gravensteen Castle!
The castle is right in the old part of the city, about a 5 minute walk from the apartment. It’s along one of the canals that run through the middle of the city. The castle has showrooms of weaponry and torture devices (that part wasn’t really my cup of tea, but Randolph thought it was interesting). The castle is actually partly rebuilt, as it had fallen into disrepair over the years.
Next, we hit up Design Museum Gent. I was really excited for this but, sadly, it was a bit disappointing for the most part. It wasn’t nearly as big as I expected, or as varied. But they had a nice courtyard!
After that, we decided to knock a couple touristy food stops off our list, since we knew most things would be closed the next day (Sunday).
One Ghent food specialty is Tierenteyn mustard, a very spicy mustard. We brought home a little stoneware jar of it (that jar can join the Maille mustard one from Paris as decorative mementos once they’re both empty). The store is very old-timey and they fill your little jar from a giant barrel of mustard with a ladel. You can definitely get the feeling that they’ve been doing this for a while and will keep on doing it exactly the same.
Next up: Temmerman candy shop for cuberdons, a candy native to Ghent. They are a raspberry flavored gummy/jelly candy with a gooey filling. Shaped like noses (no, I don’t understand, either). And the candy shop also happens to be one of the cutest buildings in the city. So doubly worth a visit!
For dinner we went to Amadeus, a [very] popular restaurant that is known for their all-you-can-eat spare ribs. Not really enticing to me, but I knew Randolph would enjoy it. They have multiple locations around Ghent because they are so insanely popular. We tried locations #1 and #2 but both were packed. They kindly walked us over to location #3, which is still pretty new and under-the-radar, so not too busy. As you can maybe tell from this picture, their decor is kind of “kitschy chic.” There were many interesting doodads all over that we kept noticing and commenting on the whole time.
We started the day off walking around a bit. It was still pretty overcast/rainy and the streets were very empty at this hour on a Sunday. It was very peaceful and gave me a good chance to take some pictures without people all over in them.
We looped back and had breakfast at a cute cafe we’d walked by a few times, called Le Jardin Bohémien. I forgot to take a picture of it before we left, but they had a chalkboard that said “Cake is the answer, no matter the question.” Personally, I think pie is the answer, but close enough. The coffee was good (and so very necessary on such a gloomy day) and so was the very homemade food. My breads came with an assortment of delicious homemade chutneys.
Since almost everything is closed on Sundays, we spent the day going to the few things open (i.e. touristy things).
First, the Belfry tower. It has a super narrow staircase and a ton of steps (it’s definitely not for the claustrophobic!), but the view is great, and the music the bells play was beautiful. We opted to take the elevator on the way down because it was getting busier and climbing past people going the other direction in the staircase was veeeeery precarious (on the inner side of the winding staircase the steps were only a couple inches deep and no railing…yikes).
The view from the tower with the bells playing!
We also went to St. Bavo’s Cathedral, home of the Ghent Altarpiece. It’s one of the artworks featured in the movie Monuments Men, and apparently also the most often stolen piece of art. We caught part of the movie on TV in the hotel when we first moved here, but now we’ll have to watch it for real. Everything from that moving time period is just a blur. You couldn’t take pictures of the altarpiece (it’s in its own room for security/preservation and there’s a guard watching), but I took photos in other parts of the cathedral.
When we got hungry we got a waffle with cherries and cream at a street stand (our Airbnb host’s recommended way to try good waffles). It didn’t disappoint! The waffle was almost kind of caramelized, with a little crunch to it. The sweetness of the cherries and richness of the cream made a good pairing.
We then went to a (slightly odd) museum called the House of Alijn, also recommended by our host. I feel like it probably makes more sense if you’re Belgian. It was mostly rooms organized by time period, trying to show slices of life in Ghent throughout modern history. They had a special exhibit on competitive track cycling. I never knew that there was a whole world of that! It’s apparently pretty popular in Belgium.
We still had some time to kill before our dinner reservation, so we checked out the industry and textile museum, since it was also on our pass. I think that a lot of people would probably find this museum boring or tedious, but as someone who likes to know and understand how things are made, I thought it was pretty fascinating.
Their special exhibit was on industrial enameling (signs, cookware, etc). It might sound like a snooze-fest, but it was actually interesting to me, since I have several really nice pieces of enameled French cookware (from Staub & Le Creuset). I had never really considered how they make such a durable color coating or how they create all the colors. It’s quite involved! They also had a few hands-on sections, including this excellent photo op:
Then finally… it was time for our long-awaited dinner at Eat Love Pizza! It was really tasty! We, obviously, had some good Belgian beers with our pizza, too.
Of course, we had to end with more waffles (with a side of Nutella)! I’m not sure if they were heart-shaped for Valentine’s Day or if they always make them like that, but they were pretty cute.
Our last (partial) day it was finally nice outside! Of course it would be nice on the day we only had a few hours, right? We spent our time walking around and collecting up the final souvenirs (i.e. food) we wanted to take home, including some amazing Belgian chocolates from Chocolaterie Cédric van Hoorebek and some local Ghent beer from Gruut.
Some exciting trips coming up in the next couple months!