The Land of Fries and Chocolate

Our 3-hour flight on Estonian Air was uneventful, and we landed safely in Brussels, where Randy grabbed us a quick meal at, well, Quick (the European fast food chain) and we took the train to Ghent. It was after 9PM at this point some we saw nothing on the 45 minute or so ride. Well, aside from the ubiquitous graffiti that was lacking in Finland and Estonia, but seems ever-present in much of Europe.

Instead of navigating the tram system with all of our luggage, we hailed a cab and 10 euros later found ourselves at the NH Gent Belfort Hotel. I found this hotel online and honestly couldn’t have picked a better location. It was directly across the street from the  magnificent City Hall, and only a few blocks walk to vitually all of Ghent’s attractions. It was now 11pm so we headed out to get a few night time shots of what turned out to be an impressive cluster of gorgeous buildings.

The next day we planned to meet Randy’s friend, Virginie (who lives in Brussels). Before her arrival, we decided to get a birds-eye view of Ghent by going to the top of Belfort (the bell-tower). We managed to be in the bell mechanical room just as the bells were to go off and got to watch what appeared to be a giant room-sized music box go into action. It was pretty damn cool…and pretty damn loud.

There is a very narrow outdoor observation deck that wraps around the tower so we took pictures of the city from every angle. it was one beautiful building after another, witht he occasional canal cutting through the cityscape. In the distance, you could see the nuclear power plants (you take the good with the bad, I guess).

Realizing we had time left before his friend arrived, we toured the Castle Gravensteen (originally built in 1180, but remodeled continiuosly since then). I thought it was pretty cool…and interesting how the city seemed to have grown around it (versus other castles that are more isolated/remote).

We then returned to the street, checked out St. Nicholas Church, then Virginia arrived. We walked around Korenmarkt a bit, then grabbed lunch smack dab in the heart of things. Trying to eat authentically, I ordered the vlaamse stoofkarbonaden (a beef soaked in beer).

After lunch it became apparent the this was a big day in Ghent as there were floating concert barges in the canals and there were mobs of people milling about. As the afternoon progressed, it got more and more crowded. Virginie ended up heading home before dusk, then Randy and I headed out for mor exploration and learned that there would be fireworks. WOO HOO.

Maintaining my adventurous steak, I decided to try waterzooi for dinner. I read it described as a dish traditionally made with left-over fish boiled in water with some veggies. In current days, people prefer to have it with chicken, and that’s what I ordered.

Essentially, it was chicken soup (but it still tasted good).

The night got chilly and we were both exhausted after 7 full days of European exploration so we headed back to the room and hoped we’d be able to watch the 11PM fireworks from our room.

And we could! Well, I could. Randy couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed and watched the reflections in the open window. But I stood at the window like a 6 year old for the whole thing.

Both days we spent in ghent I enjoyed a healthy (well, perhaps unhealthy)  quantity of Belgian waffles. The first day, for breakfast, I had them with strawberries, powdered sugar and whipped cream. That afternoon I shared a dessert waffle wtih Randy, that consisted of bananas, ice cream, and chocolate sauce (by shared I should clarify that I allowed him to have a bite). The next morning, I had a waffle with mixed fruit and whipped cream. And that was the last waffle I had in Belgium

Then we headed to Oostende and Bruges.

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