This is the weekend when the clocks go forward. The hotel thoughtfully put a printed "important message" in our room to remind us. It means that we have an hour’s less sleep. I do wish they would stop messing about with the clocks in this way.
Today we are taking the same train as yesterday but going only half as far – to the city of Ghent, the second of the cities recommended to us by the tourist information office. At the station we again bought a weekend tariff ticket and then had a train within minutes.
The day is overcast, though the sun is trying to break through, and it is again cold.
On arriving at Ghent station we were met by a pair of collared doves who had a nest in the platform canopy.
Ghent station is smaller and far less elaborate than Antwerp’s but the concourse is prettily and colourfully painted.
The exterior of the station is an unusual turreted design, like a castle, with a tall, off-set clock tower.
The station is not in the more interesting part of town. On arrival, we had to work out which transport would take us to the centre. With a little help from a local, we took a tram, having bought day tickets at a ticket machine. We got out at the Vogelmarkt ("Bird market") and started exploring.
At this point Ghent seemed far less picturesque or interesting than Bruges. We saw numbers of large impressive buildings, some old and of traditional pattern, but I found the style hard to characterize. Tigger felt it is more French but I am not so sure about that. It is true that I notice more vestiges of the French language here than in the other two towns but that could simply be a matter of chancing on them here and missing them elsewhere.
As it was Sunday, very little was open and there was a Sunday hush over the whole town. We eventually found a pleasant cafe for a rest and a hot drink. Afterwards we continued walking and eventually came upon the more interesting and picturesque part. For lunch, we found an inexpensive veggie place selling ready prepared foods and a choice of hot soups.
In this street, a cable carrying electricity and lights had become a depository for old shoes.
While Ghent has its share of traditional stepped gables, many other styles are also in evidence.
This building, reminiscent of Wedgewood designs is dated 1706. White relief on a red background creates an elegant as well as colourful finish.
The Gravensteen Castle (“Castle of the Count”) was first built in the 12th century and still cuts and imposing figure with its well preserved battlements and turrets.
As in Bruges, there are plenty of churches in Ghent and plenty of religious iconography, as befits a country where the majority religion is Catholicism, I suppose. A favourite, to contrast the softly feminine Virgin holding the Christ Child, is the violently macho Archangel St Michael.
He is often shown, as here, waving his sword and trampling on a dragon who supposedly represents Satan.
This monument celebrates Hubert and Jan (or Johannis) Van Eyck, Flemish painters who were born in what is now Belgium. I don’t know why the pair look so snooty unless that’s supposed to be painterly gravitas gone slightly awry.
A slightly different sort of monument, this one is the Great Cannon, situated in a small square named after it, GrootKanon Plein. I have to admit that I do not know what purpose it served but I bet St Michael would like to get his violent little fingers on it.
The figure represents Jacob Van Arteveldt, aka “The Brewer”
(Look him up)
Feeling a little buildinged- and monumented-out, we decided to go for a tram ride. We had, after all, bought day tickets and might as well use them. This is actually a good way to tour the city.
We caught the tram at the castle and went with it to the terminus called Flanders Expo. There we stayed aboard (actually, I dozed off – so much for seeing the city!) while it ran back the other way to Wondelgem. Here we were turfed off but as this place just a suburb, the middle of nowhere, so to speak, we remained with the tram until we were allowed to board again.
By the time we reached the centre again, we were beginning to feel that we had seen and done enough, so we started back towards the station. Refreshments were in order so we made for the station buffet.
As we approached the buffet, from the pretty windows and carvings, we gained a hint of what was to come.
With its tall pillars and painted-dial clock, the buffet was like something from a past, more elegant, era. There were wall paintings, too, and a colourful tiled ceiling. Despite having been redecorated (perhaps many times) it retains its ancient charm.
Having had coffee, we decided to stay on for an early supper in these pleasant surroundings. The menu was entirely in Flemish and we sought the assistance of the waiter.
The waiter, it turned out, was the only person we encountered in a service position who had no English at all. He had to fetch two more colleagues who between them managed, with a bit of a struggle, to elucidate the menu for us.
Having finished our meal we saw that a train would depart for Bruges in about 10 minutes and so we hurried to the platform. We were pleased to find it was a double-decked train of the sort that is also common in the Netherlands. Naturally, we chose seats on the upper deck, where you have a better view out.
I think such double-decked trains would help alleviate the chronic congestion problems on the British railways but for that to be possible, bridges and tunnels would need to be raised or tracks lowered and I imagine that the cost would be prohibitive.
Back in Bruges, we went to catch the number 16 bus to the hotel. A single journey would cost 2 euros each so Tigger tried the day tickets that we had bought in Ghent. They worked! We got back to the hotel without further expense.
Bruges remains the prettiest of the three towns we have visited. The other two have their individual characters and points of interest and are worth a visit, but I think Bruges is over all the most attractive. On the other hand, it is smaller than the others and people keen on nightlife and other activities might prefer other livelier towns.