A Pause in Ghent
We were now in Flanders, with about two weeks before we wanted to be at our winter mooring and only two or three days cruising separated us from Veurne. So it was now time to slow down and take in the atmosphere of Belgium.
Ghent (the Dutch is ‘Gent’, with the guttural ‘g’, so it sounds a bit like ‘Hent’) was once the second city of Norther Europe, after Paris. That was a fair while ago (in the 14th Century) but it has been an important port and trading town right up until today. Largely undamaged in both the last two world wars, it is a pretty and historic town. We moored in the Ketelvaart, which essentially formed one of the borders of the old town. So we only had to cross a bridge over the little canal on which we rested, and we found ourselves on cobbled streets, only a stone’s throw from a vast number of cathedrals.
The city is threaded with several wide canals, and a multitude of restaurants, bars and coffee shops lining the edges to allow for locals and visitors to relax and enjoy beautiful vistas.
Always available if it rains, always impressive, almost always cheap – so we do tend to duck in. There is always so much history in these churches. They are filled with wonderful artworks and tell fascinating stories of their past. They detail the first and subsequent versions of the churches as they are forced to change denomination as different people reign and wars are fought and lost. During these times, some of the works of art are lost or destroyed, and the structure changes dramatically as additional transcepts are built or lengthened and chapels are built with funds donated by the various guilds.
Saint Nicholas Church
Dating from the early 13th century, it is one of the oldest landmarks in Ghent.
Saint Bavo’s Cathedral
Later in our stay, we spent a few hours inside this enormous cathedral. Founded in the first millennium and with some traces of the original still present, this is a very old church.
In tourist sense, it is most famous for the altarpiece ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ by Hubert and Jan van Eyck – considered one of the masterpieces of Belgian art. Some even consider it the most influential artwork ever made. It was certainly one of the most remarkable pieces we have ever seen. The detail is breathtaking.
The general public is able to view a reproduction, while the original, in its original location, is only open to special visitors. You aren’t allowed to even take pictures of the reproduction (not that that ever ever stops Ian!)
It has the dubious distinction of probably being the world’s most stolen art work, Napoleon and Hitler being just two of the many to have a go. It was last recovered from a railway tunnel, after WW2 – the movie on ‘The Monuments Men’ being based loosely on events that were related to its last theft. One panel is still only known from reproductions, it having never been recovered.
The church also has extensive undercroft with wall paintings that date back to the 12th century, amazing!
Not generally associated with Belgium, but we found two on our short visit. The first of these was Gravensteen, first built in 1180. It has recently been substantially restored, having fallen into disrepair over a long period. At our visit is was celebrating art of death – morbid, but fascinating.
Well, the main food is again beer, but other than that on one occasion we were treated to a very plentiful and cheap lunchtime meal of soup at a ‘fast soup’ restaurant.
We also had one slap up meal, not too expensive but utterly delicious.
Everywhere we went in both the Netherlands and Belgium, you found this franchise selling chocolate and ice-cream. Strange to see Aussie as marketing aspect for those foods!
But the highlight was the mustard. The Tierenteyn-Verlent mustard has been made in a single location in Ghent since 1790 from a secret combination of mustard seeds, without preservatives. It is made fresh every day. You buy a container and the mustard is skilfully poured into the vessel from this giant vat without a drop spilt.
Once you have paid for the vessel, all subsequent refillings are free. I’ve got mine washed and ready to go! The only drawback is that this house mustard is really, really strong – kind of knives up the nose strong – Lisette loves it, Ian not so much.
It was still a rushed, three-day visit to Ghent. We have a couple of churches, the belfry and a number of other attractions – not to mention just meandering through the streets, markets, and hanging out in bars – all waiting for our next visit – which we intend to do next year.
We will also be able to refill our mustard container!