We spent a couple of days at Aalst on the Dender river – Voirrey and Andy had recommended a stop here because the people at the Yatchhaaven – Mario and his brother Ivan – were so nice and helpful. And, having spent about 10 days on different free haltes, without services, we were definitely in need of water and the laundry situation was becoming somewhat dire! Talk about a warm welcome! Like long lost friends! and they really couldn’t do enough for us. The restaurant suggestion was excellent so we went to bed refreshed and slept very soundly.
We then retraced our steps to the Dendermonde sea lock, waited for the rising tide again and headed off towards Ghent. Another good run in sunny weather – reached the Merelbecke sea lock and turned off the Boven Schelde to moor at Merelbecke Yatchclub for the night . Very pleasant mooring, off the main waterway, away from the big commercial boys, so much calmer and quieter – apart from pigeons chucking acorns at us from above!
And so on Thursday 21st Sept we headed up to Ghent where we had booked to stay a week, having heard what a beautiful city it is. The map shows 3 possible mooring places in Ghent but as several people (including Mario & Ivan) had recommended Portus Ganda, that’s where we headed for. There is one lock to go through and we had been wrned that the lock keeper is a bit testy; however both we and the boat already in the lock were subjected to a long diatribe cos we called in on the VHF and he only has a mobile! Took a while but he finally let us both through!
And a lovely mooring it is, quite central (about 15 mins walk into centre) and we were lucky to be placed on the end of a pontoon with security gates. We paid for a week, met an Aussie bloke (Geoff & Leanne on Sunshine Coast) who immediately invited us round for drinks later! Met a second couple there (Peter & Ellen on Vlander) and we all got together for dinner on Friday, so a most pleasant, sociable start to our sojourn in Ghent.
We walked into town to the Tourist Info Centre and were bombarded with leaflets, information and suggestions. Could not have been more helpful. We bought ourselves 72hr visitor passes and then it took quite a bit of planning to work out what to see when! Such a lot to see and do and real Indian summer type weather in which to do it! How fortunate are we?
Museum Arnold Vanger & the Hotel D’Hane Steenhuyse – a guided tour of two beautiful manor houses opposite each other on the main shopping street demonstrated how the upper classes lived in the 17th & 18th centuries. The guide frequently referred to ‘upstairs downstairs’ when translating for us. She told the story of the silk wall covering in the main salon which really was stunning.
The Castle of the Counts – Het Gravensteen – Once the seat of the counts of Flanders, the Castle of the Counts is a mediaevl moated castle in the heart of the city centre. An imposing and majestic building which has seen many changes over the centuries. Parts date back to the 1100s but there are many later additions. It was the main military stronghold in the 14th century and then was used as the city’s jail until the late 1700s and later it was used as a cotton mill. There is a section on instruments of torture used in the jail. Nice!
Klein Begijnhof – we visited the Klien (small) Begijnhof and it was anything but small! More in blog on Beguines to follow.
Het Hinsvan Alijn – Folk Museum in old whitewashed almshouses, complete with café in the courtyard.
Cathedral – St-Baafskathedraal – St Bravo, who was Ghent’s own 7th century saint, left the life of a wealthy degenerate to become first a missionary to France and Flanders and then a hermit. It was built in stages over several centuries and therefore represents every stage of Gothic style. The main attraction is van Eyck’s ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ which is on display in a side chapel.
Belfort (Belfry) is one of the city’s landmarks, 299ft high & topped by the guilded copper dragon at the tip of its spire, guarding the city. Originally built in 1313, it was restored in 19th & 20th centuries. 54 bell clarion which play lovely tunes to accompany the clock chimes.
Design Museum – housed in an elegant 19th century mansion. Frankie had told me how wonderful this museum was with room sets in the Art Nouveau period. How disappointing to find that they are packing up to move the museum and so there was little of interest there for us. Only one small area with some Art Nouveau glass.
Museum of Fine Arts –only about half the museum was open to visitors as they were changing exhibitions.
There was a section about the restoration process being undertaken on the sections of the ‘Adoration of the Mystic lamb’ which was most interesting.
Museum of Contemporary Art – across the road from the Fin Arts Museum but a big disappointment as the whole of the ground floor was closed and we were not inspired by the pieces that were on display.
Perhaps the moral of the story is to do with timing – end of the summer season but not yet the winter season.
Boat trips – hop on / off and historic Ghent boat trip. Thoroughly enjoyed both trips – provided welcome sit down in between lots of walking around and gave us some history of Ghent. You really get to see classic Ghent buildings from the waterways which have been so important to the city throughout its history. The Graslei and Korenlei embankments which face each other were once Ghent’s main harbour. The guildhouses include the guildhouse of the free boatmen, which is decorated with detailed nautical scenes. The earliest building is 12th century and the smallest was the toll house – now the smallest bar in Ghent! A really delightful area and excellent setting for a beer or dinner! We managed both, of course.
Markets – there are several markets in Ghent quite near to us so we have been able to visit the food & general markets and the bric a brac market where I bought beer glasses and Adrian bought a new workmate! The Sunday flower market is lovely.
And sometimes we have been treated to music in the streets – first Sunday we saw 2 bands playing in front of the Cathedral. First a Caledonian Pipers Band and then a marching brass band with 2 sousaphones, no less!
We find everyone friendly and helpful even though we don’t speak any Flemish. Cn’t get over how well everyone seems to speak English – even the school kids who were kayaking for their PE session and formed a rosette beside Piedaleau on Friday morning. Naturally I took photos and one girl asked me to email them to her, which I did. Following several of them came over to thank me. Told me they are in their final year of school 3 groups (Latin / Greek; Latin / Maths & Latin / Science) and will be off to uni next year. And all speaking faultless English.
And we have walked and walked around the city, sampled the food and the beers, people watched and just thoroughly enjoyed it all. Both agreed that Ghent is gorgeous. So much so that we have decided to stay a little longer before heading to Bruges for the winter. We have heard that they are dredging the Flandria port which means that things are somewhat chaotic. So we will delay our arrival there and enjoy more of Ghent. Such a difficult decision! Voirrey and Andy are also now here for some time – extended due to lock closures – so its great to catch up together again.