Thrifty’s my name, thrifty’s my game, so when I stumbled across the unbelievably cheap prices to Ghent from London on a Megabus (they’re not that bad…honest) I couldn’t say no, and promptly snapped up a couple of return tickets. I mean, six hours is nothing when you’re in good company and have a decent supply of music, wine gums and a bottle of red wine.
So, after booking a great priced airbnb located in the heart of the city (literally a ten second walk away from the beautiful St. Michael’s Bridge) my friend and I made our way to London’s Victoria station and embarked on our journey to the land of incredible beer, chocolate, waffles and…Bicky – a seemingly staple diet for the Belgian youth, which basically comprises of a sugar bun holding the deep-fried remnants of a mammal, covered in mayonnaise and grotte pakje friet AKA large fries. It has to be tried at least once, if not only for the fantastic layer of film it leaves on the inside of your mouth and nausea!
After arriving in Ghent and dropping off our bags, we needed to wet our whistle and stumbled upon a wonderfully authentic little jazz bar next door to our accommodation on the corner of Sint-Michielsstraat called Café Bornhem that served (as is always the case in Ghent) a great selection of beers and spirits and also had a piano where we played Crystal Waters’ seminal Gypsy Woman to our hearts content (much to the dismay of the other punters).
Our first stop was to visit S.M.A.K. (The Municipal Museum of Contemporary art) to see the Ghent-born artist Berlinde De Bruyckere exhibition consisting of some of her drawings, paintings, sculptures and installation works, and can safely say, without doubt, it was the greatest exhibition I’ve ever seen. Word of warning though, her works are not for the faint hearted.
Our next stop was a place we kept hearing people mention when we asked where some of the best places to grab a great beer were – De Trollekelder AKA The Troll Cellar. Located just opposite the church on the east side of Vrijdagmarkt, De Trollekelder is a beautifully atmospheric bar, dark, wooden with lots of nooks and crannies located in an ancient merchants house. With over 140 different beers to choose from, you’re sure to find one that tickles your fancy. We found plenty and proceeded to devour the array of cured sausages they had hanging behind the bar.
By the evening we ventured over to another bar that kept cropping up in conversation, the Dulle Griet. Located on Vrijdagmarkt, the Dulle Griet offers the largest beer selection in Ghent, serving over 260 beers. We’d heard that one of the drinks called the Kwak required you to hand in your right shoe as a deposit, where the staff proceeded to ring a bell, and place your shoe in a basket that drops down from the ceiling, and is then hoisted up to the ceiling, until the contents of the Kwak (which is shaped like a giant test-tube and filled with surprisingly great beer) is empty! Why not? Yes, it’s clearly aimed at the tourists, but it’s great fun, especially looking at other willing participants stumbling about with only one shoe on – that beer is strong!
If graffiti’s your thing, head on down to Werregarrenstraat or Graffiti Street which was set up by the Ghent city council to combat the increasing problem of graffiti within the city. The walls are a free-for-all, so if you’re feeling particularly creative, then bring along a spray can and get stuck in!
If you’re looking for a night out in Ghent away from the tourists and city centre, then head on over to Overpoort, Ghent’s student district. Like any student district within a city, Overpoortstraat is lined with bars, clubs, restaurants and takeaways. According to some of the locals we spoke to in Ghent, Overpoort is usually bustling with life however unfortunately for us we arrived smack bang in the middle of the university holidays, so it was positively dead.
The great thing about Ghent is that even if you haven’t organized a list of must-see sites – which we most certainly didn’t – the city itself provides wonder on every corner. This is a fairy-tale land personified. Gothicism, gargoyles, elaborate stone masonry and labyrinthine back streets that weave their way through the city illuminated by dingy street lights. If you close your eyes and listen hard enough, you can almost hear the echoes of its medieval past.
Have you been to Ghent? Would you include anything else?
Guest post by Alex Shaw, a 20-something London dweller who works in the music industry.