I’ve visited the Flemish city of Ghent on two occasions, both as morning visits. The reason being, it’s very convenient to add Ghent to a Belgian coach trip, so why not? We took the night bus from London Victoria coach station, operated by Megabus, we arrived in Ghent about 5:30AM, an hour or so before it reaches the capital, Brussels. The coach dropped us off at the Campanile hotel, which is on the city outskirts. So we had an hour walk to the city centre, no problem, at this hour we had time to kill.
We had Ghent to ourselves, not a car or pedestrian in sight. This slowly changed as we approached the centre, by this time people had left for work, trams packed with people began to speed past. The fluorescent glow of the street lamps combined with the rising sun made our early morning walk feel pretty magical. The medieval architecture is the biggest attraction here, since we’d arrived in Ghent at such an early hour, aimless wandering was all we could do. Discovering magnificent new buildings around every corner is such fun, even better when you have the streets all to yourself. The brilliant and quirky street art positioned all around the city provides even more to see.
Tourism in Ghent seems to start at 10AM, nearly 5 hours after we had arrived. By this time I was already getting tired, I had found it impossible to sleep on the night bus. I can’t sleep on any form of travel, I think it’s the excitement of somewhere new that keeps my mind awake. But I wasn’t bothered, when it comes to travel I’m like a machine, I can’t be stopped. Perhaps all them energy drinks helped too.
The first paid attraction we visited was, Gravensteen. I was most excited about visiting this castle, which originated in the Middle Ages. The castle opens its doors at 10AM, but as you can imagine, we were already waiting outside before this time. Gravensteen is astonishing, I almost felt I’d traveled back in time, but fellow tourists wielding their extended GoPro cameras ruined that fantasy for me. This castle has suffered a lot over the years, due to wars. As a result, it has been heavily renovated. I suspect little remains authentic, but you probably won’t notice. Gravensteen has received great restoration work, I’d bet it has never looked as good as it does today. Admission is €10.00, for those under 26 its €6. I’d recommend being under 19, because then you can get in for free. My favourite exhibition was the torture room, perhaps a little morbid, but definitely fascinating. It’s quite interesting to see the original instruments on display, and the illustrations depicting them being used are certainly harrowing.
Next we decided to visit St. Bavo’s Cathedral. It’s not hard to find, its magnificent bell tower steals the skyline. The main reason for our visit was to see the famous work of art ‘Lamb of God’. This huge alter piece was painted on 14 separate panels. To see such an important piece of sacred religious art is humbling. This masterpiece hasn’t had a peaceful life, in 1934 thieves stole one of the panels, to this day the crime has gone unsolved, and now a perfect replica sits in its place. If that wasn’t enough, in WW2 Nazi soldiers were given the order to steal it in its entirety. Luckily, it survived and is back where it belongs. The fee to view this painting is a mere €4. The staff guarding it are rather strict, they will not tolerate noise or photography, I saw many tourists discover that the hard way.
At around mid-day, our time in Ghent had come to an end. This charming city is more than worthy of being the sole destination of a trip, and of course has so much more to offer. However, for us it was just an added bonus on an already short trip. We made our way to Saint Peters train station, which is unlike no other, one of the most elegant train stations I’ve ever seen. We were travelling to Brussels, which was our main and final destination. The journey cost me just €6, being under 26 made me eligible for a GO PASS 1 discounted ticket, standard price is €8.90. Just half an hour later we had arrived in the Belgian capital.