Day Two: A Full Day in Ghent

Ghent boomed in the Middle Ages when the wool trade made it wealthy. It’s population in the 14th century was around 65,000, a huge population at that time (only Paris was larger, north of the Alps). Our hotel is located in the center of historic Ghent, making a self-guided walking tour of the city easy. Using Rick Steves’ information as a guide (His guides are our go-to source for all of Europe), we meandered along the old streets of the city, taking in the picturesque sites of the city, which still looks much like it did around 1500 A.D. However, due to the extremely popular Ghent Festival going on, it lacked some its usual medieval charm, as the squares are crammed with stages, carnival rides, and food and beverage booths.

With the festival ongoing, these outdoor urinals are found on every other street corner. It’s a little weird seeing men walk up in public and empty their bladders. This ain’t the United States!

Street vendor, selling Cuberdons, a very sweet Belgian candy with a soft, jelly filling.

From St. Michael’s Bridge, we enjoyed a beautiful panorama of Ghent before proceeding to Korenmarkt Square, on which sits the 13th-century Church of St. Nicholas. It is no wonder that the church was popular with the sailors, since St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors. Unfortunately, this region was at the forefront of the 16th-century iconoclastic movement, in which Protestant reformers destroyed and stripped Catholic Churches of all their beauty. Essentially all the stained glass in Ghent was destroyed.

What was once the post office, on Korenmarkt Square.

On St. Michael’s bridge.

The view from St. Michael’s Bridge with the three major structures rising up into the sky (from front to back, St. Nicholas, the Belfry, and St. Bavo).

The nave of St. Nicholas Church.

The 15th century facade of the Masons’ Guild House, across from St. Nicholas.

A few steps away, we found the Belfry, a 14th-century tower originally built to house the parchment record of Ghent’s special privileges bestowed by the counts of Flanders. We walked partway and took an elevator the rest of the way up to the top to gain a panoramic view of the old city.

Viewing St. Nicholas Church from the Belfry tower.

A view of the city of Ghent from the Belfry.

Besides waffles, the Belgian’s are renowned for their chocolates. We stopped by this Chocolatier for a few samples. Mmmmm!

The jewel of Ghent is found in St. Bavo’s Cathedral. Besides being the church in which the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, was baptized, and containing a beautifully carved pulpit and a Rubens altar painting, it hosts the glorious Van Eyck altarpiece, Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. I can’t describe the emotion of standing before this masterpiece, soaking in the all the power of the painting and its theological symbolism. It is an important work, not only for its religious value, but also because it is widely considered to be the first masterpiece done in the new medium of oil. It is a transitional work between medieval art and the Renaissance. The 15′ x 11′ masterpiece was finished in 1432 and survives today only by a number of miracles. It has been stolen many times in its hundreds of years of history. One of those thefts was by Hitler and the Nazis during WW II. If you’ve seen the movie, The Monument Men, you may know that this was one of the priceless works of art rescued by the team of art preservationists and returned to its proper home, St. Bavo.

St., Bavo from the Belfry.

The Nave of St. Bavo’s.

The clothed Adam and Eve, replicas of Van Eyck’s Adam and Eve in the altarpiece. The clothes were added during the 19th century when it was decided their naked bodies were unacceptable.

Father Damian was a native of Ghent who traveled to Hawaii to serve the lepers on Molokai. We first heard the story when we visited Maui many years ago. Now, the circle is complete as we visit his home of Ghent.

An elaborate, superb pulpit of St. Bavo’s.

Statue of St. Bavo ascending to heaven behind the altar.

The magnificent Ghent Altarpiece, “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.”

The closed Ghent altarpiece (It is closed everyday from 12-1 so that visitors may see the back panels.)

The Rubens painting in the left transept of St. Bavo’s Cathedral (St. Bavo enters the Monastery). St. Bavo was a wealthy local man who gave away all of his wealth to the poor and became a monk.)

We finished our walk at the Castle of the Counts, built in 1880 by Philip of Alsace. It was not build to protect the city, but to intimidate the independently-minded citizens of Ghent. We then returned to our hotel room for a little rest before dinner. Our evening meal was marvelous, a four-course menu at the romantic restaurant, Valentijn. Wonderful food, wonderful wine. Afterwards, we wandered around town again, taking in the kaleidoscope of musical styles at the various stages around town. The street performers were amazing as well.

The Achtersikkel mansion, once home to a powerful family of patricians.

The Ghent City Hall, where (according to a local) the Treaty of Ghent was signed ending the war of 1812.

The Castle of the Counts.

Cindy with the “soldier” at the Castle.

Wonderful facades as we cross the canal into the neighborhood of Ghent known as Patershol, a once seedy and dangerous area but now a trendy section with great restaurants (including our dinner locations for the last two nights).

Valentijn’s in Ghent.

Dining room at Valentijn’s.

Our table at Valentijn’s.

Our main courses at dinner: Cindy had the Gebraden varkenshaasje/champignonroomsaus/frietjes. (Pork with mushroom gravy and fries). I had the Versgemalen Tartaar/huisgemaakte mayonaise/gemengde sla/frietjes (Steak tartare with fries).

Lonely street artist.

One of the crowds at the many stages around the old city. The Belfry rises in the background.

A great jazz band on the streets of Ghent during the Festival.

This couple was fantastic, just a couple of hundred feet from our hotel entrance.

What a wonderful two days in Ghent. Tomorrow, off to Flanders Fields.

Cindy in our hotel garden.

8 thoughts on “Day Two: A Full Day in Ghent

  1. What an interesting and colorful city! ( the urinals interesting too! Not very fair…did the ladies have restroom on streets also?) sounds like you had a full day-keep sharing. Love to see what you guys are experiencing ❤️

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