Leaving Amsterdam I didn’t think I would find a more beautiful city. Ghent proved me wrong. We ended up in Ghent on a whim, it was a decision made on the bus from Berlin to Amsterdam in an attempt to find something more interesting than Brussels, but less touristy than Bruges. I couldn’t be happier that we chose to do our longest stay, 5 nights, in Ghent. Ghent’s historical center looks like something out of a fairy tale, with Gothic cathedrals rising above the canals and its very own Medieval castle. While all this sounds like the tourist trap of Bruges, Ghent manages to be historically beautiful, yet keep the alternative vibe created by the students of the local university. Ghent is basically Bruges without the Segways and fanny packs. Let the record note that I’m not bashing Bruges without cause, Karen and I decided to day trip there from Ghent and managed to make it about two hours before we ran back to the train, clutching the few euros left to our names after being robbed by the tourist food prices.
We decided to go to Ghent and stay for a while to recuperate from our always on method of traveling, however it didn’t really pan out that way. Turns out Ghent isn’t actually a tiny university town, but a decent sized city with a lot for young travelers to do. Karen and I kayaked in the canals, swam in the lake a little way outside of town, drank liter sized beers that you have to give your shoe for (more on that later), and enjoyed the hostel. Our hostel, Hostel Uppelink, which I can’t say enough good things about, was in a 16th century building overlooking the main canal and cathedral. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a good view from my bed.
As for the shoe beer, it’s called a Kwak which is the sound that the beer makes if you drink it wrong. It’s served in an approximately two foot long glass that is bulbous at both ends and skinny in the middle. The glass costs 26 euros, thus you need to give them your shoe as a deposit. I kid you not, they put all the shoes in a basket, hoist it up to the ceiling in the middle of the bar, and only give it back to you when the beer is finished and the glass is returned. The name is due to the weird shape of the glass, if you get an air bubble in the bottom bulb while you still have beer in the skinny part the pressure will build and build until it goes kwak in your face. Ironically, the only guy who knew this and taught us how to drink the beers got lazy and got kwaked.
Ghent is a city that doesn’t feel like a city and makes you fall in love with it because of that. It’s a city that has more vegetarian restaurants per capita than any other city in Europe. It’s a city that cares about its history yet doesn’t advertise it to avoid the Bruges syndrome. It’s a city that hosts bands like The Tallest Man on Earth basically every other week. It’s a city where you can sit by a canal, drink a local beer, and talk into the early morning. I think you can understand Ghent’s place in my heart. But, all good things must end and I’m now in Antwerp for two nights to kill some time before taking the Eurostar to visit a friend in England. I think I’m actually going to do the relaxation thing though and call me crazy, but I’m going to bed at 10 pm since there’s not a chance l that I’ll be able to keep up this pace for two more months.