When I told people I was going to Ghent, the most common response I got was “Where?”
Ghent is the largest city in the Flemmish region of Belgium, and up until the 13th century was the largest city in Europe after Paris. Today the city has a population of around 600,000, including a large number of university students and recent graduates which gives the city a very fun and youthful feel. Despite this fact however, there are very few budget hostel options available in the city which is what led my follow travel companion and I to try couchsurfing for the first time ever. I’m happy to report that our host, Fien, was absolutely fantastic and helped show us all of Ghent’s charm.
We arrived on the later side Saturday night and took it easy, first at the apartment of one of Fien’s friends with a few glasses of wine, and then a trip to one of the local bars to sample some Belgian beer. Fien took us the Damberd Café (Korenmarkt 19) and treated us to a round of drinks. I tried the Tongulo Bruin, a darker beer, and Briana tried the Orval, a popular Belgian beer. The two drinks cost 3,70 and 3,60 euros respectively.
The following day, Fien surprised us with a breakfast of pain au chocolat, croissants, eggs, “farmer’s bread” and some homemade apple juice from a farm in West Flanders. It was the perfect way to start off what turned out to be an absolutely freezing day walking around Ghent.
We followed the walking tour in the free guide we picked up from the tourist office, located just behind the belfry in the main square. (Fun side note: the belfry played Au Champs Elysées while we were standing in the square, which absolutely made my day) The tour takes about two and a half hours depending how long you spend at each spot, and hits all the main tourist sites including St. Bavo’s Cathedral, home of the Ghent altarpiece and the reason I put this city on my list.
After we finished the walking tour, we decided to stop for lunch at a restaurant called Du Progrès, located just across the street from the bar we went to the night before and I got to sample some of Ghent’s vegetarian cuisine. Look at that delicious veggie burger smothered with a creamy mushroom sauce! That and a half pint of Hoegaarden cost me 14 euros, which isn’t the cheapest meal I had on this trip but was worth it since I haven’t had a veggie burger since September :)
As everyone knows, chocolate is a must have when you come to Belgium and Ghent has no shortage of stores to indulge your sweet tooth. After window shopping for a while, we ended up making our purchases at the Chocolaterie de Graslei, located about half a block away from where the two rivers in Ghent intersect (Graslei 2). The owner was the sweetest man who believes he has the best job in the world… and can you blame him? He explained all of the different flavors to us, the unusual way he makes truffels, and why he recommended one flavor over another. I ended up buying a 250g bag of hazelnut chocolate shells for 4 euro 80, which lasted me through most of the trip. They were absolutely incredible.
However merely purchasing chocolate wasn’t enough for us. We wanted to drink some too! Fien pointed us to a coffee shop owned by one of her friends called Huize Colette (Belfortstraat 6), which was packed to the brim when we arrived. I ordered a Witte Chocolatedemelk met Praline, or a white hot choclate with praline. It tasted like drinking a liquidated praline chocolate and only cost 3,50. The first half was delicious, but the second half started getting a little sugary to enjoy. I’d recommend splitting the drink with someone if you decide to get one.
Snow began to fall as we took the tram to the train station to head to Antwerp (9 euros), a perfect ending to a beautiful day in one of the most charming mid-sized cities I’ve ever visited.