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Clare
Clare

Day 3: Ghent

While we were on our travels around Brussels yesterday we popped into one of the main train stations, Brussels Centrale, to have a look at the train timetables and plan our travels for the next few days. It was actually extremely busy inside the train station and by the time we had found a ticket machine and queued to consult it, we felt like we had to go through with making a purchase and so we ended up buying two tickets to Ghent for today.

Ghent, or Gent as it is in Dutch and Gand as it is in French, is Belgium's third largest city and is about 40 minutes outside Brussels by train. We weren't sure what to expect from Belgian trains and while they were definitely better than Serbian ones, we weren't terribly impressed by how few carriages there seemed to be this morning relative to the number of people on the platform. We squeezed into the final carriage of the train and were just congratulating ourselves on securing two of the very few seats, when a conductor came down the train yelling that this was first class. There had been absolutely no indication of this on the outside of the carriage and the seats didn't seem like anything special, so we were rather confused. Us, and the rest of the carriage, who also seemed to have been unaware and joined us in piling out of the carriage in the direction of the much more crowded second class.

We ended up standing all the way to Ghent, which was frustrating for the first fifteen minutes or so of the journey as the train bumped between different local stations within Brussels, but was less of a problem for the remainder of the journey once it had speeded up and left the main city behind it.

We arrived in Ghent just before 11am. The main train station is located a few kilometres outside the town centre, so we decided to make the best of the location by seeing the sights on that side of the town before heading inwards. The first sight which was marked on our map was the Citadelpark which we, quite reasonably, assumed might contain some sort of citadel. This turned out not to be the case, although it was still a pleasant place for a walk.

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Having strolled across the park, we started to follow signs towards the town centre. When we came across the impressive church of Our Lady of St Peter, we figured that we were on the right track.

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A little further on and we had our first glimpse of the waterfront and some of the beautiful buildings which line it.

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The building on the right hand side of the photo above is the Justitiepaleis. Just around the corner from it we found another ornate building, which must surely win the prize for having the largest Christmas wreath of all time!

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When we finally arrived in the main square, we were amazed by the enormous structure of the old post office building, complete with clock tower. They must take the mail very seriously in Belgium to have a post office with such amazing archtecture.

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The square was so beautiful that it was difficult to know what to photograph, but the church of St Nicolas seemed like a good choice.

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The little towers on the church were amazing and the style of the architecture reminded us a bit of some of the towers we saw last year when we were in Tallinn.

The square was a bit busy with a Christmas market so we decided to go for a walk along by the river. It must surely be one of the most picturesque riversides which we have ever seen.

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We crossed the river on a little bridge and walked back down the opposite side to get a view of where we had come from. This was equally stunning.

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Understandably they get a lot of tourists in Ghent and the restaurants along the sides of the river seemed to be quite overpriced. We spent a while walking along side streets in the hope of finding somewhere cheaper. We struggled to find any restaurants at all, or at least, any which were open on New Year's Eve, but we did find the Gravensteen Castle.

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Eventually we found an obscure pub which had a sign outside proclaiming "Spaghetti - €7". This was enough to entice us inside, although I did become slightly worried after we had ordered it that an no point had anyone specified what, if anything, the spaghetti might come with. It turned out to be an extremely nice bolognaise though, and we were even presented with small bowls of what appeared to be grated Edam for us to sprinkle over it.

The search for food had taken us a little further afield than we realised, but it was worth it because on our way back to the centre we stumbled across the Vrijdagmarkt square. On one side there was a beautiful turretted building, which was built in the fifteenth century and used to be the guildhall of the tanners.

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On the other side we had a view of three church towers, one of which seemed improbably tall!

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The towers turned out to belong to the church of St James. We got a better view of it from around the corner.

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As we began to make our way back towards the train station we passed the Belfy of Ghent, which is the highest Belfry in Belgium.

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We had much better luck with the train back to Brussels, finding a seat with no problems. Our other planned day trips for the rest of the holiday include Bruges and Antwerp, but we're not sure if they are going to be able to compete with how attractive Ghent has been today :)




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