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a gray day in Ghent

After a whirlwind weekend in Amsterdam we headed to the Flemish part of Belgium, where we planned to stay four nights before meeting friends for a weekend tour of Luxembourg.

We had spent a long time debating whether to lodge in Bruges, Ghent, or split our visit between the two. Because moving every couple of nights with two kids in tow is a bit of a pain we decided to stay all four nights in Bruges, saving Ghent for a day visit. The court of public opinion appears to be evenly split between the two. In retrospect – and especially given our family situation – we definitely made the right call.

The main knock against Ghent is that it is not Bruges. Ghent is a pretty city, with a lazy river running through the historic center and plenty of old, scenic buildings. It pales in comparison to Bruges, however, and once one walks outside the historic center, Ghent grows considerably more run down and rougher around the edges. Apparently Ghent may have more of a nightlife and restaurant scene, but given that our youngest is barely 10 months old, this was not really a factor in our decision-making.

That we went from sun-soaked Amsterdam to gray, drizzly weather in Ghent definitely did not factor favorably in our impressions of the city. We climbed the belfry for a panoramic bird’s eye view and visited the cathedral, which houses the 1432 Van Eyck masterpiece The Adoration of the Lamb. We passed by but did not enter the imposing Gravensteen castle, which at one time served as a factory and was scheduled to be demolished at the end of the 19th century before being refurbished and turned into a tourist attraction.

Mostly we contented ourselves with wandering the city streets, geeking out on the historic buildings and searching for street art. Ghent prides itself on its graffiti scene, and the tourist office even offers a map of the city’s major pieces. We found the artwork to be hit-and-miss. There were a few standout murals, but overall we thought Ghent’s graffiti compared poorly with similar attempts in other European cities we had visited (Lisbon, for example).

The foregoing may convey the impression that we did not enjoy our visit to Ghent, but nothing could be further from the truth – we simply liked Bruges more. This was the first time either of us had visited Belgium and we loved every minute we spent there, if for no other reason than that the country has the world’s best beer and damn good food.

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