Ghent, Belgium provides visitors with a fascinating appreciation of a medieval city. It was easy for us to visit this prominent tourist attraction from our Holland America cruise ship port of Zeebrugge. A pleasant 30-minute bus ride through the Flemish countryside brought us to this artsy city.
We were looking forward to our boat ride on the Leie river canal. The short walk from the bus to the boat took us past some of the Ghent’s well preserved beautiful architecture. Because of the rivers Ghent became one of the largest and richest cities in medieval times. Impressive sights like Saint Bavo Cathedral, Gravonsteen Castle enthrall visitors. Rich in color and detailed workmanship, as seen in the smallest artifact like the Saint George light pole.
The genuine highlight of our tour was the 90-minute tour boat ride, with a guide pointing out the places of interest along the way. Ghent is called the other Venice, sitting at the confluence of the Leie and Scheldt Rivers.
The canal rides operate rain or shine. We slowly motored by the huge Gravensteen Castle. The back side of the Butchers Hall, pleasure houses, with unique pictures depicting what may be inside the house, in the windows. Our guide related historical facts about the long-standing sites we are viewing. We glide by restaurants along the canals, some park areas decorated with just greenery and trees. Along the route, many old works of art sculptures are seen, along with a sign posted by an obvious unhappy land owner saying “Boat Tourism-Noise Terrorism”.
We were given a break in the boat tour to walk about the busy old city center in the Grasier District and maybe have a taste of the local food Ghent is noted for. Mussels and fries are popular, but not being mussel season, we just tried the fries, from one of the many small fry stands scattered about. I was not impressed, Mickey D’s are much better in my opinion. Of course the Belgium waffles looked and smelled very good, the many people eating them were happy. The chocolate stores were very busy. We tried a local made candy sold from competing cart vendors. They were purple in color and looked like little volcanos with a liquid filling, Fortunately, I only bought a few, they were not to my taste. The Old Fish Market, also located on the square in front of Butchers Hall and Castle of the Counts also known as Gravensteen Castle offer even more appealing architecture and historical backgrounds. Butchers hall was built in the 15th Century, a grand indoor market place to keep the meats fresh.
We had a drink and ate our fries in the historic Butchers Hall where the famous Belgium Ganda hams are hanging over our head. The dried and salted hams became coveted by the Romans and a few Belgium Companies are still producing them.
If you are visiting Ghent for longer than one day, there are many other sights to see that are away from the old center, like the 91-meters high Belfry Tower, with origins in 1300. Do not miss the view from the top. The Cistercian Abby of Bijloke now houses the Ghent Museum of Belgium culture and history.
Our time spent in Ghent was fascinating and enlightening. The boat tour was terrific. I should add the boat staff was outstanding in helping the slightly handicapped people and seniors to be able to board and disembark the tour boat.