If you'd ask the Missus and I what our favorite city in Belgium was, the answer would be unanimous. It would be Ghent. Unpretentious and quite easy to like and navigate, not quite as touristy as Bruges, we loved the vibe that this city of 250,000 gave off. Ghent is but a 40 minute train ride away from Brussels. And like Bruges, Ghent has those wonderful canals as well.
It's just not crawling with all those tourists......
And a strange thing happened to us here....in a way, we even forgot we were tourists. That part of the brain which dictates the places to be and the places you need to see got shut off. Instead, we just enjoyed the city. From the time we caught Tram #1, getting off near Het Gravensteen (The Castle of the Counts), walking to our apartment near Vrijdagmarkt, we felt so at ease.
The city is full of "market squares". Indeed, we were staying one block away from Vrijdagmarkt - Friday Market Square. Having stowed our stuffs, we headed out, down the street to Groentenmarkt - Vegetable Market, which ironically has the ever bustling Meat Market right next to it.
The interior of the structure is quite impressive; the place was built without nails, and hams still hang form the ceiling......this was once the only place in the city where meat was allowed to be sold. These days it's a bustling restaurant.
Right across the way is this famous shop.
Tierenteyn-Verlent is known for their mustard and has been selling it since 1790. I read that it is still made in the basement of the shop.
It's some heady stuff. Guaranteed to clear those sinuses and quite good as well. We bought a small jar, but it cracked before we got past Bruges.
Luckily, I've got some great friends and Candice bought us a bottle when she returned from her trip to Ghent.
We were having so much fun that I totally forgot to take photos until we were close to City Hall. Along the way there's a little portal and a street; Werregaren Straat, walking down the alley, the faint smell of urine in the air, you'll be on "Graffitistraat" - Graffiti Street.
This is Ghent's solution to Belgium's strict laws on graffiti; it is basically illegal and the penalties stiff. Ghent has designated this street as an expression free zone for Ghent's graffiti artists.
Some of the creations are quite amazing.....
Most of the grand historic structures in Ghent are in the area of Saint Bavo Square.
In retrospect, we should have been better at playing the tourist, but we were just enjoying the city.
South of this area, down what seem some rather small streets is Ghent's shopping area, full of interesting shops. We saw this one; named Kaas Mekka.
This was cheese heaven. We couldn't help but purchase some for our next two dinners.
Exploring further down the street we started coming across crowds of people....apparently there was some kind of major sidewalk shopping festival going on.
A very festive kind of vibe going on.......even a band or two along the way.
It looked like some folks even brought their own chairs and sat outside restaurants and bars....enjoying the sun and a nice beverage (and a nap?) or two.
It was in the area right across the river that we found the first spot I wanted to "hit". We were on the hunt for chocolates for my MIL and I'd heard some great things about a shop named Yuzu.
This shop is the result of former archaeologist Nicolas Vanaise's passion for Japanese and Middle Eastern Culture and chocolate. The flavors presented are a product of his travels. This was by far the best; and most interesting chocolate we bought on this trip.....flavors like Whiskey and Cuban Tobacco.....
This made a nice addition to the "collection" we put together for my MIL.
Right around the corner from Yuzu was another one of my target destinations. Even among the beer-focused Belgians; Gruut Brewery is unique. Before hops were used for beer making, a mixture of spices were used instead. This medieval mix was called gruut; the namesake of Gruut. Annick De Splenter is the owner and brew master here.
The place looks quite low keyed from the outside, but was quite busy. There was one large table of folks who were obviously on a "beer tour" and each beer was introduced and explained to them in detail. Meanwhile other folks were reading, chilling, just hanging out, and having a nice time.
We basically tasted everything before deciding on what we really wanted. My favorite was the Amber; which had some caramel tones, and a touch of sweetness. The beer has a really nice tongue coating texture and there is even a mild bitter finish so you're not really missing the hops.
It was a nice beer and we ended up buying a four pack to take with us back to the apartment.
Two ambers and two of the Missus's favorite.
The Blonde, which was very drinkable, light, fizzy, with an interesting herbaceous finish. Nice beer for a hot summer day....I'm kind of wishing for a pint of this today since it's been really humid here in San Diego.
They gave us a couple of Gruut Coasters when we bought our beer.
One quick thing. If you visit Gruut and are male, make sure to drink enough beer so that you'll be able to visit the restroom. The urinals are quite "unique".....
"Feed me, Seymour - Feed me all night long........"
Grote Huidevettershoek 10
As you can tell....we were having a blast!
Thanks for reading!