I will be the first to admit that traveling to Ghent was never on my short list of travel destination. You know, it wasn’t even on my long list of destinations. It never even crossed my mind as a place I’d visit. But we did. Going in, I had really no expectations about the city of Ghent. I figured it would be a city that had a rough industrial feel, like a Manchester or a Pittsburgh I was so pleasantly surprised upon arrival too.
I didn’t do any specific research on Ghent, other than finding its exact location on the map and the distance and direction between it and Bruges and Brussels. I didn’t even research the hotel until we were leaving the American Cemetery the day we were checking in. My husband did that research and booking. Yes, I was going in almost completely blind.
H.E. Dirk Wouters the Belgian Ambassador to the US was asked to provide guidance to American travelers visiting Belgium for the first time – what is the ONE BOOK they should read before arrival. He suggested War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans. I did buy this book and read it almost fully before we landed in Belgium. It is the story of a man, and his father and grandfather who were from Belgium. The story is a fictionalized account of their lives based on stories and journals. It begins before the First World War and ends in the late 20th Century. I highly recommend this book for anyone traveling through Belgium or other areas impacted by WWI. It was an entertaining and moving story that consistently held my interest. Plus, parts of it take place in Ghent. This was the research I did on this city.
Ghent is a small city that is easily traversed by bicycle or a relatively extensive public transit system. The day and a half plus one night we stayed had us encountering only a handful of people in which we interacted with directly. Those people were warm and friendly and proud of their city – and rightfully so.
Does Ghent measure up to other cities in Europe like London, Barcelona or Paris? I’d say no, but it shouldn’t be measured that way. It’s of a different caliber. It is, in my mind as worth a visit as much as Prague is though. If you are traveling through Belgium, you must spend a day or two in Ghent, it is a beautiful and welcoming place to be. The summer days we were there were absolutely stunning. Go. Go now.