A moment's thought for Ghent, please.
I love Paris for the culture and Ghent for the prices. Magical Ghent transforms Paris's 7-euro 1664 into a 4-euro Westmalle Tripel, with 3 euros left over for a cone of frites topped with a horrifying amount of mayonnaise straight from a 5-litre industrial container; how wonderful is that?
Yes, Brugge is much loved and much visited (especially by the cruise industry), and is obviously charming and historic and all that, but Ghent's own charm is that it doesn't try to be Brugge's second city. Instead, Ghent simply presents itself and lets you accepted it as it is. You want a market square? Ghent has two. Need a cathedral fix? St. Bavo has you covered. Brugge has a Michelangelo? Ghent has the Ghent Altarpiece -- if it was good enough to be stolen by the Nazis and rescued by George Clooney, it's good enough for you to pay 1.50 euro to see.
A couple of general notes on Ghent:
The Hotel Harmony (Rick Steves Approved!) is located a stupidly-long distance from the train station and the 1 tram no longer runs almost to the front door due to construction. However, the hotel has the single best breakfast spread of any hotel I've ever stayed at. Along with meats, cheeses, breads, fruits and pastries is a miracle of gastronomic excess: the custard-filled waffle. Waffles are good, everyone knows this, but what could make something so delicious even better? Custard filling! The human brain is not equipped to handle the explosion of deliciousness that is the custard-filled waffle. Your brain is expecting a standard waffle, but then the sweet creaminess of the custard hits your tongue; suddenly, the answer to "Why is there sentient life?" becomes clear.
A couple of doors down from the Hotel Harmony is the de Parkiet. It's a little lunch place that serves triple-decker sandwiches. At 14 euros, they're not exactly cheap, but they are filling and good. The roast beef sandwich with truffle mayonnaise and pine nuts was remarkable for the freshness, flavor and quality of the soft bread. This was the most enjoyable sandwich, an experience enhanced by a Westmalle Tripel, of my trip.
Speaking of Tripels, 10% beers at an average price of 4.50 euros per are Belgium's way of culling the weak. And those who survive that malt-and-hops gauntlet can truly crash and burn at the geniver shop. I sampled two genivers, a modern one aged 8 months in steel and an 18-year-old oak-aged example. After just these two, I could already see the road to Hangover Hell was greased with this stuff. However, that wasn't stopping the Brit standing next to me who was on to his 10th, by the count of empty glasses in front of him. I admired this master of piss-artistry and promptly got the heck out of there before any contests of strength or endurance could begin.
After the wonderful ciders of Normandy, I was expecting the same quality in Ghent. The one my poor wife ordered was basically a cider-flavored 4% soda. Stick with the beer.
Il Folletto is a great little place for dinner if you're fond of incredible Italian food and remarkable prices. It's located a bit off the main tourist areas, but the quality of the fare more than makes up for the short walk. A dinner of lasagna and pasta; lucious Parma ham on bread and a glass of wine came to 48 euros even.
So, in short, having been to Ghent twice, I would definitely go there a-Ghent. Ha-ha-ha...ehhhhh.
-- Mike Beebe