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Visting Ghent again

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

Posted by
2491 posts

Yay, for George Clooney for rescuing the Ghent Altarpiece! I want to visit Ghent for the first time and I’m glad to read that you would go a- ghent!

Posted by
1209 posts

Why is there sentient life? So that in the midst of an otherwise stressful, demanding day, I can slip a peek at the RS website and read your description of custard waffles. Ahhh. Thank you, universe, for these gifts! Thank you, Mike Beebe, wherever you are!

Posted by
7061 posts

Whether I agree with you or not I absolutely love your trip reviews, always good for a laugh and most always right on point. In this case I agree with you. I only visited Ghent on a day trip from Brussels but loved it and if I get to Belgium again I would pick that as my base. It's one of those cities that just has a good 'vibe' right from the start. And you didn't even mention the beautiful canal that, in my estimation, rivaled those of Bruges.

Posted by
33128 posts

The only problem I have with Ghent is that the hotel Harmony is now Rick Steves approved. I can't afford to go there anymore but even if I could I couldn't get a reservation anymore. It used to be in my go-to hotel in Ghent, I love the place but it has now become to popular.

I used to love the view from the top front balcony room over the canal. And what wonderful staff. Strange route to the breakfast room though, and even stranger to find the garage when arriving by car.

Posted by
8 posts

We loved Ghent on our trip 2 years ago. Plus it has a castle! Gravasteen castle.With a torture room! Just a wonderful town. We like Hotel Carlton. Just a small place by the train station. The owner sat down with every guest for about 5-10 minutes getting you oriented. Very nice breakfast room. Mrs had a bad cold and we were having trouble finding a pharmacy. The owner walked us out about a block & a half and showed us right down the block. There was a cute breakfast place across the street but since we ate in the hotel we did not try

Posted by
326 posts

I'm reading the description of the Hotel Harmony breakfast and I don't remember the breakfast food at all. If there were custard filled waffles, I didn't see them. As I'm reading I'm thinking of all that I remember about the hotel, the room, the location, the canal, but can't come up with a thought of the breakfast food. But Nigel's post made me laugh out loud. Because what I was thinking was: The only thing I remember about the breakfast was the strange route to the breakfast room!