Ghent, five tips by…

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Kathleen Vereecken is a writer. She wrote the historical novels: ‘I think it was love’ and ‘Zijdeman’. In addition, she regularly flirts with other genres and is journalist for newspaper The Standard and magazines like Feeling. She was born in Ghent and still lives there.

“I would like to tell you about a summer evening on the Graslei, when the walls are full of people. Or let me tell you about the commemoration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with concerts on the water and dozens of colored lanterns. Magical beauty to offset the horror.

Prinsenhof

I would like to talk about the Prinsenhof, the weeping willows on the Lievekaai and about het vrijersparkje were you find lovers kissing.

I would love to tell you about MIAT (Museum of Industrial Archaeology and Textiles) where I found so much inspiration for my novel All the colors gray‘. 

I would like to show you the Lamb of God by the Van Eyck brothers, which strikes me speechless again and again. But look, I stick to the five tips below. And at the sub tips of courseAnd an extra tip now and again. So lets see Ghent. Here are my Ghent tips…

Ghent tips by…

1. Abbey of Saint Bavo / Sint-Baafsabdij

Every child in Ghent learns that the city was founded at the confluence of the Lys and the Scheldt. And each (okay, I’m exaggerating) adult wonders where the confluence is to find. It is at Portus Ganda, the brand new marina. Or even better, across the street, where the remains of the Abbey of St Bavo are located.

The site is open from early April to late October, from Friday to Sunday. It is a green oasis in the historic heart of Ghent, a place where every stone breathes history and where nature is claiming back its rights in a civilized manner

The former abbeychurch was replaced by a “green church“: a lawn bordered with hornbeam columns and a stage up front, where once stood the altar. A motley group of local people keep the site open on Sundays and organize regular concerts and other activities.

Story telling festival

One day we, completely by chance, ended up on a storytelling festival: in every corner of the garden there were storytellers who brought the history of the abbey, and much more, to life. Pancakes for free, voluntary contributions were welcome.

And then afterwards with the late afternoon sun shining through the large windows sipping a beer at Herberg Macharius. Another fine initiative of the residents: I naturally wanted to hum ‘Perfect Day’ by Lou Reed.

2. Good and fair priced restaurants

In recent years I have become a regular at Brasserie Pakhuis (Warehouse) in the Schuurkenstraat near the Korenmarkt.

I love the architecture (okay, it’s not really an old warehouse, but it was reconstructed), the cozy bar, tasty and fairly democratically priced food, the ambiance and the always friendly staff.

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I do not know where it comes from, but with some foodies it is bon ton to be a bit dismissive about the kitchen. However, every time I  go there, I’m truly happy with what I find on my plate.

Also excellent value for your money you’ll find at Le Grand Bleu at the Snepkaai, a French seafood restaurant, reputed for its lobster dishes.

Italian food

For Italian food I go to restaurant Firenze, on the corner of Blandijbergen and St. Amandsstraat. Or to Al Castello in the Geldmunt, across from the Gravensteen. No sophisticated designer decor, far from it, but freshly prepared and tasty food in a family atmosphere.

3. Lovely Sundays

I do it too little, and it needs no inclement weather, but few things are as great as cycling to the center of Ghent. You to be surprised what comes your way. Admittedly, Ghent cyclists are spoiled. In recent years, more and more safe cycling routes are added from and to the suburbs.

“You’re cyclist number 3427st today,” says a counting pole at the Coupure. It gives you the feeling to be part of … well, what exactly? Of some kind of friendly community, committed to mobility and the environment. Keep on biking and we arrive at the Kouter, where the Sunday morning flower market is held.

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Aperitifs

Drinks in style are possible at the Blue Kiosk, an oyster and aperitif outdoor bar. A little bit further down the Ajuinlei street you find stalls with secondhand books. In L’Apéro Doc you imagine yourself in the Provence. They do delicious aperitifs, with tasty organically produced wines and a fine selection of cheeses, cold cuts, olives and all types of tapenades.

And we are barely halfway through our day. Plenty of time to visit an exhibition or to just stroll around, on the way to everywhere and nowhere. Live jazz at Hot Club de Gand is a nice ending for a Ghent Sunday, though it sometimes takes a bit of squeezing for a place at the tiny cafe.

4. Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen

Another Ghent tip: It seems unlikely, but only five minutes by bike from the city center, you find a protected area: the Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen. It is a marshy valley carved by the river Lys, home to numerous birds. The view is panoramic, the cloudy skies make one lyrical.

I much like coming here, even if it’s raining and windy. My walk takes a little over an hour. Just long enough to empty my mind so it van be filled with new ideas. Ideas for a book, a play, for conversation, for all earthly things as what-will-we-eat tonight?

5. Huize Colette

I’m probably going to regret this, especially if I do not find room to write any more, but this home of chocolate and books has a special place in my heart. I wrote much of my novel ‘Zijdeman’ here and also my new novel is slowly growing at a table on the ground floor.

Buzz

I do not know what it is, but I find my writing focus faster than in any other place. The cozy interior without too many frills, the smell of coffee and chocolate, the buzz of people talking around me and the friendly, discrete presence of Ottelien – historian by training – and Aline – patissier – make that I love to be here.

it has none of the slippery ‘concept feeling and the fake authenticity that sometimes rule in trendy coffee bars that are popping up everywhere. Prices are democratic, chocolatemilk is delicious (although I must admit that I usually stick to tea or coffee) and all the books are ready to to be read. Or can be purchased at a small price.

Images: Milo

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