Ghent, Belgium: Castles and Waffles

There differences between Ghent and Brussels, the previous city, were considerable. There were no sirens or flashing lights every 30 minutes from an emergency vehicle speeding by, nor uniformed policemen or armed anti-terror military units. The city of Ghent was sleepy with small pockets of enthusiasm in its most visited squares and the nearby college campus. It was easy to slowly walk through the streets and just awe at the surrounding buildings at every turn.

The town held a distinct medieval feel. Towers Spires from several churches and the town hall dotted the skyline. Life seemed to be much slower in this city. One evening around 8:30PM we walked through the heart of the city and most of the restaurants and vendors were closed or in the process. This baffled us, considering most restaurants we had looked up did not even open until 6PM and were open only 2 hours for lunch. One older man took up shop at a specialty cart holding an array of cone shaped, vibrant colored candies with a white dusting on them. He explained to me it is a Ghent specialty, called a Cuberdon. We bought a small variety and bit in. The best description is that of a jelly bean, with its chewy, sugary gelatinous exterior. Inside, a juice filling changed the flavor, similar to a gusher for all you 90s kids. We took turns trying different pieces from Lemon, Sasparilla (my new favorite flavor in candy), raspberry, etc.

Our time in Ghent brought some clarification to this ignorant history lover. This region of Belgium was once upon a time very rich and heavily participated in the medieval conquests in the holy land during the crusades, which explained so many medieval structures and cathedrals. Belgium is also sometimes termed the “cock-pit” of Europe, referencing the arena in which roosters fight. It has seen more European battles than any other country. Its strategic proximity to Germany and France made it a frequent casualty in antiquity, but also more recently in the world wars. If only the antagonists had just stopped by to share a Belgian waffle, or more accurately, a Liege waffle, together, all the worlds worries might have been solved.

On a personal note, I ran quite a lot while in Ghent and thoroughly enjoyed it. Out west of the city, there was a forested nature reserve. It took me an 8 mile run to get to its farthest edge and home, but it was worth it. The fields inside were filled with cows of various markings and large horses greeting visitors at fences. Shades of orange, red, and brown leaves swirled across the gravel trails and intertwined with the long grasses on the trail’s edge. This was my favorite time of year and I took full advantage.

Hannah and I participated in an audio tour of the Gravensteen, a 10th century castle in the heart of Ghent. It had to be one of the most unique audio tours we had ever listened to. It was told in a narrative format that was attention grabbing and hilarious. I observed the adults and children alike seemed quite attentive to the guide as they walked around the several stories of the castle. One example was the way in which he described the king and queen’s relationship and how tired the king was from a day of crusading and he should have provided more attention to his wife. It was all done in a sort of facetious, over-the-top accent that made it even more entertaining.

Our Airbnb was close to a nearby park. Our room seemed to have a handful of mosquitos constantly buzzing around. One morning, I woke up with probably more than a dozen bites over my body from them. The place also only had a handful of available dishes, all of which were stored in a dishwasher, where some seemed dirty, while others clean. Thankfully, Airbnb refunded us half the stay and reimbursed for a skin irritant cream. Homestays like this reminded us both that we missed domestic living in our comfortable Houston apartment.


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