First impressions can be misleading. If I lived my life based solely on first impressions I’d be missing out on some amazing opportunities. My first impression of Gent was not a good one. The city had a lot of constriction happening which seems to be a reoccurring theme for all of Europe, the weather was hot making me moody, and there were a lot of people…everywhere.
I don’t like being uncertain of where I am when driving a car, and while searching for a parking garage upon arrival in Gent, the car navigation system continuously tried to take me down roads that were closed. There were bikers EVERYWHERE, and I ended up driving onto a pedestrian only street. I wasn’t aware I couldn’t drive here until someone stopped me and kindly advised I turn off the street.
Thankfully one of my roommates had access to Google Maps, and she guided us a back way to the parking garage. I have never been happier to park a car for two days in my life. All I needed was to be mobile by foot and my first impression started to change.
We stayed at an amazingly convenient Air B&B right next to the city center, and this made a perfect home base for our two days in Gent.
There is a bridge that brought us into the city from our Air B&B, and I can confidently say I have never seen a city that looked quite like Gent looks from this angle as I approached. It was absolutely stunning and I was amazed at the architecture.
We arrived in the evening after our day in Dunkirk, so we made ourselves some dinner and planned for the following day. There was a walking tour starting on the above bridge (3 min walk from Air B&B) at 10am, which was the perfect start to the day. I’ve grown quite fond of the free city walking tours, they are a good way to become somewhat acclimated with a new city.
The tour was two hours, and took us to some of the main highlights in Gent as well as some local known neighborhoods.
We did a free walking tour in Brugge as well, and our tour guide in Brugge told us a story about how Brugge and Gent used to have animosity towards each other. The rivalry is now all in good fun, but once upon a time the two cities were enemies.
According to Brugge, Gent came and stole a golden dragon from their town, and placed it upon their Belfry tower.
According to Gent, Brugge stole the dragon from the vikings (I think) so regardless the golden dragon didn’t belong to either of them. The dragon still sits atop the Belfry tower in Gent, and I don’t anticipate it being stolen a third time. I found it fitting that the two cities I chose to visit in Belgium had this kind of history.
Our tour guide took us through an area he originally referred to as “the ghetto of Gent” which was a misrepresentation of what’s actually just an alley where it’s legal and acceptable to spray paint the walls. The city covers the walls with fresh paint every so often for a naked canvas, and people come to paint their hearts out.
I found a little bit of myself in that alley.
After the tour, my roommates and I split ways for a few hours to explore on our own. I wandered my way down backroads and cobblestoned streets for a while, and decided to splurge on a shot of espresso. I don’t drink coffee for a myriad of reasons, but sometimes I splurge regardless of the repercussions. I wasn’t going to splurge on food in Gent, so coffee it was.
I stopped into a local shop called Barista Coffee and Cake, and my suppressed foodie coffee lover was swooning. Vegan treats and coffee galore. Big sigh.
Coffee in hand, I decided to do a boat tour, because anytime I find myself in a city with canals I gravitate towards the boats. The tour was only 7 euro for an hour, and I loved seeing areas of Gent I wouldn’t have seen by foot. Despite the morning clouds that greeted our day, the sky quickly turned to sun after noon and the boat ride was HOT.
My boat tour guide covered things my walking tour guide did not, but my walking tour guide covered the most important topic. He told us the best place to buy chocolate from in the city, and since I’d come all the way to Belgium and hadn’t bought any chocolate yet I decided to trust his recommendation.
I trusted him because he recommended a local shop, and when I walked in I could peek over a ledge to see them making the chocolate below.
I planned to buy a small pack of chocolate for my mom, but that quickly escalated to 22 single pieces of chocolate of which I ate 11 of upon my arrival back in Germany (I DID space it over two days, which is a big deal for someone with BED.) The other 11 are safely awaiting the arrival of my mom and sister next week. The woman at the chocolate shop was wonderful and patient with my never ending “and what’s this one” question.
My box of goods was only 15 euro, and let me tell you…it was worth every penny. That was some of the best chocolate I’ve ever had. I later discovered this chocolate shop is a family business of a father and son, with two shops in different areas of Gent. I visited Cédric Van Hoorebeke located closer to the city center. Both father and son are married, and their lovely wives handle the shop front while the men make the chocolate.
Now that’s a family business I can support.
After buying my chocolate and dropping it off at our homebase, it was time for dinner. I had stuck to eggs, avocados, and apples for breakfast and lunch, so dinner had a bit more flavor. I eat the same things most everyday, which usually consists of chicken in some way. Half chickens are my go to in Europe, and Belgium was no different.
My meal was good, and I was mostly full, but after meeting back up with my roommates I helped my roommate finish her fries. Belgium is the home of the French fry after all, and I had never eaten fries with mayo before so I gave it a try. HOT diggity dog…I saw the light. Fries and mayo IS A THING and it’s wicked delicious.
To wind down the evening we sat at a bar for a beer (not for me) and soaked in the remainder of the day.
The following morning we had until around noon before we planned to drive back to Germany, so I spent an hour exploring Gravensteen, also known as the Castle of the Counts. This castle has a self guided audio tour and was hands down the best castle tour I’ve ever done. The commentary was informational and FUNNY.
It kept me focused and entertained, which is sometimes hard to do.
The castle is smack in the middle of the city and dates back to 1180. The history behind this castle was fascinating, and the views were worth the 10 euro entrance fee. This was the perfect way to end the quick trip to Gent. My first impression of this city was not an accurate representation of what I later discovered. This city is rich in history and beauty.
This wrapped up my roomie trip to Belgium, and I once again was so glad Spain didn’t work out for us. Everything happens for a reason. and I couldn’t have asked for a better week with two of my favorite people in Europe.
Q: Can you think of a city you had a first impression of that turned out to be wrong?