Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Greetings from: GHENT

When I was young, I always wanted to live in a castle. I imagined a moat, a drawbridge, a livery -- the works. Having not been born into European nobility, however, my chances were extremely slim. Maybe this is why I was so captivated by Ghent: there’s Gravenstein Castle right in the town center. It’s a museum now, and I’m not sure how excited I’d be to live in a museum, but it does bring back all of the childhood dreams.

We arrive in Ghent in the middle of its summer festival, and what should be an easy stroll becomes a maze of concert tents and tourists. Music reverberates off the old stones. People sing along to famous Flemish rock songs, but no one dances. But it’s early in the afternoon still, and who knows what happens after people get a few beers into them.

In the Bloemenmarkt, I had a cone of lily-flavored ice cream (having once eaten sautéed tiger lily buds, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect), but the taste was pleasingly floral, sweet. Belgians sure do love their sweets. Waffles studded with pebbles of sugar and then doused in chocolate or whipped cream; crepes dressed in the same finery. They even have yogurt that proudly displays its sucre content. I haven’t yet taken a good look at Belgian teeth to determine the extent of their dental issues. Along with canal, street food stalls fill the air with the smell of spiced, sizzling meats.

It seems as if the fair threatens to overwhelm little Ghent. But it’s stood for centuries already; some bad free-jazz trios aren’t going to bring it down now. Matthew and I take a canal cruise that, theoretically, should inform us of the city’s history, but the boat’s speaker on our side has gone out, and we sit next to the motor, which drowns out whatever the cruise operator might be saying, however perfunctorily. No matter: we sluice through the water and cautiously sip the free Duvel beer that came with the 6€ boat trip fee. The castle seems temptingly within reach.

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