I spent a couple of days in Ghent, which is about half an hour’s train ride from Brussels. My Ibis hotel room had two windows; this is the view out of one of them. I stopped trying to hide my reflection after deciding I preferred the pictures with me in them. And I decided not to adjust the lighting settings either, because I liked this colour.
The cathedral was begun in the 15th century. Inside is the magnificent altarpiece Het Lam Gods – Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, by Hubert or Jan (they’re not entirely sure) Van Eyck. Photography was forbidden, but I probably wouldn’t have taken any pictures of it anyway as I think some things are best seen and not photographed. But I did buy a couple of postcards.
The following three photographs were taken from the other window. The cheery building on the right is a restored 19th century theatre and the tower in the central picture is the Belfort, a mediaeval bell-tower topped by a dome with a copper dragon on it. Next time I go to Ghent I shall go up this tower and pay more attention to the dragon. By this time, as you can see, I’d stopped paying attention to what was outside the window and was simply messing around with my reflection. (I’d had a few Duvels.)
Anyhow, I thoroughly recommend Ghent. Unlike a lot of well-preserved towns of historical interest, it doesn’t feel embalmed; you get a sense of life going on beyond the old buildings and tourist landmarks. Apart from the cathedral, I also visited Gravensteen, a mediaeval castle (a bloke I was chatting to in FNAC warned me it was “lugubre”, but I told him that was OK because I liked lugubre) with ramparts, dungeons, a torture museum and a guillotine and so on. You can go right up to the top, where there’s a spectacular view of the city, but I didn’t stay up there long because it was pissing with rain and I worried the wind might blow me over the side. I also visited the Museum of Fine Art, and the Design Museum, which had a hilarious exhibition called Die Essenz der Dinge; exhibits included plastic cutlery, paper clips, Tupperware containers and Ikea “Billy” shelving. But it’s true that having objects like this on show makes you think about their design, which I guess is the point.
One of the nicest things about Ghent, though, was the people. For some reason, I thought the Flemish were going to be dour, but they were really, really lovely. Even the ones I thought were going to be stand-offish (a maître d’ in the designer-y café attached to the Museum of Fine Art, for example) turned out to be sweetie-pies. Everyone I encountered was helpful, patient and friendly. I’ll definitely be going back.