Ghent is a very lively city with a population of 240,000 of which 43,000 are students, and they all have bicycles. It was once the second city of northern Europe after Paris, and the signs of its wealth are evident in its architecture. This is a medieval city whose buildings have been retained and restored.
It also has a system of canals and one can take a boat trip...not as interesting as Bruges, but still a good way to see the city. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what this sign is warning me about...my on-line translation services do not seem to agree! (Ed.Note: Thomas, my neighbour in Zomergem has subsequently offered the following explanation: )
The somewhat unusual sign on the water in Ghent was referring to global warming. Nick Balthasar, a film director from Ghent has gathered 10.000 people on the Ostend beach to dance for 'The Big Ask Again'. U2 offered their tune 'Magnificent' for free for the videoclip of the event. The clip is a big urge to the decisionmakers at the climate summit of Copenhague to finally do something. It is Balthasar's second clip on this item. The previous one was called....The Big Ask.You can travel by horse and carriage, but you really can't get around by car...indeed, I am told that Ghent has the largest car-free area in Europe. We parked in one of the many underground garages with rates comparable to Vancouver. (I was interested to find both public washrooms and vending machines in the underground parkade...now why don't we do that?)
In most respects I found Ghent to be far more interesting than Bruges. I was particularly taken with the variety of architecture, both old and new. There are numerous shopping districts with many of the same stores as Vancouver. However, there are also many unique to the city. In terms of prices, we generally found things to be more expensive than in Vancouver. In many places, a Euro (worth about 1.55) is a dollar. Indeed, items that were priced in international shops and international currencies might sell for 49 euros and $45 US and $50 CDN, although occasionally the US and Canadian price was shown to be the same amount. But still less than in euros.Not surprisingly, Ghent has some wonderful restaurants. On the advice of our Michelin guide we ate in Pakhuis, an oyster bar and brasserie in an old industrial warehouse. I was particularly taken with the men's washroom with its unusual fixtures and high-tech hand dryer which uses a curtain of hot air.Towards the end of one day's touring, we got on a tram to explore a bit around the city. We came upon the Flanders Expo and this somewhat unusual sight...
As I learned about the history of the city with its periods of great wealth and subsequent periods of decline, I could not help but think of Vancouver whose economy was once built on lumber, mining and fishing but today is dependent on tourism, the service sector and some limited high tech activity. I wonder what the guide books will say about us a hundred years from now.