GhentNovember 3, 2017 in Belgium
We'd heard good things about Ghent from Diderik, our WWOOF host and were looking forward to our visit. Leaving the van along with others on a spacious free car park next to a rowing club on the riverside we began walking the few kilometres in to town.
From the student area, water polo court, kayak club and flats that looked like university accommodation we passed into a neighbourhood that seemed to have united behind a community campaign. More than a dozen houses displayed posters demanding a 30kmph speed limit and a change to the traffic circulation. After translating one we found it focussed on the thousands of vehicles that passed their houses every day. A lot of building and roadworks were taking place; grand old stone buildings with arched windows and embelished facades were mixed in with popup flat roofed concrete boxes with no character.
Even in the suburbs bicycles were well provided for with quality bike lanes. Cyclists and parked bikes increased the closer we got to the centre and it made a difference on the roads. Like Brugge, Ghent's canals were alive with heavily laden tourist barges offering a different perspective on the city. We like the feeling these waterways give a city centre, breaking up the slick of concrete and high rise blocks. Old stone bridges arched over these canals, and as the sun was high, many of those cast with shadow appeared in black and white, as if watching a movie of years gone by.
Our first stop was Vrijdagmarkt square where a Friday market was still held. Vicky picked up an 'appelflap' pastry and Will a pot of cooked snails in a spicy celery sauce. Despite it being crowded here in the centre, it wasn't particularly noisy. Café tables lined many a cobbled street with people sitting quietly sipping hot drinks.
Making our way towards Avalon, a vegetarian restaurant, we passed Ghent's well maintained but small castle. Unfortunately Avalon had a sign in its window stating it had 'closed forever' so we chose a frituur and had fries for lunch instead; it is Belgium after all! We later discovered the vegetarian restaurant was running on site at the farm where the food for all its dishes is grown!
When working at De Woudezel, our host's friend Stoffel had brought round cheese from the small organic cheese co-operative he worked for. It was real quality produce and we'd resolved to visit their base in Ghent to get some for ourselves. On the way we came accross an alley that had been given over to graffiti. A group of young men seemed to be trying to film a rap video but we were just two of the many people they politely encouraged to walk past them. The street just looked too interesting for inquisitive tourists to leave it alone for too long! The day turned into a culinary tour of Ghent when we were lured down yet another interesting side street; this one strung with colourful bunting. Down here we found Mie Vie; a vegan café. Deciding to make up for the closed veggie restaurant, we ordered tea and fruits of the forest muffins which turned out to be some of the best we've eaten. The atmosphere was chilled and we enjoyed relaxing before setting off once again towards the cheese shop.
Het Hinkelspel was a kilometre or so out of town in a factory building adjacent to a canal. From the road we could see large cheese rounds maturing on shelves and stepping inside, the shop just blew us away; we'd never seen so much artisan cheese! We explained that Stoffel had brought cheese to the farm and we'd liked it so much we'd come to buy some of our own. Ordering Vicky's favourite white cheese and some smoked with seaweed in, we asked for blue and were given tasters of the 8 week old, then the 8 month mature. Both were gorgeous but the older one was so rich and creamy we decided to get a big chunk. To our surprise, the person serving added a good sized end of the smoked cheese to our growing pile. We'd already picked up some local honey but asked if there was a nice dry red wine. They had two, but drew our attention to the 8% ale they had designed to compliment their cheeses. It was a no-brainer, all that was to be decided was what size bottles to get. The person serving suggested we take a couple of small ones from the fridge to have straight away but Vicky wanted to wait until we were back to drink them. Will fancied a bench picnic, but we went for 2 large bottles in the end. We paid and were on our way out when the person serving grabbed a chilled bottle and handed it to us "here, just in case you do find a bench somewhere!".
We were grinning from ear to ear as we left. This Organic Co-Operative is just the kind of business we like to support. Its products speak for themselves and it is ethically aware, but on top of all this we were given an wonderful experience as customers, not to mention the much appreciated freebies!
It had been a full day in a fun city with a progressive vibe. We were both tired but happy when we returned to the van, so instead of cooking, we did as the locals were doing and visited the frite cabin at the far end of the car park for a veggie burger and shared bag of fries. There were even some left over for Poppy!Read more