Mike Strachan’s e-mail ‘journal’ — Entry #20, from Belgium
Received 11 May 2008
Travels for May 10/08 — Gent
After breakfast I find my way to the internet cafe to do e-mails (only €1.50/hr), then I just have to have an ice-cream cone — chocolate on mango in a waffle cone, liberate some money from the bank, and catch the 13:43 (1:43 PM) to Gent. But it's not the budget rate of €4 for seniors, it's a budget breaking €6.60! The seniors rate only applies weekdays except holidays.
The train, a commuter, takes only 20 minutes to Gent, and it roars noisily along at about 120 km/hr. This is dairy farm country (Belgian chocolates) and I see fields of hops (Belgian beer). Gent has canals with barges and pleasure boats.
At St. Pieter station I alight to look for the main exit only to find that Gent has two stations, so I jump back on the train to go to the other one, and in a few minutes we arrive at Dampoort station. There I discover that St. Pieters is the main station. The next train back there is at 2:33 PM — in 15 minutes, so I go outside to see what I can see. It’s a big bike parking lot and there's a car with two flat tires and wheel blocks on the back two wheels.
Gent is a big city, and it is the home town of Frank and Maria Ronse before they moved to Canada and raised a family of 14 children. Frank was a collector of Belgian stamps and he was a regular customer of the stamp dealers in Vancouver.
The train is filled with students, which explains all the bikes. While having a nice conversation with two young people I discover I'm on the wrong train — to Antwerp! So I get off at the next station — Lokeren — to wait for the next train back at 3:21 PM (it's now 2:45 PM). Across from the station are pubs and cafes with English names — there must be a lot of English tourists come through here. And of course there's a large bike park outside the station.
Back at St. Pieter’s Station I find the return train times are at 57 minutes after the hour until 11:57 PM, and I just have to have a waffle with chocolate sauce from a vendor in the station, and of course I drip the sauce on my shirt, shorts, and day bag strap. With the help of a local person I buy a day tram ticket from a dispenser (€1.20) and I get on tram #1. There's a stop at a large square, but this is not Centrum, as I discover on foot by looking down a canal and seeing large, old buildings.
The canal has tour boats, and in the big square one can see three large buildings in a row — St. Nicholas’ church, the Belfry, and St. Baaf's cathedral. There are lots of old buildings around the square, stage entertainment as in Kortrijk, and horse-drawn carriages as in Victoria. Photos are not allowed in St. Baaf's, but there's lots of other stuff — a monument to Huberto and Johanni Van Eyck, and the Rijk Archiv in a big stone building on the canal. The whole area is teeming with people on holiday, and it's hot.
After having a bratwurst and fruit cup for lunch, I catch tram #4 back to the station, and I'll just have time to catch the 5:57 back to Kortrijk. It's a leisurely trip — through neighbourhoods, past office towers, and long straight stretches down canals. We arrive at the station at 5:51 and I have just enough time to get a photo of the clock tower before hurrying to Track 5 — and the train has not yet pulled in. It arrives at 5:55 and pulls out at 5:57. What fun! Travelling around Belgium is like travelling around greater Vancouver by bus and Skytrain.
Back in Kortrijk to shower, do journal, read, and bed.
Tomorrow — Brussels.