What could comfort me, a solo traveler with a lot of insecurities and fears who, above all, just said goodbye to new friends- participants of Ent-Ex programme? Perhaps, the sweet anticipation of meeting old ones. After an aimless stroll in the Amsterdam streets and my final must-do in the city- the boat- trip, I packed my things to wake up early next day and take a train to Ghent – where I was supposed to meet my good old friend Tigran and his sister Sona.
What happened in reality was off my schedule. Still slow and lax due to my recent booze and weed-trial (they say its effects last a few days- or, at least, it holds true to my case ;), I miscalculated the time needed for getting to the station. Then I successfully failed to find the right platform, and eventually saw my train leave – completely deaf to my screams and pleads, which, to put it in a coherent speech, were “wait, wait for me”.
Thank God, the cannabis and easy-going Amsterdam vibe has had a calming effect on me, too. Sticking to my recently acquired “I-don’t- care” attitude, I just took the next Thalys without further panic.
Here I was – standing beside the Ghent Saint Peter’s station waiting for my friends and simultaneously trying to “detect” the vibe, music and color of the city. The vibe- that of a student, nonchalant and maximalist at the same time (for objective reasons, since the Ghent University campuses are scattered all over the city, and my friend was doing his post-doc in one of them), the music – Medieval Flemish tunes (which from time to time was heard in the historical center) and color- soft terracotta mixed with Gravensteen-gray.
I guess I fell in love with the city during a boat trip which we relished with Belgian waffles – a perfect mix of aesthetical and foodie experience. The city views were something, so were the waffles: from the very first bite, all the sweets which I’ve had before (even the Italian tiramisu) momentarily paled into this mouth-watering blend of waffles, vanilla ice-cream, chocolate and strawberries to top with. And all these- against the background of well-preserved (and renovated) medieval blendings, flower-clad canal houses with metallic small statues on the roofs ( I loved them!) and surprisingly (for Belgium) cloudless blue sky (I loved it even more!). Envy me how much you want 🙂
Our next destination was the famous 91-meters-tall Belfry (UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, by the way). When I saw the narrow stairs leading to the top the first thing I recalled was Duomo. Soon enough did I realize it was not the only similarity with Florence. The enthralling panoramic view of the city reminded me of Florence- similar colors, vibe and terracotta-tiled roofs (NB: I missed Florence…For me, it’s the most beautiful of the ones I’ve seen so far).
However, my must-do program didn’t only include marveling the city gems. I had a “mission”, so all three of us headed for the Boekentoren– Tower of Books- Ghent University Library. Why? That’s what the librarian’s face expressed when we started taking photos of a memory board of a man with mustache with a not-so-Belgian but so-Armenian name and surname. Actually, it was a memory board dedicated to an alumnus of the university, famous Armenian poet and victim of the Armenian Genocide Daniel Varouzhan, with an excerpt from his poem. Having studied at school named after this great poet and man and scrupulously learned his biography, I couldn’t but pay my homage to the great contribution he made in Armenian literature and history overall. Only then, after traversing the Ghent streets and accomplishing my modest “mission”, I could leave for Brussels (where my hotel reservation was) ticking all the MUSTs for me (not the ones mentioned in travel guides) 🙂
Goodbye Ghent- Florence of the North. Next station is – Brussels– New York of Europe.
P.S. I highlighted my recommendations or must-dos with bold. Just explore the city on foot and explore other hidden gems by yourself -this is the best tip from me:)