4 Hours is enough to love Gent

The old city of Ghent is an all-time favorite destination..  Ghent was one of first European cities I’ve visited when I came here in 2008. Back then I can’t fully appreciate the city, partly because of the run-down and often discouraging suburbs and the amount of walking that it takes to go around the city.

On a recent work-related trip to Ghent, I was ecstatic to see the old city again. And just like the first time, I frowned when the car went past the decaying century-old buildings and the dark streets littered with garbage on its way to the city center.

“And I thought you like Ghent?” my companion said seeing my disappointments.

“I do but not this. I just hope that take care of the suburbs as much as they do the center,” I answered with a sigh. Unfortunately the Belgians are still struggling to form a government so it might take a while.

Castles, medieval houses and art galleries

As I barely  have three hours to spent in Ghent before supper, I resigned my feet to the fact that these three hours will be spent walking. Surprisingly this time, I did not mind. It was a chilly afternoon (first time I came was summer) and the sun is casting the last of its golden rays on the city. As cliche as it sounds, there is romance in the way the sunlight hits the walls of the Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts) or the stepped gable roofs of the medieval Belgian houses. I could walk here for hours without complaining, just passing old buildings, discovering an alley leading to a canal, or peeking through the windows of the many art galleries in Ghent.

“How come there’s a lot of art galleries in Ghent? You never see them in the Netherlands like this” I asked my companion, whom I know of as an art lover, as I’ve counted four galleries in one alley.

“Well because it’s a tourist place and these galleries probably sells a lot to tourists.” I nod, not quite convinced but it  makes sense. Ghent being the biggest city in the East Flanders naturally attracts tourists who can pay for an art piece they’ve seen only once in a window.

Design Museum Gent

The little time I can spare for sight-seeing, I chose to spend most of it at the Design Museum Gent (Jan Breydelstraat 5) . I’m having this fascination and unusual chances of visiting museums lately and I wouldn’t pass up a chance to see which exhibition is on display there at the moment. And what coincidence it was that I was able to catch the Art nouveau and art deco from the Netherlands exhibition in the Design Museum Gent on its last two weeks of display (until February 27, 2011).

“Art nouveau is my favorite,” said my companion. “I’ve inherited a lot of art nouveau pieces from my grandparents and I still keep these in my house. Are you familiar?” I shook my head, what do I know about art? I just like looking at them.

“That is art nouveau,” he said pointing to a set of vases with intricately hand-painted flower designs. I moved closer to the glass and admire the combination of deep colors carefully painted on the vase.

“I think I like art nouveau. I like designs like these. Unlike the modern art (there is an exhibition upstairs) which is mostly about straight edges and peculiar lines, I like the complex details of these pieces,” I said as we go around the museum.

As we walked into the section where Art Deco was displayed, I remembered the houses of very old relatives where they still use those old mahogany cabinets with really beautiful carvings. Art Deco furniture designers used a lot of wood in their works and because of the durability  this material, there is still enough Art Deco furniture being used in middle class homes.

I like wood and those old wood furniture, especially chairs. They are soothing to the eyes and to the skin especially during summers. Unlike leather, they do not get too cold or too hot. And they seem to last forever.

“I should start digging up these collections I have in the basement and sell them. Im sure somebody will be interested,” said my companion as examine book covers with art nouveau designs.

“You shouldn’t sell them. Maybe one day, you can have a big house where you can display all of them,” I said dreaming of my own house with displays like these.

I would have wanted to stay a bit longer but the it’s beginning to get dark and we have to find a place to eat before heading back to the Netherlands.

Dinner at Restaurant Brasserie ‘t Stropke

It was a Sunday afternoon, a very difficult time to find a proper restaurant that is open. Most of the time you will be dining with tourists. When we saw that our initial choice was closed, we agreed to walk into the first restaurant that we will see. It happened to be Restaurant Brasserie ‘t Stropke (Brasseriet Stropke – Kraanlei 1), a rather old and totally uninviting place to eat if we’re going to talk about ambiance. The restaurant is located very near the boat terminal and I reckon, very convenient for tourists.

I was already feeling tired at the end of the day and flipped straight to the main course section of the menu. It didn’t take long for us to make our choices which were two of their specialties, French duck with red port sauce and Baby deer with winter side dishes, forest mushrooms and chestnut puree.

While waiting for the food, I noticed that the tables are actually sewing machine tables and the machines were still attached to it. Quite interestingly the restaurant’s logo is a strap (called strop in Dutch) used for hanging people or by those who commits suicide. Thus the name ‘t Stropke. Quite a morbid image to use for a restaurant.

Waiting time seems to be longer when you are very hungry and I was so I couldn’t really tell if the service was slow or not. When the food arrived, I was just so happy to be fed.

The duck was cooked tenderly and the sauce was generous. Being a Filipino, that matters a lot to me. Those potato balls which I initially thought were macaroons were enough as a side dish for a fulfilling dinner. Of course I paired it with a glass of Merlot which made the dinner even more appetizing. The salad had bits of bacon on it which neutralize the sweetness of the red port sauce. And the sole tomato was fresh and crunchy.

My companion’s dinner looked just a bloke of meat to me but he said he was very satisfied with it. I am not particularly fond of game dishes so I couldn’t tell if it’s good or not.

“But it has the texture of horse’s meat,” I told him. So far I’ve tasted reindeer, deer and elk meat and every time I eat them, I think of those dried horse meat that my dad used to bring for me from Marinduque. I loved that stuff especially when deep fried and crunchy.

After the dinner I realized, you can’t really judge a restaurant by its crappy interior.

As I passed once more the Castle of the Counts and the boat terminal, I am already wishing to be back to Ghent soon. A whole weekend is needed see this city but four hours is enough to start loving it.