Today Arcadia is docked at Zeebrugge, and we’ve just got back from an excursion to Ghent (or as all the road signs round here have it, ‘Gent’). We left the ship at 11 o’clock, drove straight to Ghent and arrived at midday. On the way we looked at the flat, wide-open Flanders countryside – not exactly pretty, but certainly well-ordered and maintained. On the way our guide gave us a potted history of this part of Flanders and of Ghent
The excursion itself consisted of two parts – a guided walk for about an hour and 20 minutes, followed by the same amount of free time. We were dropped off at a suitable point just outside the city centre, and then walked quickly to the tour starting point. This happened to coincide with one of only two sets of free public toilets in Ghent, much to the relief of many (including yr. humble writer). Then we were led down to the river side where we walked along the bank being told about the Guild Houses on either side, and crossing the river once or twice on footbridges. We were slowly making our way toward the Cathedral where we were to see a famous piece of art, ‘The adoration of the mystical lamb’, painted between 1420 and 1432 by the Van Eyck brothers. It’s actually an altarpiece, so has a number of panels. There’s a full-size reproduction in the chapel where the original used to be located, and this is used to explain the panels and their significance, and the history of the piece. Then it was on to viewing the actual alter piece itself. This wasn’t very successful, to be honest – it’s now behind glass in a small room which was very crowded. In terms of understanding the altar piece, the reproduction told us all we needed to know. Viewing the original might enable you to appreciate it as a great work of art, but not in the actual circumstances that we encountered today. Furthermore, there are panels missing, being restored.
Then we had our free time. By this time we were cold and hungry, so we found a food stall and enjoyed those traditional Belgian dishes, garlic mushrooms in rice and Cornish potatoes in a bacon and cream sauce. Both were delicious. Then we walked around for five minutes before finding a cafe/bar where we sat inside out of the cold and drank Earl Grey tea (Val) and beer (me). After that we had time to visit a chocolatier and make a purchase before heading back to the rendezvous point near the cathedral. A short walk took us a pick-up point for the coach, and then we had a quiet and sleepy drive back to Zeebrugge. We were boarding Arcadia just after four o’clock.
Ghent looked very attractive, and on a warmer, sunnier day we would have enjoyed just walking around. But although it stayed fairly dry we got cold and were glad to find that cafe/bar. It was also very busy in the town: apparently, today was one of just two Sundays in the year when the shops are open. The Christmas market was in full flow as well, so the town centre was packed with people.
Overall, this was a good excursion which we enjoyed and left us thinking “I’d like to come back here again”.