Belgium  - received June 1     




Gent, Brugge & Brussels


(Written by Steve May 31, 2005)



Downtown Gent, Rush hour.


Have you ever imagined what a place would look like and then go there and it looks exactly as you had imagined? Well, that’s what all of Belgium is, exactly how we imagined.

If you made a few thousand ginger bread buildings and put them all together with streets and canals running every where, that would be what Gent and Brugge are like. Have you ever watched “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”? If you have, then you know what we are talking about. The other thing that is kind of new is that everyone is riding bicycles like the one the wicked witch from the west rode on The Wizard of Oz. Everyone is riding these things, with suits and dresses and babies and groceries, it is quite cool and so not North American. As you walked down the streets you would couples in their 20’s going out on a date, each riding their Mary Poppins bicycles down to the pub or night club. Our first stop was Gent and aside from the wonderful old town, we stumbled upon a little known secret. We met some Canadians and many Americans, many folks from all over the world. They all were in Gent and had the same operation. Hip resurfacing. It is a procedure that is not accepted in the western world yet, but one doctor here does 18 of them a week, 800 a year. He does most of them for foreigners, like a fellow Firefighter from Boston we met. All of these folks have been told that they need hip replacements and they would rather do this treatment with little side effects and better results. I don’t know anything about this type of surgery, but can tell you I saw ½ a dozen of these folks walking around the lobby with no problem and little pain only 3 days after the surgery, remarkable. If you want more info on this doctor go to

Anyways we drove from our hotel into the old city of Gent and it was quite difficult to find your way around, but we did eventually make it. The old city has trams that run down the hundred year old cobble stoned streets and canals that snaked their way through out the city. The city centre is quite small and easy and very fun to walk around, unless you get hit by one of those trams that quietly sneak up behind you. The two coolest things aside from the fantastic Belgium beer is the Gravensteen Castle and the Bellfry.

The castle kept all the torture equipment that was used back in the good old days, and the Bellfry was just one of those things you have to see.




Danika looks sleepy on the Bellfry stairs, but it was still a long way to the bottom (366 stairs).


We left Gent after 4 wonderful days and headed to Brugge, another old city close to the ocean. We were fully loaded with maps and ready to navigate the old cobblestone streets in search of our hotel located in the centre of the city. Well, even with the latest maps we still managed to get very lost. Oh, I wish we had a GPS! After an hour of stressful driving we pulled up in front of the Crowne Plaza. I will tell you right now, that I would not have a hope in h%$# of navigating if Helen did not tell me where to turn or what direction to go. Madrid, Gent, Brugge and even the Costa del Sol nearly brought me to tears. Anyways, this city (Brugge) is much like Gent except it is way more touristy and larger. Zebrugge is right on the Canal that all the shipping containers and rail cars come into by boat and into Europe. Did you know that at one time Brugge was the 3rd largest city in all of Europe? You have to see this place to understand what I am talking about, but it is quite tiny in comparison to major cities today. So we did exactly what we did in Gent and that was Churches, Castles, Eat, Eat, and have waffles and coffee. The place is right out of a movie, I could never live here, but I could visit it about 20 or 30 times a year. O.K. maybe not, but it is very cool. I would love to be here in the winter, I am sure they let little elfves out from somewhere and they run all over town, it must be just like the North Pole. The people of Belgium are fantastic, some of the nicest folks we have met on our whole trip.




Ghent or Gent (French Gand), city in western Belgium, capital of East Flanders Province, at the confluence of the Schelde (Escaut) and Lys rivers, near Brussels. The rivers and canals traversing the city divide it into a number of small islands, which are connected by a network of about 200 bridges. Two important ship canals connect Ghent's waterways with the sea. One canal connects the Grand Basin along the northern side of the city with the large harbor at Terneuzen, Netherlands, on the Schelde; the other connects Ghent with Brugge (Bruges) and Oostende. Because of these important sea outlets, Ghent is one of the foremost trading and export centers in the North Sea region. Although the city has decreased relatively in industrial importance since the 15th century, when it was one of the chief textile-producing centers in Europe, the number of its manufacturing establishments is large. The principal commodities produced include lace, woolens, leather, soap, paper, cotton and linen goods, machinery, sugar, beer, and tobacco products. Horticulture, both in Ghent and in the surrounding area, is a flourishing industry, with hundreds of establishments in the city. Ghent is the site of the flower shows called Floralies, held every five years, which attract visitors from all over the world.


The most important educational institution in the city is the University of Ghent (1817). The city is also the site of a noted art gallery. The Begijnhof, or Béguinage, a small walled town containing numerous small houses, 18 convents, and a church, is situated in the suburbs of Saint Amandsberg. It is inhabited by 700 members of the Beguines, a lay sisterhood devoted to charitable work. The Cathedral of Saint Bavon, with a crypt dating from 941, houses the celebrated Ghent Altarpiece (1432), painted by the Flemish artists Hubert van Eyck and Jan van Eyck.


Ghent is mentioned as early as the 7th century, and in the latter half of the 9th century Baldwin I, count of Flanders, known as Bras de Fer (French for “Iron Arm”), built a fortress in Ghent as a defense against the coastal incursions of the Norse. The subsequent history of the city is closely integrated with that of Flanders. Seized by France in 1792, Ghent was made part of the Netherlands in 1814. In 1830 it became part of independent Belgium. Ghent has been a site for the signing of important treaties such as the Pacification of Ghent, which united the Low Countries against Spanish rule in 1576, and the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, which ended the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain. The city was occupied by German forces during World War I (1914-1918) and for most of World War II (1939-1945). Population (2001 estimate) 224,685


We started and finished Belgium by going through Brussels, and I am glad we are not coming back to this city. Well, actually, we might have to come back to get to London, but we will try and stay away if we can. It is probably a beautiful city but after you have been in Brugge and Gent, nothing but the best will do. So I will only say that if you are coming to Europe make sure you come to Belgium because they are some of the nicest people in all of Europe. If you do come you will most likely come into Brussels and you can judge for yourself, but make sure you hang onto to you wallet!