Can't Ghent Enough

Ghent it? Yeah, we do. Not only is Belgium's fourth most populous city prime for name-calling puns, it's my new favorite super-old, overly gorgeous, filled with delicious things European city.
We arrived yesterday, New Year's day (happy new year!) and are leaving tomorrow to go to Brussels. This is certainly a place I know I want to come back to. A sizable city, with just over 250,000 inhabitants, Ghent brings together the seemingly unending architectural beauty that Brugges offers, but with a bigger city feel, thriving student population and all kinds of old-world-meets-new-world art and design that makes this girl real happy.

A note about art in Ghent: it's everywhere. In addition to the collection of medieval churches, buildings and town halls, one can see what seems like an entire history of western architecture just in an hour's walk through the historic city center.  Earlier in 2012 I spent a lot of time thinking (mostly at work) about creative placemaking - the process of animating public spaces with artistic expression and installation. Here, creative placemaking is alive and well. One of the most visible examples is the 'grafitistraatje' - a little alley where the street walls, bricks and fences (anyone - you too!) are continually reinvented by street graffiti artists. At first glance, looking down the alley looks a bit dodgy, but once you step in you're surrounded by such a collection of artists that Portland's first Thursday would pale in comparison. Street art seems to be a highly respected form of expression and you can easily find yourself turning a corner to be welcomed by an extensive mural or graffiti experiment. And although we didn't see it, apparently a group of artists are working on a 'graffiti tower' project in response to the city's plan to tear down to high-rise low(er) income development projects and displace a large group of immigrants.

I've also been so excited to see contemporary art installations in the (huge) medieval churches. From photography installations to youth artworks to an electric light installation, it's clear that these old, ornate and incredibly beautiful spaces are being reinvigorated time and time again. I like it.

We've of course been keen to partake in local treats. Aside from the obvious necessary intake of high-gravity Belgian beer, we found a true Belgian "Frieten" or friterie/fries cart. Just for the record, fries are not French, their Belgian, and are typically served with sauce - the traditional being mayo.

We also visited Mokabon, a coffee house that serves locally roasted coffee. But the best part??? When you want cream with your coffee, they give you a little plate of thick Belgian whipped cream. I LOVE THIS PLACE.

We also made sure to try "cuberdon" - the "nose of Ghent" a candy made only in this region is hard on the outside (but not like hard candy) and stuffed with fruity sweet gelatin paste. At first taste we weren't sure we were into it, but before we knew it we were on a mission for a sac of these little "noses" because we just wanted more. Good thing we're walking about 9 miles a day (that's not an exaggeration) because Belgium would be very bad for my waistline otherwise.

Our next destination is to the capital, Brussels, where we'll spend three days hanging out. I'm particularly looking forward to visiting the instrument museum, the world's largest collection of unique instruments from around the world. I'm also looking forward to having some Belgian chocolate, which oddly for me I haven't even had yet - too busy with the waffles, beer, fries and now cuberdons. Don't worry Mom, I had a salad tonight.

There's so much more I want to say about Ghent, but it's been such a whirlwind of a time here. I remarked to Jon tonight how much it feels like Strasbourg (France) to me, and perhaps that's why I feel so comfortable here and why I enjoy it so much (despite not understanding a lick of Dutch - I just don't Ghent it..hahaha ok sorry). I spent 5 months in Strasbourg, fyi for anyone who was wondering why on earth I would have any attachment to that city. Whatever it is, I hope we make it back here before the trip is done. I'm considering this an official scouting mission.

What are some of your favorite far away cities?