Thursday, September 26, 2013

Kicking Around Home

While Emily was here, we had some scattered days that we spent in Gent in amongst all the trips to places near and far. I saved all of those days up, figuring I'd consolidate all of it into one post before drawing our time with Emily to a close. So hold onto your hats, we're going on a whirlwind tour of what we did in Gent.

The Empire State Building, it's not.
I met her at the airport in Brussels at midday and we took the train back to Gent. I told her there would be no sleep until a normal bedtime (tough love is the only way to combat jet lag), and asked if she felt up to riding a bike. She did, so off we went to visit the city center. First we went up to the observation level of the belfry. Even though I'd been up there before, it was nice to see the view on a sunny day.

We spent a while looking around at the city, and we also got to watch the big steel drum that controls the bells go to work on the quarter-hour. It's kind of like a giant version of what works a player piano.

We had lunch sitting by that green area.
We just sort of wandered the city center and checked everything out, which included the graffiti street.

Emily says, "I've been traveling for 16 hours and you want to take
pictures of me? Really?"
Dinner was Surinamese food and the first beers of the trip. Welcome to legal drinking at the age of 19! After all of that, it was late enough that I had mercy on her and let her go to sleep.

You'd think maybe he'd have worn something
a little less form-fitting to see the King.
The next day, we did some more riding around and exploring. We took a photo as part of our "Emily with Statues" project. I'm not even sure exactly how this got started, but now whenever we see a statue, Emily poses with it. So she paused for a moment with the Stropdrager (noose bearer, the symbol of Gent) before we went on our way.

In the evening, we took her to a bar (don't judge, let me explain first - it was a cultural experience). It was a jenever bar, and jenever is a traditional drink in Belgium. It's kind of like a mild gin - it's juniper-flavored in theory, but it's not so strong-tasting as gin. "Young" jenever is a neutral spirit, so you can flavor it like you can vodka. The guy who owns the bar does exactly that - he has a menu of a bunch of different flavors. We tried some fruity ones like pomegranate and sour apple, and some creamy ones like vanilla and coffee.

This is Emily's photo of the sign for the bar ('t Dreupelkot).
That's the owner's picture up on the sign. He looks exactly like that, too.
We tried to check out the Bij Sint-Jacobs flea market on Friday morning, but it was rainy and by the time we got there, they were all packing up their goods. So instead we sat in one of the little spots nearby and had some coffee together while the rain subsided. I have to admit that the warm coffee in a cozy place made the wet bike ride worth it! Since the rain had stopped, we headed out to St. Bavo's Abbey, which was mostly destroyed by someone (probably Charles V, he seems to have caused a lot of trouble around here) and now stands as partially-overgrown ruins.

But scenic partially-overgrown ruins.
On the last day we spent together in Gent, I was running a doozy of a fever (unbeknownst to me until the end of the day). But that didn't slow us down! We went to the real English Bookshop, a used bookstore for English-language books run by a British guy. (Note: I say the real one because there is another store called the English Bookshop, but they apparently exist so that Belgians can practice their English, not for native speakers of English. In other words, they have a million English grammar books and some bestselling books, but no books in English that help you learn Dutch.) Book shopping together is always fun, and it was nice to help Emily pick out a book for her travels home, although she read half of it before she left. (If you're curious, the book was The Secret History.)

We also toured Gravensteen, which is a castle sitting in the middle of the city.

Seriously, I live in a city that has something like this just plopped
in the middle of it.
Inside, you get to see the pits where prisoners were kept, a guillotine, and a display of torture implements. Fun for the whole family! Afterwards, we shopped for chocolates for Emily to take home, and we had waffles together in the Groentenmarkt square.

And just like that, somehow our time was up in Gent. It was time for Emily to pack her suitcase and for us to head to Brussels for a day before putting her on a plane back home. I'll leave you with a photo we asked someone to take for us. Emily very carefully figured out where we'd need to stand to have Gravensteen visible behind us, and then found someone to ask to take our photo. Emily explained we wanted Gravensteen there between us. Said person then kept asking us to move closer together, completely unconcerned that we were going to be blotting out the castle. In the end, it all worked out though - mom, daughter, canal, castle, puffy white clouds. What more could you ask for?

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