Ghent is a very lively city, helped along by the 70,000 college students that inhabit the place during school time, which this is. It’s also the very end of the term. We arrived on a beautiful Saturday afternoon just after the final exams and the place was, as you might expect, jumpin! It didn’t hurt that the mooring we had reserved was right in the middle of town and right around the corner from the place that rents the small motor boats. We enjoyed sitting on the back deck with something cold to drink watching the action.
Cathy Jo’s brother and sister in law would be paying us a visit starting Tuesday but just for a couple of days. Brandt had a work related conference in Edinborough, Scotland and so he and Susie caught a flight to Brussels, spent the night there and then took the train to meet us in Ghent. Their return to the US was Friday afternoon so they would take the train back to Brussels Friday morning. Since they wouldn’t arrive until Tuesday, we had plenty of time to get the boat shipshape and then return to some of the places we visited during our two trips to Ghent in 2008.
One of the most popular selfie spots in Ghent, the Sint-Michiels Bridge
The happy couple arrived about 4 pm on Tuesday and after a quick beer or three at a local cafe we retired to the boat for a barbecue dinner.
Wednesday was another train trip for the newlyweds. They wanted to see Brugges so off to the train station they went. We made the tour of the three sites associated with “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, the world famous altar piece by the Van Eyck brothers, created in 1432 for a chapel at St-Baafskathedraal. (more here and here) One of the earliest works with oil paints, it is also claimed to be the most stolen art ever. Pieces of the 20 panel masterpiece have at various time been in Paris, Brussels, Berlin and and Austrian salt mine. Two panels were stolen in the 1930’s and only one recovered. “The Just Judges” is currently a replica. After World War II the Monuments Men recovered the work and returned it to Ghent.
In 2012 it was decided to restore the work and the effort has proceeded, one panel at a time, for the last 6 years. It is supposed to be completed next year. In the meantime, the panels being restored are replaced by replicas in the church but, besides the actual retable in the cathedral, there is a fascinating description of the restoration process at the Caermersklooster, with detailed descriptions of all the techniques used, and a special room in the city’s Fine Arts Museum, the MSK, where a large glass wall allows visitors to watch the actual job being done.
The kids still wanted a boat ride! Thursday morning we set off out of town on the Leie River. After crossing the Ringvaart, the big commercial canal that surrounds the city, we entered the very small and twisty Leie River. We traveled for about an hour to the very quaint village of Saint Martens Latem where we tied up for lunch. Cathy Jo, Brandt and Susie headed into town to look for something good to eat while I stayed with the boat. The only available spot was on the tour boat mooring and if they showed up, the boat would have to move. Shortly after their departure, a small boat pulled up in front of us and out climbed a gentleman with a couple of barbecues. He was met by a couple of people on the beach. When it looked like they might need some help lighting the barbecue, I offered to help. It turned out the man in the boat was Sam D’Huyvetter, owner and chef of the Boulevard Bistro in Saint Martens and he was cooking lunch for a local journalist, Tine Bral and her photographer, Marc-Pieter Devos, for a restaurant review. We offered a cork screw as they didn’t have one handy and in return we got some delicious chicken wings in peanut sauce to have with our dinner that night.
Saint Martens Latem on the Leie River
All set up for the meal.
The chef gives his approval!
We were back at the dock around 2:30 and Brandt and Susie treated us to dinner at a nice Turkish restaurant that evening. The city has gone to great efforts to light up their monumental buildings, winning several awards in the process, but, unfortunately, since it doesn’t get dark until after 11 pm, even strolling back to the boat after dinner we weren’t able to see the full effect.
Friday morning Brandt and Susie caught the tram to the train station. The direct train from St. Pieters Station to Brussels Airport left a little after 9 am and took a hour to reach it’s destination. They made it in plenty of time for their flight.
We spent Friday reprovisioning and taking one final stroll around town. Saturday morning we were off back down the Leie, this time to where it connects with the big commercial canal headed south in Deinze.