Who knew Ghent, Belgium was the prettiest city in the world?

While admittedly your mileage may vary, I was surprised to find yesterday that the town of Ghent, in Dutch (Flemish) Belgium, is quite possibly the prettiest place I’ve ever visited.

The first thing you notice on entering Ghent is the guys (and gals). They’re kind of hot. Especially as compared to Brussels, which, coming from Paris, was a bit of a let-down on the personal beauty front. Ghentians (I made that word up) however are smoking. And they’re awfully nice too.

Putting aside for a moment the personal beauty of the locals, the town is simply gorgeous. Very Amsterdam-y, but even prettier IMHO. I mean, look at this — and the view just goes on and on and on for blocks and blocks and blocks. This is definitely one of those “I can’t believe people actually live like this” kind of towns.

gent-river

I’m in Europe for my annual medical tourism (and for a variety of meetings for work), and decided to visit some old friends who are working in Brussels. They suggested we head to the town of Ghent for the annual festival, and boy am I glad they did.

Belgium, as you know, is split in two (ish), with a French half and a Dutch half. Brussels is French-speaking (though situated in the Dutch half, like Berlin of old), while Ghent is Flemish speaking.

Every year, Ghent has a rather large, and rather well-known, festival.  And the thing is huge.  It’s hard to describe how many people were there.  We walked for hours and hours and hours and the thing just goes on and on and on through much of the town. If this were DC, it would be like having a street festival that goes from Adams Morgan all the way down the White House. It’s just insane how big, and beautiful, this is.

feste-street

Here’s a quick video of one of the many bands playing on the street. I wanted to give you a sense of what the town looks like.

As I mentioned, the town of Ghent has a lot of Dutch influence, and it has a very Amsterdam-y feel to it, in part because of the canals, and in large part because of those amazing skinny buildings with the cool pointed rooftops.

river

broom-window

You can sometimes get the best shots from the bathroom.

Ghent has a sizable number of rather cool cathedrals. We went to see the Ghent Altarpiece yesterday, which I admittedly was previously unaware of. It’s pretty magnificent.

gent-cathed-tall

Just a cool top of a building facade.

gargo

The view of a canal from a restaurant during a rainstorm.

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There were people all over town selling these small, conical-shaped, purple candy thingies. I have no idea what they were.  UPDATE:  A friendly Ghentian has written in to say that these are called “noses.” And they’re apparently insanely sweet and then filled with something insanely sweetre.

purple

Now, one sweet I did try was a Belgian waffle. And let me just say, mother of God why did no one tell me about these things before? Imagine a big, warm, freshly made, gooey, thick whipped cream and dark drippy chocolate covered chocolate chip cookie. That’s what a Belgian waffle is.  It was funny, the woman handed me the thing, without any silverware, and I sort of looked around, confused, trying to figure out how exactly you were supposed to eat the beast.  I saw some mini-forks nearby, grabbed one, and figured I’d dig in.  It seems the waffle is made to fall apart along numerous fault lines, so it’s pretty easy to eat with the mini-fork. And oh my god, the name “waffle” doesn’t do this thing justice. “Fried chocolate chip cookie dough covered with something that puts the word ‘whipped cream’ to shame” starts to get you close. Next time you’re in Belgium, run, don’t walk, for one of these. (Then run a lot aftewards too.)

belgium-waffle

Some more stunning building facades. From what I’ve heard, this style is apparently very late 1600s (I think). At least the first pic is, the second might be older.

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Lots of music, including the ever-popular lederhosen singing people.

Though these guys were my favorite. We were on our way out of town, to head back to Brussels, and we suddenly hear music approaching us.

Apparently, these marching bands are a big thing in Belgium. And, my host tells me, they’re apparently quite gay — as in, lots of gay men in the marching bands. (What queen doesn’t love a performance?) Oh, I found out who these guys are — they have a YouTube page with a ton of their videos. I picked out some of the funnier ones. And one of the guys in the band saw my post and messaged me on Facebook! (I’m still amazed by the small-worldness of the Internet sometimes.)

So this was fun. Apparently the kids, when they graduate (high school?) throw their shoes across the phone or power lines that hang over the street in one particular section of town. Which explains what happened to Luna’s shoes.

shoes-gent

So this disturbed me, as I’d hoped they were just a bad memory from my youth studying in Paris. The dreaded, but efficient, public urinals. You just stand up there in front of everyone and do it.

urin

This is just me being artistic with a self-portrait of sorts in a window of an art gallery:

ghent-window

Ghent had a number of funny signs and posters. Some unintentionally funny, like the “Nacht Winkel” signs, which meant “Night Shop” (or, shop open at night), and then there was this meatball restaurant:

blals

Or this sign letting you know not to pee on the street. I particularly like how, in a nod to equal opportunity, they included a drawing of a woman peeing.

pee

Then there’s this. I have no idea.

pic-nic-ad

I just can’t say enough about Ghent. I’m told Bruges is pretty amazing too. It’s funny, but if you’ve traveled a lot, things start to become less exciting, less impressive, the older you get. Probably, and sadly, because you’ve done “it” before, even if the city or country you’re visiting is a new “it.” You sometimes lose a bit of that “oh my god, I’m going to Europe!”-ness that you had as a kid traveling abroad for the first time. Ghent, for me, brought some of that childish wonderment, and sadness (because you don’t live there), back to me.

If you’re ever in the area, visit Brussels for a day, maybe. Then head to Ghent.

gent-pano


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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