02 Apr A Canal Ride Through Ghent
Cities with winding canals just beg for a boat ride, and we gave into that temptation in Ghent. Sure, it may be touristy, but experiencing Ghent with a view from the water brings a new personality to the city. We had some down time the morning before our train departed, so we decided to walk down to the river, which was just outside our hotel, and book a canal ride through Ghent at a nearby ticket booth, De Bootjes van Gent. The tour we booked was “The Medieval Centre of Ghent Tour”. The employees at the ticket booth were so nice and friendly–they even gave us blankets to help us stay warm since it was a chilly day. Our guide, Patrick, was excellent and there were only three other people on the boat with us. The tour gave a great insight to the city of Ghent.
Almost right away, we learned that back in the 1200’s, the Monks began to brew beer, as it was a safe and healthy alternative to the unclean drinking water that plagued the city. This led to a large market for beer, and at one time, the city had around 550 breweries, but as the city began to dwindle in importance and population, so did the breweries. However, this demise did not slow down the vast beer culture in the city, and it is so prevalent that even today, you can buy a bottle of beer for less than a bottle of water!
The tour then started to head towards the old fish market that was recently renovated. Just outside the building, there was a man living on a little boat. Our guide briefly told us what this was all about–he said that for a month at a time, an artist would live and work on the boat, in order to get a sense of how people lived in the olden days. I believe there were numerous artists participating at various times and it was designed to raise money for charity.
Next up we went back to the Ancient Port of Ghent, near our hotel, where we learned that the hotel we were staying in, the Marriott, used to be a brothel house. In the past, Ghent was a major port city, and many sailors passed through everyday. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why a brothel house was so popular right along the river. It’s quite an interesting history to hear about the place where you just spent the night, isn’t it? I’m just glad it is now updated and completely remodeled…here’s a look into how it looks today:
Some of the other spots we cruised by were the St. Bravo’s Cathedral, the Belfry, Monasteries, the Castle of the Counts, and residential areas. The Castle of the Counts, or Gravensteen, is one of the few castles in Europe that is located in the middle of a city. This castle had many different faces in its day, from a courthouse, to a factory, and even a prison, but in the late 1800’s, the city of Ghent bought it and renovated the castle and its dungeon to its original condition. Inside the castle today, is a museum which is home to various torture devices that are said to have been used throughout Ghent’s dark past.
We also took a ride under what is called the kissing tree–it is said whoever shares a kiss under the tree will have everlasting love.
After making our way through the meandering canals and listening to the interesting stories and funny jokes from our guide, the tour came to a close. Seeing the canals of Ghent from a different perspective, really did bring the city to life in a new way.
Boat trips at De Bootjes van Gent leave around every 20 minutes throughout the day, and the tours last approximately 40 minutes.
Have you taken a boat tour through a city? What did you think?
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