Ghent's waterways, and the attractive developments lining them
If ever there was a part of a multi-stage city break for which the term of phrase 'last but not least' best applied, then that accolade could quite easily be awarded to Ghent, which was the 3rd and final Belgian city visited on this tourist itinerary. Getting there was made so simple given the fact that it is on the Brussels - Brugge rail network, therefore a stop-off in Ghent early in the afternoon is literally all it took to be able to sample this Belgian town's set of charms. Upon arrival at the station, a direct tram ride takes the visitor into the town centre, and what is effectively the hub of all tourist activity within the town proper. Ghent is essentially Belgium's prime University student destination, so aside from being blessed with the youthful edge and ace parties that this status gives rise to, the Gentenaars (inhabitants) are fortunate in more ways than one.
The city centre seeks to floor the visitor with these kinds of buildings
Since Ghent is not as yet too firmly on the tourist trail, there are a few ways in which the town came across to this traveller as Belgium's most effortlessly liveable city. The castle could easily class as the town's centrepiece, were it not for the fact that the city's wealth of ornate churches, cathedral, squares and waterfront development ensure that the city has a plurality of focal points of interest. Cruising down Ghent's waterways on a 50-minute boat trip is a surefire way of being able to take in all of these treasures, and provide numerous photo opportunities in the process. Cyclists abound here, as in many cities of the Benelux region, and the lack of heavy traffic presented a palpable contrast with the traffic situation of the Belgian capital, which served to suggest that congestion has probably been alleviated by Ghent's promotion of the city as cycle and pedestrian heaven.
Typical Belgian-style architecture abounds here too
The city's fortunes have shifted in more recent times, and the once run-down district of Patershol, for instance, is now an upscale and upmarket area destined for even further greatness. As it happens though, all the typical tourist elements were in place, namely street markets, availability of Belgian-style snacks, and excursions on a local scale, but as our boatman commented on the city's status as officially one of the world's greatest settings in which to drink a beer, one look at the waterfront bars were all that was required to get that impression, even without the prior knowledge. All in all, this was a fitting place to visit as a final port of call in Belgium, since I find it hard to imagine a Belgian town more rich in hidden and unfamiliar charm such as Ghent. Since the discoveries and surprises it yielded made me realize I had climaxed at the end of the trip, the overall verdict was indeed two thumbs up from myself, and a healthy recommendation to others planning a trip to Belgium to force yourself to give some serious consideration to including Ghent on your planned itinerary.