The Tinting of Ghent

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Ghent, Belgium – April 2013

Travel is unpredictable. Any and every little thing can tint your experience.

It’s late morning and I’ve just arrived in Ghent, a thirty minute train ride from Brussels. My stomach is full of waffles. A restful night of sleep is behind me. It’s my last full day in Belgium and the chill and gloom of the past couple of days have dissipated. Spring sunrays beckon.

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The tram driver, a gristly man with a gray ponytail, refuses to sell tickets to those of us who don’t have coins for the machine. We exit the tram and discuss our options. The center is really too far to walk to. The only thing we can do is buy something in the train station to get coins for change.

“I want to go to Antwerp today, too,” a young girl says with an annoyed sigh. “I don’t have time for this. If they don’t want me to visit, I’m leaving,” She waves and rushes back to the train station. The others nod. Bruges is only a half an hour away. When we get into the station, they head for that train. I buy a coffee and walk back to the tram stop alone.

The tram snakes through the nearly deserted Sunday morning streets. The atmosphere in Ghent is supposed to be more authentic than in Bruges. Less touristy. After the encounter with the tram driver, my certainty wavers. But I can’t judge an entire city by one old grouch. The tram arrives at Korenmarkt, so I jump off.

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An imposing castle next to a quiet canal. The contrast between the massive walls and tranquil canal are unique. One of the downsides of traveling extensively in Europe is that it can make one blasé about castles and churches. My brain has reached the point of history saturation. I rarely enter such edifices anymore. These days, I prefer to feel a place. Watch, listen, and move my feet over the streets.

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The cafes are half full. The language I hear is Flemish. Souvenir shops are so discreet as to be unnoticeable. No bumping into postcard racks here. Shop owners tend their displays, looking up to smile as I pass. The incident with the tram driver recedes. I walk a few steps, stop, stare at the intricate details in the architecture, and then repeat the process until I come to Graslei, which merits three whole laps. In case I missed something the first two times. Little tourist boats putter up and down the canal. I sit on an empty bench alongside and watch them pass.

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56 thoughts on “The Tinting of Ghent

    • Thank you! I’m trying to get comfortable using black and white tinted filters on my photos.This is the first full set that I’ve ever posted.

      • I’ll do, but usually I buy a one-day-ticket for the city in advance at home. That saves you a lot of stress and time. It really pays off if one takes a look at the city’s public transport system before.

        • That’s a very good idea. I look at which bus/tram/metro maps beforehand to get a feel for the layout of a city. I really prefer to walk as much as possible so that’s why I usually don’t buy a pass.

          • Yes, buying a pass depends on how much you want to use public transport in a city. But my experience is that one-day passes aren’t expensive (not the one you buy at the tourist information, the normal one provided by the public transport company), and it’s almost always worth it, for example if it suddenly starts to rain. In Brussels, I paid 7 euro for a one-day pass.

  1. I haven’t thought of Ghent for years not since reading Robert Browning beginning ‘ I sprang to the stirrup…’
    But on the plane from Sydney I watched the George Clooney film Monuments Men and thought I must visit Ghent and see the altar piece.
    You have certainly reinforced this desire with your beautiful black and white pictures.

  2. You work is amazing! I wish I could see things through your eyes. I always said I live my life through my kids.

  3. I have fond memories of Ghent – I must have done 50+ business trips to Brussels and Ghent was the only place I ever escaped to for an afternoon. I absconded with the Irish and Greek EU reps and took a trip around the city on the canal – it was grand. Thanks for the trip down memory lane 🙂

  4. Your first sentence “Travel is unpredictable” is brilliant! In three words, you have given the perfect definition of what it means to travel. Most of us tend to be risk averse so holidays are usually fashioned to remain consistent with “home base.” But to travel…ah, that is an entirely different experience. We open ourselves to randomness and to the possibilities that make our journey unique and beautiful.

    “What each must seek in his life never was on land or sea. It is something out of his own unique potentiality for experience, something that never has been and never could have been experienced by anyone else.”
    Joseph Campbell

    Always a joy to stop by…

    • Unpredictability is intimidating. And what is stressful for one traveler can be insignificant to another. Even though I’m a seasoned traveler, I deal with a lot of unnecessary anxiety. I’ve recently been making a conscious effort to just go with the flow. Thanks, as always, for your insights.

  5. Usually, when I go to Ghent, it’s to see a friend, and we spend the day together shopping. I should stop to see the sights and make pictures the next time I go. The distance between the train station and the centre is not that big, it’s 20 minutes walking, but sometimes I take the tram too (I have always a De Lijn card with me).

    Thank you for your pictures and thoughts about the city !

    • Is the shopping good in Ghent? The sights seemed to be in a pretty small area. I usually like to walk a lot, but I was feeling lazy that day and I also didn’t have a map. :O

  6. Yes ! better than Brussels ! There are little shops of (retro) clothing and design, all with independant brands. I’ll try to write an article on my blog the next time I go (with pictures). Oh and the fabric from my “park landscape” dress comes from Ghent 😉

  7. It’s so true, such slight chance encounters can easily tint or taint your opinion of a city. Your wonderful photos tell me I should go there, and keep some spare change in my pocket. 🙂

  8. I’ve heard of this place but never got to see it, so glad to be traveling (virtually) through your blog & stories. 🙂 Always a pleasure.

  9. What a lovely way to pass some time with a cup of coffee-I love the tinted images-they are gorgeous and certainly show the details of this marvelous architecture in a way that I am not sure color would-terrific work Julie!

    • Thanks, Meg. I’m going to use these Topaz b/w tinted filters more often, I think. I’ve had them for a while, but haven’t tried them before now.

  10. Annoying how the station is so far from the centre – I wonder if it breaks the record for the longest distance between the two in Europe? Although I’ve read the comment above saying it’s only a 20 minute walk which isn’t as bad as I’d imagined. I went to Ghent on a stag do with 8 lads so we just got two taxis between us.

    • Riding the tram, it sure seemed like it would be longer than 20 minutes, but maybe if you know where you’re going it’s only that long. You guys made a wise choice.

  11. “No bumping into postcard racks” – that convinces me to go as much as anything … and then there is your photography, your outstanding photography! Thanks for showing off Ghent. I’ve put it on my list!

  12. I like the depth of field found in the second and third image, the last one too. Without a pocket full of coin, an interesting start to a day that seems unrushed and waiting all at the same time. Though the height to an edifice does offer a alternate perspective to a world when no hot air balloon is available; first to travel, wander among people and places, then to kind of like, fly to the moon, well defy gravity’s stance to having ones feet on bare cobble, grass and earth. To return once more to street level, among people and place, having seen that location in the distance, such as one you might not of found, before one’s feet making to hither yonder.

    • Now that you mention it, a view from the heights of a castle could definitely give a different perspective to a street below. I’ll have to try it sometime. Most of the castles I’ve been inside have been out of the city.

      • Sometimes I think perspective at extreme angles as well as traditional street vistas.. Always plenty of options.All the best on excursions in the future.

  13. Great shots of my beautiful city! I’m so happy to have just found your blog! I love reading what others feel when they walk through a city I’m so familiar with. Great writing!

  14. So good LV!!! My favorite part was the grAy ponytail reference. #America #AmericanEnglish
    And also that castle. Holy cow that is an impressive fort!

    • Thank you, kind sir. Gray ponytails are prevalent in these parts, too. The men who sport them are usually ornery old intellectuals. The castle is a wonder indeed. It’s so massive that I’m surprised it hasn’t sunk into the canal.

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