With apologies to Ghent, Belgium

Today’s trip to Ghent, Belgium totally changed my disinterest in “yet another Hanseatic League city.” These buildings, though clearly similar to ones we saw in Riga, Latvia and Lubeck, Germany in our previous trip and Nyhavn in Copenhagen, were built in dverse styles in different centuries—and had an unmistakable charm all their own. Sorry, Ghent, for dismissing you so casually.

From the bridge over one of the canals we traversed in Ghent.

The trip began and ended with some hiccups: to start with, the tour guide repeatedly insisted that Brugges (just down the road from Ghent) had lost its eminence with the discovery of America by Columbus, and by the anti-industrial posture of the Catholic Church. The larger ships of Columbus-era replaced the smaller canal boats used to transport goods. Just too glib and over-simplified for me to swallow.

It turns out that the guide lives in central Brugges, overrun (she said) with tourists who consider it Disneyland. Her only nearby restaurants serve pizza and fries; grocery stores have been replaced with souvenir shops. Brugge’s economy (and hers) is totally dependent upon those dreaded tourists, the good and the bad of the tourist economy. But let me show you pictures of Ghent; just don’t expect any historical detail: (By the way, I haven’t mentioned this before, but you can click on the picture to enlarge it…)

We ate a quick lunch at a streetside cafe with this view.

We arrived at Zeebrugges port, which our guide said is now secondary to Antwerp and mostly handles cars. This very busy cargo ship port is surrounded by tight security and razor wire to ensure that “no transnationals” attempt to stow away to the UK where “IDs are not required for jobs.” Our crew members were not allowed to leave the ship, for fear that they too would depart for the UK, or become involved in helping some one else. We were told to carry our passport throughout the day. Sadly, a passenger had her passport and credit card stolen, which meant she was not allowed to continue the cruise. With her luggage, she was disembarked to Brussels, entrusted to a dock agent and left desperately hoping that the US Embassy can provide a replacement passport in time for her flight home from Le Havre tomorrow. Continuing the plight of large urban areas, two couples missed the departure of the ship this evening… and then there was the second hiccup of the day:

As we left Ghent to return to the ship, I lost Bob. We had boarded the bus; he was right behind me, but I couldn’t see him on the bus. Fearing that he had paused to take one last picture or had climbed onto the wrong bus, I asked the tour guide to help locate him. She ran helter-skelter from bus to bus looking for him–and ten minutes later, we found him on our bus, in a seat I could not see. Bob had heard his name, my voice and the commotion but didn’t think it had anything to do with him; the guide could simply have called his name over the bus PA; and I could have double-checked the bus myself. He is now known as “infamous Bob.”

For a couple of final treats….