G(h)(e/a)n(t/d)

Posted on January 26, 2009

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I love learning things, but I sometimes have trouble remembering that I love learning things, so when traveling, if I am not in a superbly energetic mood, any simple challenge will defeat me, even something like learning to use the pretty simple public transport system of Ghent, Belgium, for which there are plentiful english instructions. In the wrong mood, any opportunity (and solo travel is nothing if not pure, unadulterated opportunity) brings to mind all that can go wrong, or rather a general feeling that all will go wrong.

Instead of taking the tram, I began to walk aimlessly about the touristy train station neighborhood before realizing that I was indulging my own stupidity and needed instead to force myself to take the tram into town. This was as easy to figure out as it sounds, and immediately I was in a much better mood. Two girls had dropped a backpack with a champagne bottle in it, and were pouring champagne out of their wallets and shaking it off their scarves, which was immensely fun to watch. Next, Gent was gorgeous. The center of Ghend is medieval, like the notoriously picturesque Brugge, and it is just as lovely, if you pretend not to see the pizza hut. I had a rapturous experience eating (and drinking a westmalle dubbel from the tap!) alone in a nice restaurant I’d treated myself to after walking around for about an hour. (I am incapable of doing anything in a new city without walking around gawking for at least an hour, usually more.) I vowed never again to feel pity for those eating alone in restaurants.

After this I wandered into the Hot Club Of Gend, tucked away behind a long, dank alleyway, and drank a Delirium Tremens (again from the tap! Belgium!) whilst listening to a surprisingly tasteful rendition of Nick Drake’s River Man on bass flute. The place was dark and warm and decorated with de-strung violins and, surprisingly, packed with young folk. I was so impressed I decided to accidentally leave my right glove on the floor when I departed tipsily for Brugge. Now it, along with my fork, belongs to the masses.

Brugge was next, and it is quite breathtaking. I won’t waste too many words on that, though. Trying to describe beautiful landscapes in words seems to me about as futile as trying to photograph them on a cheap digital camera, or to borrow a phrase from Monk, dancing about architecture. Let it suffice to say that on my second day there, when I turned corner after corner to find yet another shockingly picturesque canal and more gorgeous, ancient housing, I started to feel like Brugge was rubbing my face in it a bit. Ok man, I get it, you are a beautiful city. Jeez. I wandered aimlessly into town at around 10:15 PM (I’d looked up hostels but had no idea how to get to them) and happened to stumble upon an open one at quarter to eleven, after finding one or two closed. The woman behind the desk seemed impressed by my free-wheeling, non-reservation-having self, which hadn’t seemed to me at all impressive. This in turn made me feel like a badass. Traveling for me is an odd balance between my obsession with planning and my obsession with not being told what to do. Even making train/hotel reservations for a certain day is the travel equivalent of someone bossing me around, even if that someone is me from two days ago.

After briefly chatting with an older canadian man (rule of thumb: avoid older people at hostels. other rule of thumb: avoid anyone who calls you a “yank”) and some vacationing young professionals from western Germany, I managed to sleep through most of the night in a room with 4 other young human beings, except for the 45 minutes where some drunken idiot got locked out of his room and decided to pound on the door as hard as possible and scream at the top of his lungs. God damn kids.

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