Summer of 2016
Ghent is an easy-peasy day trip from Brussels. So after seeing a little more of Brussels, I hopped on a train to Ghent. In Germany, I am used to people not understanding me, which is not the case here since most people speak good English. To show a round-trip ticket, I motioned with my hand to show going-coming, and made the mistake of pointing two fingers to signify the two legs of the trip. He gave me two round trip tickets for two people!
This, I did not realize until I boarded the train and looked at my ticket. Being a Christian holiday, the train fares were half-price, which is great (10€ round trip/person). When I showed it to the person checking tickets on the train and explained what happened, she gave me a refund stub that I could show at the Ghent station and get my 10 € back.. The amicable, well-dressed and quite good-looking lady clearly showed her disapproval at being issued two tickets.
"What was he? Drunk? Who does that?"
"It must have been a misunderstanding. I showed him two fingers." I said.
"That's not done. Anyway, I am really happy you are going to Ghent. Everyone goes to Bruges. Ghent is relatively lesser known. Actually I am from Ghent."
That explained why she got so upset that I was charged twice. I did not tell her that I am going to Bruges the next day.
I got off at Ghent, got my refund, got hold of a city map, took the tram number 1, and ended up at the Historic Central. The area was extremely crowded for a city this small. The touristy area is a little far from the train station (about 4-5 kms), and needs a tram ride (3€). The trams are quite frequent though.
So I spent the next few hours walking around, going atop the belfry to get panoramic views of the city (8 €), and soaking in some sun myself before taking a train back to the Gare Centrale in Brussels and another metro back to my hostel.
There are plenty of good things about Brussels and Ghent. Everyone understands English, which is a huge relief. I do not end up exhausted trying to ask for something as simple as directions. English, and then, food. This place perpetually smells of waffles and frites all the time. There is something very nice about watching people sit outside in promenades and enjoying their food and drinks. Summer in Europe is a lovely place that reminds me that there is more to life than work and more to one's wardrobe than jeans. Everyone is so well dressed here all the time.
These cities are also very well-connected. Brussels alone has three train stations (more than a thousand trains pass by these stations daily to other parts of Belgium and other countries like France, Netherlands, and the UK) and an intricate mesh of the metro (2.10 € for a single ride or about 7 € for a daily ticket). There is art, architecture, panoramic views, murals, churches, museums, and some very nice food.
However, and this can be wrongly interpreted as travel-snobbery, I have gotten a little tired of pretty European cities. Traveling as frequently as I do, everything is slowly starting to look the same. A friend's mom who was visiting from India, on being shown the Grand Canyon from the different vista points, got bored soon and remarked, "सब गड्ढा ही है, अब वापस चलो" (It's all one big ditch, looks the same from everywhere. Let's go home.) As sacrilegious as this sounds, most European cities have started to look the same to me. Ornate buildings. Museums. Churches. Good food in nice restaurants. Good chocolate. Nice cafes. You know what I mean?