Tuesday, 23 October 2012

They drive for 7 hours, from all across the country...

I've always liked Belgium. Belgium is the old Denmark, if you get what I mean. I've been to Ostend 3 times and Bruges once, and I've frequented service stations in Leuven and outside of Brussels. But I've never spent the night there. So when I found out that Teitur was doing a show in Ghent last Saturday night, I had to go. I'm calling it an early birthday present to myself :) Ferry crossing and change of coach in Brussels included, it's a 7,5 hour coach trip from Dover to Ghent. I've never really done independent coach travel like this, but having been assured by a friend that it's great fun (and also a hell of a lot cheaper than the train would have been), I thought I should try it. Fun isn't exactly the term I'd use to describe Friday night/Saturday morning, but it was certainly eventful. Anyway, one missing passenger, a (literal) last minute boarding of P&O's Pride of Kent, and several hours of my Scandinavian chillout playlist later, we arrived in drizzly Brussels. Another hour later, and I found myself in Ghent. But I had no idea where exactly...

8.00: So apparently I'm in Dampoort. There's a map outside the station- Dampoort is on the other side of the city to where I need to be (i.e- Sint-Pieters). There doesn't appear to be any bus stops about, so I've got to get a train. Car-coach-ferry-coach-train. On zero sleep. This is like,hardcore travelling! This trip is insanely long, but I really don't mind- it genuinely feels like I've come here to see an old friend, somehow. I've not been on a Belgian train before- they're absolutely huge. This one's going to Ostend (I love Ostend) but it only takes 5 minutes to get to Sint-Pieters, and it only costs €1,70. Does any train trip in the UK cost less than a tenner?

9.00: After much dicking about, I get on a tram headed to Wondelgem (what a great name!). I don't know where Wondelgem is, or where the tram will stop on the way. Decent transport maps are hard to come by in Ghent. Thankfully the names of the next stops are shown on a scrolling display on board. I get off at Gravensteen- that's one of the names I've written down on my A6 page of notes, because it's where the Castle of the Counts is. [Edit: turns out Gravensteen actually means Castle of the Counts] It was built by Philip of Alsace in 1180 and is really rather an impressive building. I really want to go and have a look round, but I've got a whole town to see before 1pm, when I need to be at my B&B.

11.00: Wow, Ghent is a lovely town. It really reminds me of Lübeck, with its canals and buildings that make me think of gingerbread houses. Some parts remind me of Flensburg too, which brings back very welcome memories. I nip into St Bavo Cathedral (wonderfully gothic as are many churches in Flanders) to have a word with the Big Man before deciding what to do next. The plan before I came here was to go on a boat trip down the canal, lazy people's sightseeing basically. But I still need to eat, get back to Sint-Pieters to pick up my luggage and get to Heuvelpoort...Oh look, there's a Fnac....

12.00: I'm at Faits Divers on Korenmarkt being served by a waiter who bears a resemblance to Tim Schou. He probably doesn't, it's just that I'm really tired and really hungry so I'm not thinking straight. On an aside though, Belgian men really are very attractive on the whole. And very well dressed.The one culinary thing I wanted to try this weekend is a Dame Blanche, a dessert I've seen on countless Belgian menus that's like a fudge sundae. Of course, I've picked the one place that doesn't do it. They don't have any desserts. But never mind, because they do have steak. They have the best steak I've tasted ever. A tram rumbles past. I'm pretty sure there's a massive picture of Tom Boonen on the side of it. But I am still tired.

13.00: There's loads of work going on around Sint-Pieters station and the bus system is really confusing, but I make it to my B&B only 10 minutes late.I'm staying at Sparrow's Nest which is owned by a lovely lady called Linda. My room is absolutely beautiful- I have a huge bath, a huge bed with one of those memory foam mattresses, and a chandelier! The Ghent Film Festival has been on this week and so it's been nigh on impossible to find somewhere to stay. I've got lucky :)

16.45: After a quick sleep, I nip down to Delhaize supermarket for supplies. Very disappointing, there are no silly brand names to add to my collection. I go back home and panic when I can't open the front door. You don't want to know how long I stand there trying for. Linda is 30 minutes away from Ghent when I call her, but comes back straight away to let me in. This is enough time for me to imagine several scenarios in which I've broken the lock, we have no way of getting in, I've left my cardigan upstairs, and oh my God, the show starts in 2 hours! I dreamt a couple of nights ago that I was late and missed half of it, this dream's going to come true! Linda opens the door in one go. You've got to turn the key and the knob at the same time apparently.

18.00: I'm in the bath with the radio on and eating Belgian chocolate coins. This is what life's meant to be like isn't it?

19.00: The Minard Theatre is about 10 minutes from Heuvelpoort, so I leave at 7pm with plenty of time to spare. Or not. Heuvelpoort is a bit of a bus hub and there are several stops with the same name, and I go to all of them before finding the right one. Of course I've missed the bus now, and the next one isn't til 19.30. THE DOORS OPEN AT 19.30!!! I'd not banked on it being so dark, so this, coupled with the fact I've not looked at/been able to locate a map, means that I miss my stop. The next one is about 500m away and I can't remember my way back. I start to run. I can't have that dream come true. Because if that comes true, who knows what other weird figments of my unconscious mind will become reality?! I mean, I once dreamt I was doing a jigsaw puzzle with Kim Jong-Un...I feel like Anneka Rice on Treasure Hunt running around. Thank God I'm wearing my comfy Swedish boots. In total, I ask 6 people how to get to the theatre- literally all of them pointing me in different directions. Finally, a wonderful lady who's standing outside a shop and looks like she's been put there for this very purpose tells me where it is, and even walks me there. Christ, I must have looked really panicked.