December 12 - BIKES!

We got cleaned up, packed our stuff, tossed the trash, and left the house around 10:00.  We made the short walk to the Porte de Namur metro station and then took the metro to Midi.  Once we came up the stairs inside of Midi, we realized we were actually in the train station.  Somehow we just hadn’t seen any of the Metro signs the day we arrived.  That would’ve saved us quite a bit of walking, and more specifically, a lot of walking with bags.  Based on when we needed to check out in Brussels, when we could check in in Bruges, and the recommendation from the patron at London Calling, we had decided to spend part of the day in Ghent today.  At the ticket counter, we were told we could stop in Ghent for lunch and wouldn’t have to do anything extra.  It was on the way anyway, so it wasn’t a detour to stop there.

For the train to Ghent, we bought some raspberry donut holes, paprika chips, soda, and rosé champagne.  We looked up open container laws, and it seemed as though it was okay to have open containers, but we still felt more comfortable putting everything in the water bottle.  The issue was the water bottle was only 500mL, so we had to drink a third of the bottle before getting on the train.  There were three of us, however, so this didn’t take very long.  We found ourselves in what was effectively the “Spanish section” of the train, as our car was full of a bunch of young folks, presumably traveling in a large group, all speaking Spanish.  There were a couple people not wearing their masks, and the worst offender was told by the ticket agent that if he saw her again without her mask, she was going to get fined.

It was less than an hour to Ghent, and we got off at the Saint Peter station.  The first thing we noticed was a huge amount of bikes parked outside, several hundred.  We’d never seen so many bikes in one place, and Justin kept thinking “BIKES!” from a Tom Segura comedy special he’d recently seen.  We couldn’t find the lockers for our bags, so we asked at the information office.  We were told there weren’t any lockers at this station, that the lockers were at the Dampoort station on the other side of town.  So we got 3 tickets to the Dampoort station.  The train ride to Dampoort was just 5-10 minutes, with no stops.

At Dampoort we were greeted by hundreds more bikes.  We found the lockers, and we needed two lockers to hold all of our stuff, but other than that it was easy and straightforward.  From the station we walked west, across a couple of canals.  It wasn’t raining, but there was a constant light mist.  There were not many people out, but then again it was mid-day Sunday in December.  While we knew very little about Brussels and Bruges, we knew nothing about Ghent.  Justin had opened up a single web page that had a top 10 sites or something like that, and we were just going off of that.  There were some street signs that had different coloration for what seemed to be the tourist sites (brown, as we reacll), so we took note of those when we were walking, but it seemed to largely overlap with the same sites from the website.

Our first stop was at Gravensteen, an old castle.  It dated back to 1180 AD.  Beverly told us she was excited, as she couldn’t remember if she’d ever been to a castle before.  We’d seen a fair amount in Central Europe, but all in the past couple of years.  In the castle, we got an audio guide that came in several languages, and all we had to do was punch in a number and hit play, depending on where we were in the castle.  We’d done something similar in a handful of places in the last couple of years, but this audio guide was unique.  It was almost like comic relief, like being told the story by the drunk guy at the bar rather than by a University history teacher.  

There were great views from the rooftop (we suppose that was kind of the point of the castle), and Justin saw some busy restaurants just to the south by one of the canals, so after we finished at the castle, he suggested we try one of them out for lunch.  It was a very short walk over there, to De Graslei.  Right by the restaurant there were people paddle-boarding on the canal.  It occurred to us that they couldn’t make a single mistake paddle boarding in December.  Inside the restaurant it was nice and warm, and we had a table upstairs by a window.  To start, Crystal got a glass of red wine, whilst Justin and Beverly got Sapphire and tonics.  Crystal got a seafood casserole, whilst Justin and Beverly got pork cheek carbonade.  Of course there were pommes frites, since this was Belgium. The pork cheek carbonade was very heavy on the wine flavor; Justin thought the carbonade at London Calling was better.  

After wrapping up lunch, we walked over to St Michael’s Bridge, to get a view of St Nicholas’ Church, the Belfry, and St Bavo’s Cathedral, all in a row (the website had noted this).  On the east side of the bridge we saw a Christmas Market, with the windmill thing [apparently this is called a “Christmas Pyramid”], and at the market they were playing Sweet Caroline, Let’s Get Physical, and Dancing Queen - you know, all the Christmas Hits.  We went into St Bavo’s to briefly give it a look, then walked back to the train station, as it was already past 16:00.  We got our stuff out of the lockers, then went to catch the train back to Saint Peters station.  

The train we got on, however, continued on to Bruges, so we didn’t have to get off at Saint Peters.  There was a loud little kid near us, so Justin finished the bubbly.  We arrived at the Bruges train station around 18:00.  Crystal and Beverly went to a chocolate store in the train station [for the completion of Beverly’s ‘must try’ Belgium list], and thereafter we walked into town.  It was misty again, but not too bad.  During the walk we saw lots of interesting stuff, but we had all our belongings, and we’d have two full days to check everything out, so we just took mental notes as we kept walking.

Our Airbnb was nuts.  The house had 5 levels.  We entered on level 0, which had a kitchen, kitchen table, a coat rack, and a toilet [and a stair or two here and there].  Downstairs on level -1 was a kids’ play area, in what was essentially a dungeon.  On level 1 there was a living room, shower, and toilet.  On level 2 there were two bedrooms and a toilet (sort of, since the toilet was about 6 steps down the stairwell, out of 18).  On level 3 there was another bedroom, a shower and a sink (but no toilet).  So basically, no floor on its own combined a full bathroom and bedroom.  Also, between level 2 and level 3 there was a door to a roof terrace.  It took a while to explore the house, and we kept shaking our heads at how nuts everything was.  Especially the wooden spiral staircases with the squeaking/moving 4” treads, which went straight up at an incredible angle.

Amongst the various choices, the kitchen table ended up being where we congregated.  We relaxed after a “busy” day with some chocolates.  Crystal checked out Atlas Obscura and found Lucifernum, we hoped it would be open for us, as it seemed exactly up our alley - rum cocktails, Latin music, odd artifacts, etc.  We waited patiently until 20:00, right when they were supposed to open.  But to our (especially Justin’s) dismay, both Atlas Obscura and Google Maps had been wrong - 20:00 is when Lucifernum closed, not when it opened.  Justin was crestfallen, as we’d just been sitting around for an hour or so waiting for them to open, and Sundays were the only day of the week they were open.  We did a quick pivot, searched cocktail bars, and chose Bar Ran, very nearby.

Inside, there were only two other couples and us.  They had a relatively small menu, but tons of bottles of booze.  One of the bartenders was from the UK (near Oxford), and the other seemed local.  The two of us, and Beverly as well, got Passion Fruit Daiquiris, which were great.  Thereafter we ordered a couple other rounds.  One of the other tables had two women that kept going outside to smoke, and one of them was wearing above-knee leather boots and a leather skirt, she must have been freezing when she went outside.  The main bartender told us that he lives above the unit with his wife, and that they had been on a 12- month worldwide trip when they had to return in a hurry, when wife got sick in Bolivia.  When debating what to get for our third or fourth round, we spotted a Fortaleza bottle from its top from across the room, which impressed the bartender.  He brought it out for some free shots for us.  We then showed them a photo of our rum collection in Pahoa, which brought some free rum, plus a long list of bar ideas for when we went to Paris.  We eventually got back home around 22:30 or 23:00, and we went straight to sleep.

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