Ghent Belgium - "This sort of stuff just doesn't happen in America."

As the sun peeked out from the horizon on day three I was already sitting quietly out on Sarah and Christie's balcony watching the magic of the world below go on before me. I was shivering in the cool Europe summer morning, but I didn't care. Hell I'm Welsh, this is my kind of weather. After a while we walked over to the local store and purchased a few odds and ends, then decided to head to Ghent. Shannon had wanted to go to Ghent for over a year now, and Christie proclaimed it was better than Bruges. So I looked forward to it as me and Shannon made our way to the central rail station, and managed again to purchase tickets, then find the right train. We were getting darn proud of ourselves at this point. We had our own chip and pin card, managed decent French, and could actually read the signs. I think it was at this moment we both realized we could stay here our whole lives.
About 45 minutes later we arrived in the Flemish town of Ghent, a historical village  inhabited since the Stone Age. Old Ghent is about a 30 minute walk from the train station and when you find it, you'll feel like your in some NBC made for tv special with shop-keepers and their tables lining the streets, banners hung between the buildings, and happy friendly people serving up waffles. Of course we were warned, like in Bruges, that residents prefer you to use English rather than French due to the ongoing feudal-spat between the northern Flemish and southern French Belgians. At one point I think Shannon was "out-Englished" by a non-native speaker, as she tried to speak slowly for the merchant assuming they might have trouble understanding her, yet the vendor replied back with perfect English.

The thing to understand about Belgium, or Europe in general is that the people tend to get happier and happier the further north you go. It's like there's something in the water and they're all on drugs. Everyone is smiling and you can't help but join in. I wonder if it's the sense of community from residents having to survive during colder months before the industrial revolution? They're just smiling all the time in Ghent. It's like you're the first Americans who has ever come to their city and the moment you meet them you're family. I freaking love it!

Another thing about Ghent, perhaps Belgium in general is everyone has nice legs. Even the fat people (not that there are many) have model legs. Everyone bikes or walks everywhere here. The bikes were also a reminder to Shannon that her company, Delhaize (or Food Lion in NC) cannot be escaped. (Like the Borg of capitalist America) Interestingly, weeks before our departure several bonuses and wages were cut at Food Lion, the managers blaming their European counterparts. We joked that Shannon should show up at their head-offices in Brussels and demand an answer, knowing her managers who deflected the responsibility never intended for a menial employee to go to Belgium. To make things worse, our friend Jeremie explains Delhaize is one of the better and more respected employers in Belgium, and that it is often a upper-class shopping option for residents. Quite the opposite of the discount food retailer in America. Shannon who is already cringing, begins to tear up knowing she'll never get to be a Belgian Delhaize employee, and is being left to suffer for minimum wage and no benefits here in the States- just so some fat women riding a handicap scooter can get her shaved ham special.

Ghent is super beautiful, and moments after walking inside one of the cathedrals (that we weren't allowed to take photos in) I completely agreed with Christie. (Does Jesus have photo phobia?) Ghent is like Bruges reloaded. Ghent is really and amazingly a very cool place. It's a fantasy world that really exists. We were so happy, and having so much fun that Shan stood on a bridge and then managed to get a whole canal boat of tourists to wave and cheer to her. The captain, clearly an actor from the "Truman Show" replying back over the loudspeaker. We just kept repeating to one another that,  "This sort of stuff just doesn't happen in America.".

Eventually as it always does in Europe it began to rain. I love the rain. This is when I discovered a "burger bar". Of course, a burger in medieval Europe may sound like an inappropriate American thing to do, but remember I could have gone into any cafe there without fear and ordered in English. The reason we went there is because it was owned by Quick Burger, and as faux pas as it sounds, I've had a strange but odd fascination with the place since our first visit to Paris. Their "Giant" similar to the "Le Royal" iconized in Pulp Fiction is the best selling burger in Belgium, and you can't get anything state-side that compares to it. The "burger bar" is a entire restaurant that sells nothing but "Giants" while playing pop French, Dutch and American music. Unlike the over-priced tourist driven cafes, you'll find real Belgians here. Another thing to understand about Belgian and French culture is the burger is a huge part of the pop-culture, and it's rightfully okay to participate in this seemingly fad driven sector of gastronomy. If you still think its weird, I can point out a restaurant in Cairo playing country music.

After lunch and a visit to the W.C. (water closet) which manages always to be down a flight of stairs in the basement. (Is that building code there?) We ventured back out into the streets of Ghent. We managed to get lost down some back alley as we always love to do when we began to realize it was almost time to meet Sarah, Christie, and Jeremie for dinner that night. As we turned to stare at a map posted on a sign, a gentleman walks up and offers to point us in the right direction. It's like everyone in town was here for us that day, and you expected at any moment for the entire city of Ghent to break out in song to guide you through their town. I truly didn't want to leave.

When we got back to Brussels we met up for an evening of drinking and food, Belgian style. Of course by evening's end I believe I ended up in some Belgian alleyway crying at the beauty of all of it. I didn't want to leave, I didn't want to go home. In some way I didn't want to believe that all of this was real, because if it was it meant everything back home was a stale, imitation of what society can be.  Of course there was much more going on that evening, but I'll leave it at that by saying I had one of the most wonderful days of my life that day, and I'm so grateful for my friends that evening.


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