This is my second post on Ghent, and except the end section on Brussels focuses less on accessibility and more on what I did generally. You can read the first one here.
We spent our first afternoon in Ghent just wandering around the city taking in the lovely old buildings, churches and river views. At 4pm we became so desperate for lunch we treated ourselves to a gourmet treat of a fast food fish burger. Good start. That night we just chilled back in the flat with a bizarre bottle of 2.5% raspberry beer. The next day, after leaving 3 hours after we planned we did more wandering. We went to the tourist information to get some maps and guides and wandered to the market….which we had missed! Honestly though it didn’t really look like it would have been that great, although maybe what was left was all the junk. We then checked out Sint-Jacobskerk which was accessible and free and then on to Saint Bavo’s Cathedral.
The Cathedral is partly accessible, as I decided it was about time I had a little stretch and walk I checked out the crypt on foot. However the main attraction here, and my absolute highlight of the trip was the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, also known as the Ghent Altarpiece. This 15th century polytypic by the Van Eyck brothers is a stunning example of Northern Renaissance Art, one that came close to destruction thanks to iconoclasm and fire damage. Currently it is being restored in a five year project so a few of the panels were not on show. Instead they are being displayed as they are being restored at the MSK museum. We went on a Saturday to the museum but clearly the area was set up for restorers to work in and be watched. After the cathedral we went to the The Gravensteen but despite it only being 4.30pm it was closed. The whole place was covered in scaffolding too and it also looked like accessibility would be a real issue. Considering it’s a castle from the middle ages this is probably fair enough though!
That night we ate at a restaurant on the Graslei. The city has been Michelin starred for it’s co-ordinated lighting and this part of the river is considered to be one of the most beautiful views. We sat and watched under a heated canopy with rugs, eating beautiful fresh seafood fondue as the rain poured down…talk about idyllic. The small hours were seen in, and our last few euros out, in a beer pub right by our flat. This place must have had over 100 different beers and 50 different whiskeys. If we hadn’t just spent half our budget on dinner we might have had a wild night!
Our last morning was spent feeling a little bit worse for wear and packing up our stuff. We then headed out to the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK) to see a contemporary exhibition, a curated exhibition of art relating to love letters over time and the extensive collection of Flemish art. Here I got in free and Steph got the 18-25 rate so we both got in for €6 rather than €16. The place is perfectly accessible with access round the side. We did however have to ask about a disabled discount, and their website states the free ticket is for a companion. The museum had excellent free lockers that fitted all our bags in (wouldn’t have fitted big suitcases in – think tall swimming locker size) so this proved to be an excellent place to go between checking out and catching our train back to Brussels. We then went for dinner in the vegetarian restaurant opposite the station, which I would highly recommend as the grub around train stations is usually pretty poor.
As we still had several hours to kill we decided to go two stops past Brussels-Midi (which also appears to be called Brussels-Zuid) to Brussels-Centraal and spend a couple of hours there. The tickets we bought appeared to let us travel anywhere in the area over the weekend, and again the ramp system worked perfectly. However this wasn’t quite the same story for doing the 10 minute leg back to Brussels-Midi for the Eurostar.
We wandered down to The Grand Place which is 5 – 10 minutes away, as the sun was just setting. We then wandered through the bustling streets and down an alley where every restaurant was selling amazing seafood. It’s certainly has a very different feel to Ghent, which remained calm and quiet over the whole weekend. One day I’d definitely like to go back there for longer. We then scraped together our last €2 (and I mean really scraped) to buy a Belgian waffle each.
It was then time to head back to the station, but unfortunately I got us lost, which also involved dragging us up a massive hill unnecessarily. By this time we were both starting to flag and it was raining again so we were cold and soggy. My hands were drenched, frozen through and my thumb muscles were pulled too. I don’t think Steph was faring much better as really she’s the muscle when we travel. When we got the station to ask for the ramp the lady told us we should have asked in advance. We did try to book it for two hours later when we arrived but the guy told us we could just come back. Unfortunately the lady was not at all helpful and gave us a phone number ‘for next time’ – she then informed us the lift we had used two hours earlier was now out of action. At this point we had 6 minutes to get on to our train or we were risking not making it to Eurostar check in in time.
I have never been hauled down a flight of stairs so fast. Steph started carrying my chair down then came back to help me shuffle down the stairs a bit faster. This involved her getting under my armpit and basically pulling me down the stairs. That didn’t feel so safe. We then dashed to the platform only to find that we had no idea if the train in the platform was the one we wanted, it was about to leave and there was a ravine between the edge of the platform and the train. Luckily at this point an English speaking guard appeared in the doorway, confirmed it was the right train and then helped lift me on to the train.
At Brussels-Midi the ravine had become a canyon and for the first time I felt a deep sense of panic that I was going to end up down the side of a train. Luckily a kind stranger heard my expression of panic and helped us off. We made our Eurostar and I did not fall down the side of a train. A success I feel!
In my next post I’ll cover the wheelchair issues I had and using my freewheel.