After the official institutional visits, the first stop in the Belgian tour of the Commission trainees was the beautiful, beautiful, beautiful city of Ghent. Walking towards the city centre along a canal where cosy house boats are docked, we already submerged in the quiet atmosphere created by the flowing water, the almost wild-looking trees and bushes and the fact that, lately, we had been getting up too early to be very loud.
Of course, as soon as we stepped on the famed St. Michael’s Bridge to enjoy the view of the old town, the quietness turned out to be an illusion, and we discovered who would be our companions during the whole Pentecost weekend: picture-snapping and waffle-eating tourists (like ourselves), along with groups of singing scouts in matching scarves, young women taking part in bachelorette parties (easily recognisable thanks to garish dresses and matching feather boas) and football fans celebrating the victory of the Ghent Buffalos.
One of the highlights of the visit was, no doubt, the Belfry tower, as looking at a city from above is always a treat. In spite of the cloudy weather (smarter trainees than myself climbed the tower in the sunny afternoon), the view was stunning, with the canals criss-crossing the town and the bell towers reaching up to the sky among the medieval Dutch-style houses in several shades of red, brown and ochre.
We were less lucky when visiting the churches, as some of them, such as St. Nicholas’, were undergoing renovation. In the Cathedral, we saw the Van Eyck brothers’ famous Ghent Altarpiece (or a reproduction) picturing a somewhat eerie adoration of the Mystic Lamb.
Some trainees also visited the fortress mainly because of, let’s be honest, the torture chamber, which was fully equipped with a guillotine, thumbscrews, pears of anguish, iron maidens, wooden horses and other instruments I’d rather forget about before they show up in my nightmares. Some other trainees wisely chose to visit the Design Museum instead, while others set out to recover the lost peace and quiet at the old Béguinage.
At the end of the day, however, small pleasures are the best ones and, when the late afternoon was at its warmest, a big group of us met up to eat ice cream and waffles by the canal. Oh yes.
Photos by Leena and Andrea