Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Traveling Solo to Ghent

After Karen left, I had ten days to myself at Ramstein before leaving for good.  Obviously, I love a good debrief, so I'll post more on my last few days at Ramstein later (maybe tomorrow if you're lucky!), but about halfway through the week, my routine of eat cereal, go to the gym, wander around the exchange/mall, and then eat dinner by myself at the food court began to get old.  I had never traveled completely solo before, but when Mike suggested I go to Belgium (three hours away), I was willing to give it a try. 

I consulted with my Belgium travel agent (aka Meredith Wood! She studied abroad in Antwerp and met her fiance there!) and was convinced to spend the majority of my time in Ghent with a half day in Brussels.  After stalking Pinterest and doing a little more research, I decided to drive up Friday, arrive around lunch time, and spend the afternoon and night in Ghent.  Saturday morning would be spent exploring anything I didn't get to on Friday before heading to Brussels for the afternoon before heading home.  Sounds like a great plan, right?

It was a great plan...until I got stuck in traffic.  When I left the base Friday morning, my GPS said I should arrive at 12:30.  I pulled up to my hotel at 2:45.   It was miserable. I don't know what happened to cause such a delay, but man was it bad.  By the time I got to my hotel, my bladder was about to explode and the hunger was unreal (of course, my trail mix spilled all over the car around hour one of my drive).  I'm just going to chalk it all up to it being Friday the 13th.  

Once I got to the hotel, though, things turned around! Hallelujah! I made a reservation two days before at the Hotel Monasterium PoortAckere.  When I found it on, it caught my eye because it described it as an old monastery.  I'm so glad I chose to stay here because the staff was super friendly, it was five minutes from the historic downtown, and it actually was an old monastery! So cool!! My room was nothing special (cheapest room), but the grounds were beautiful and the building was amazing. If you ever go to Ghent, I definitely recommend staying here!

I dropped my bags off and made a beeline for the closest restaurant.  When I get hungry, I have a one track mind and that is food. I couldn't barely enjoy the walk into the historic part of town over the St. Michael's bridge because I saw a restaurant and was so focused on getting there. 

I did manage to snap a few pictures though :)

The first restaurant I could find was along the water in the Graslei part of Ghent.  I know you're not supposed to go to the first restaurant you see (overpriced, underwhelming) but desperate times called for desperate measures and I ended up at Di Massimo.  They had moules frites, which was all I really cared about and wine, which was an added bonus.

I love this lady. She must have been the owner or something because she sat there as someone brought her wine refills and she just told the wait staff what to do.  Replace Ghent with Paris and I see Sara Morgenstern in about 60 years. God bless.
After finishing the mussels in a very short amount of time, I was feeling refueled and ready to start sight seeing.  By this point, though, it was 5:30, so anything I wanted to see would have to be outside as most of the attractions closed at five. That was fine, though because after spending all day sitting in the car, I was anxious to stretch my legs.

Ghent is beautiful and the weather was perfect! It made for a great evening of walking around and seeing the city.

I did manage to go inside the Butcher's Hall where there was meat hanging from the ceiling! 

After wandering around for a bit, I headed back to the Graslei area and sat outside along the water for some people watching.  In hindsight, I wish I brought my book.  I don't mind eating by myself or sitting by myself as much as I thought I would, but after a few hours of alone time, I would have preferred to have my book or something besides my phone to keep me occupied.  Around seven, I decided my next food sampling should be a Belgian waffle.  Unlike Americans, most of Europe eats them as a dessert and rightfully so because this was super sweet (and super expensive!). 

So much to love in this photo! Gay pride (Ghent was all about that)! Beautiful scenery! People enjoying Friday evening! LOVE!

I couldn't go to Belgium without getting beer, although I'm much more of a wine drinker.  My buddy Rick Steve pointed me to Het Waaterhuis aan de bierkant which was perfect.  It was right along the water and had an extensive beer menu.  It made me miss Mike because I know he would have been in heaven! I also had no idea what to order because usually I let Mike pick for me.  I knew that the trapist beers are the ones brewed by monks that I like blonde ales, so I picked the first one on the menu that met that description.  The Achel 8 Blond was pretty good.  I sat outside and enjoyed the scenery although, once again, I wished I had a book or someone to talk to.  I also didn't have a ton of cash and it was a pay as you go system so I used what cash I had to pay and then had to leave, which was fine.  I was ready to move on.

After a drink, I decided to explore the Patershol area of Ghent, which was supposed to just be a cute part of town.  It definitely was! It had lots of character and it was the perfect way to end my night!

I saw these while wandering around. I don't understand.  Maybe it's a Ghent thing?

I saw this sign too and it made me laugh!  Arrrr matey!

Of course, I had to take a sign of the Turkish restaurant! And in true Turkish form, there were men outside in leather jackets smoking hookah and playing backgammon.  It was like I was back in Izmir!

After wandering around a bit, I headed back to the hotel for an early night.  I was up early the next morning to check out of my hotel and get sight seeing, so an early night suited me.  Plus, I was kind of tired of being alone.

The next morning, I checked out of my hotel (they let me keep my car there all day though) and was ready for some sight seeing.  My first stop was graffiti street, which was super cool. I'm always so impressed by graffiti and street art because I know my graffiti would look nothing like that.  Anyone who says it's not art should try and do it themselves.

Then, I headed south to a square that had St. Baafskathedraal and Belfort, two of the main attractions in Ghent.  I went inside this cathedral and St. Nikolaskathedraal, both of which were beautiful.  You weren't supposed to take pictures although people sure were trying (pretty sure that counts for a double sin or something).  I didn't go up to the top of Belfort, which is supposed to have a great view of the city, but I didn't feel like paying or climbing 400 stairs, so I just admired it from below.

Their stadshal or city pavilion was interesting.  I felt like it didn't really match the rest of the town's decor, but whatevs.


I found the Turkish street!

I wandered around for a bit more

did some shopping! One perk of traveling by yourself is you don't have to worry about feeling bad about shopping instead of sight seeing.  You do what you want and what I wanted was to buy the dress I saw displayed in the window. So I did.

After some shopping and some wandering, I was hungry and it was getting to be lunch time.  My goal was to be back at my car around one so that if I got stuck in hours of traffic again, I wouldn't be getting home too late.  I ended up stopping for sushi in Patershol, which I know sounds strange, but they had a rainbow roll on the menu and that is the fastest way to my sushi loving heart.  Luckily, this time, I brought my book so I settled into the two person table, ordered my rainbow roll and had a very nice lunch. 

I headed back to Ramstein and didn't have any traffic trouble.  I'm glad I decided to skip Brussels though because it started raining on my drive back, plus it gave me a few extra hours to really see Ghent.  On my drive back, I was thinking about my first solo travel trip. I think Ghent was a great place to do my first trip solo.  It wasn't too big or overwhelming, but there was enough stuff to do to keep myself occupied.  I probably could have even stayed another day and done some museums. I don't think that I'm one of those people who will ever love solo travel though.  I'm not super outgoing, so I'm not going to make friends at a hostel or a bar.  I finally have gotten over my fear of eating alone in restaurants, which is huge when you're traveling solo.  If you won't eat alone, you won't eat.  I have some friends who love solo travel.  One of my really good friends and bridesmaids treated herself to a trip to Miami after a busy time at work.  While a beach travel is a little different (I'll find out how that is solo next week!), I think I much prefer to have a travel buddy.  

Desperate times called for desperate measures though and I'm so glad that I went to Ghent.  It was a great learning experience for me as my first solo travel trip and I really enjoyed the city of Ghent.  It was charming, interesting and the perfect size for an overnight trip.