More about Ghent: absolute Power and The Shirtless Band

On Sunday, our last full day in Ghent, we went out to see another of the major sights in the city, the Gravensteen, or Duke’s castle. Having seen some French Dukes’ castles in Nantes and Angers, we were prepared for thick, heavy curtain walls, steep,winding, stone staircases, and archer’s windows with commanding views of the local countryside.
This had all that, but was a bit different. This castle had, after the 16th century, been abandoned by The Dukes. It was used as a courthouse, then, during the Industrial Revolution, a cotton factory and altered beyond recognition.
Then, The World’s Fair came in Ghent in 1913. As so often happens when company comes, the people wanted to tidy up and show their city to its best advantage. They hired restoration architects, consulted centuries old plans, and put the castle back together. So what we see today, and what the world first saw in 1913, is more of an authentic re-creation of the Gravensteen. The idea that people of Ghent have built this castle TWICE makes it even more impressive.
Seeing as how it was several degrees BELOW freezing, and the castle was unheated, we took our chilly California selves into La Barista to warm up. Fabulous seedy bread and a thick vegetable soup restored our will to live, and to sightsee. Coming out, we heard one of the local bands coming….this was The Shirtless Band!!! Yes, 5 young men playing brass instruments and drums, marching shirtless through town. (Remember, it is below freezing). While we watched, they marched their shirtless contingent right into a small bar, ordered drinks and drank them, while still playing. They were very good; the drinking and the freezing didn’t seem to affect them at all.
More walking, and the sun went down. To warm up before dinner, we stopped at an adorable, family friendly coffee shop called Le Jardin Bohemien. There were people reading and writing, couples staring into each others’ eyes, and a play group getting together in the back. The French equivalent of Lincoln logs, caroard books, and coloring books kept the kids entertained as moms and dads chatted. What a marvelous, fun, friendly place!
After more walking and dinner at our first Ghent eatery, the Pop Up 11, we headed back to our room for a well deserved sleep. Tomorrow: Object Amsterdam!!

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