Kim and my trip to Ghent was almost over before it even began. I thought I'd seen enough snow to last me a lifetime when I was in Sweden. The weather had taken a pleasant turn for the better in the week I was in The Netherlands.
After the mercury hovering around zero (and very much further below) in Jonkoping and Kiruna, a mid-teens temp was decidedly pleasant. I was watching a low creep across from the North East as I headed west into Bruge, then Brussels. And then it hit - snowing solidly for a night and a day. Luckily Kim's flight could land and I only nearly slipped over once on the walk to the station to pick her up at the end of that day.
The station was noticeably absent of passengers and full of anxious, waiting friends. The arrivals/departures board was full of delayed and cancelled trains. It seemed one of the only lines running was the shuttle to the airport.
Kim eventually arrived and we were assured at the information window that most trains would run the following day - our plans were firming up nicely, with a day trip to Ghent on the cards - we bought our return tickets to save time the following morning.... although, walking away from the station we had that, what was to be a recurring doubt of, 'should we have done that?' (should we have got off at that station? should we have caught an earlier train? do you think this train is even heading back to Brussels or are we going the other direction?)
The snow flurries stopped through the night. We marvelled at the snow that had fallen, carpeting the ground and covering statues and buildings in what, to me, was picturesque and novel, spending most of my life in a sub-tropical city. Then, at the station we realised the shortcomings of this photogenic winter wonderland, with the majority of trains cancelled.
Our patience paid off, with our line to Ghent leaving only 45minutes later than expected, but the journey of about 30cm a minute was longer than expected (on a clear day, Ghent is only a half hour trip), but our speed increased a little out of Brussels and we made it to our destination about an hour later than expected.
Ghent rivalled Bruges in the photogenic stakes, especially in its snow-covered splendour. Bruges still pipped it at the post for my favourite Belgian destination due to the time I spent there, the adventures I had, and the lovely hotel (Oud Huis de Peellaert).
After navigating the railway and then the bus/tram systems, we were deposited in the small town centre and were greeted by the imposing Het Gravensteen ('Castle of the Count'), built in 1180.
We loosely followed a fab street-by-street guide I had, looping around the town, ducking into shops, museums and buildings that took our fancy.
I imagine that the Vrijdagmarkt (below) would be quite spectacular on any day, but a snow covered square added to its beauty.
Our clockwise loop of the town bee-lined us towards The Belfort (below) and St Baafskatherdraal, as I'd climbed Bruges' belfry and got a wonderful sense of the town's layout. However, luck wasn't on our side with it closing just before we reached it.
There was still plenty to see, including this incongruously shaped building that we could not determine its name or purpose - but a google on my return reports it to be a 'covered space for popular games'. More investigation reveals it resulted from the winning of a competition to invigorate a long neglected part of the city.
St Baafskathedral and our icy friend.
Between the Belfort and St Baafskathedral was a long stretch of open ground. Generally a square that would have been filled with milling tourists, although on the day we visited it was being utilised by some daredevils on skis, with a retractable cable, ramp and filming crew to catch their jackass-style stunts, in between trams passing...
We also spent some of our time invading the privacy of the Ghent locals, tapping on the glass windows of their street-front rooms, befriending their cats.