This is an old post that was never published, I am unclear on why.
Gent is really a beautiful city. Although much of it is old, it is also lovely and vibrant, filled with people, lots of fashionable shopping and new construction. Like Hyeres, where I once had an apartment, I do not understand how a small town like this supports such magnificent shopping opportunities when you cannot buy a decent pair of socks in Milwaukee. But that is another matter.
More remarkably, Gent is half the size of Milwaukee and there is no real parking, the streets are filled with pedestrians. And the sidewalks, I might add, are not easy to walk on. They are cobbled with uneven 4 inch square stones. My feet and ankles hurt all the time. Despite all of those issues there are fabulous restaurants and food stores, greengrocers, chocolate shops all over the place.
Some general observations about Gent and maybe Belgium as a whole.
~ You do not automatically get water at restaurants. It is always bottled and you must pay for it.
~ There are no cloth napkins.
~ There are few stop signs and even fewer traffic lights. Traffic is slow and cautious. It is also lots of bikes, scooters, trams and buses. Trams always have the right of way, even before people.
~ Trams run on inverted tracks in the street, that are exactly the width of a bicycle wheel and while I never saw it happen, I am certain that if I rode a bike in Gent it would get stuck in the tram track and fold over. There are a lot of bikes, many with orange seat covers which are rain covers. I have no idea how the bicycle parking system worked. Bicycle parking lots look like piles of scrap metal. See below.
~ Men never wear their shirts untucked and in general everyone, with the possible exception of Ashish, dressed pretty formally. Very few running shoes were sighted.
~ We almost always needed reservations in nice-ish restaurants and the few times we didn’t need them was because we were eating early. By the time we had eaten and were leaving most places they were packed.
~ While smoking is not allowed inside restaurants, outside I was nearly always in the smoke contrail of the person walking in front me.
~ The name Gent (Ghent in English) is derived from the word for glove. In French gant, in Spanish guante. Apparently there was a large glove industry here at one time.