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May 19th 2008
Published: May 21st 2008
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I spent 5 nights in Gent this trip thanks to the unwaivering hospitality of my friend Kat (shes probably reading this so I have to be nice!) and her housemate Annalies. The first night I surprised Kat by producing a haggis brought all the way from Dundee (and hopefully surviving the sweltering temperatures of my cycle to Gent in the lower reaches of ma rear pannier unscathed). In the end the haggis was partially consumed but we have to wait till Saturday for that story. Thursday and Friday were both fairly lazy recovery days. Kat was working in the Bio-Shop (pronounced Beo not Bio) so I got a lovely staff discount lunch there both days of soup and a roll with unknown but tasty organic filling. On thursday afternoon I also met up with Daithi, a sturggling (well that's maybe overstating it a bit) Irish folk musician ( who I'd met the previous time I was here when he'd given a stirring rendition of a Jim Croce number. Anyway this time we made do with a chat and a walk around the old town, taking in the cathedral (famous Van Eyke painting), the graffitti wall - the only place where graffitti can be found in the city, and the old hanging house - now a cafe (one false cappuccino and you're dead). Daithi told me that the old town was saved during the war because there was a Nazi prisoner of war building in the centre.

Thursday night I dined out with Kat on a bowl of spaghetti that had me well and truly beaten. Nice though. A quick beer followed in a jazz cafe alas with no live jazz on that night and then home with a storm threatening. At this point I should mention the famous Gent festival with all sorts of music which takes over the centre for a few days from 18th July this year, by all accounts well worth a visit. I'd certainly recommend visiting the city.

Friday night we ventured out again this time with Kat's friends to a concert held in a music cum social club in a nearby surburb. It was quite a strange affair with a very happy atmosphere (thanks in part to some very cheap beer). The highlight was a two hour show by a weird 4-piecewho played in about 7 different languages from Flemish to Arabic and Spanish to English (''I wanna be an airliner pilot!'' repeated over). In fact most of the was arabic or spanish influence with a funky beat, and all with comedy elements, includign the lead singer/guitarist who looked a bit like Mike Myers.

After this we hit the centre, but not before I managed to have my my first fall off the bike, not thanks to one of Gent's notorious tram tracks, but a less obvious but equally deadly gutter. No doubt the triple strength Vedett beer I'd just had a few of also had something to do with it. On the bright side the damage to the bike and indeed me was minimal. The club turned out to be all too like being in any club anywhere and I was soon pretty tired so we headed home in the pouring rain. It turned out it was already 5am so I had a right to be tired!

Not surprisingly saturday didn't really get going too quickly. We just got up in time to get up the Gent Belfort before it closed which made a nice outing. That evening I rustled up haggis, neaps and tatties (the neaps were subsituted for a slightly runny mashed butternut squash). Kat tried a little. That's all - it wasn't her ''cup of tea''! I'm sure the remains will be lurking in her fridge for some time to come. That evening continued with a movie, as spanish movie, alas with flemish subtitles only. I striggled to understand with my forgotten but not gone spanish.

For sunday we had a 33km walk arranged. Now I'd been led to believe this was a family gathering. We we're picked up at 7:30am by Kat's sister and partner and headed in the direction of Ronse in the Flemish Ardennes. We were greeted by the sight of about 5000 walkers. Wow, one big family! In fact it turned out to be the annual walk around Ronse to celebrate the history of the city and following the same course that some people for some reason had carried a saints bones over many moons ago, but really an excuse for many to get drunk in every pub they came across. Thankfully Kat's family (numerous aunts and uncles) all seemed pretty comfortable with their english so we had a pleasant time wending ourt way camino de santiago style across fields and down lanes. At the 3/4 way mark we bailed out and were given a lift back by Kat's grandmothers (who hadn't done the walk). One seemed particularly curious about my kilt-wearing habits. Once they found out I spoke (passable) french, they not having english being the older generation, we got on like a house on fire. I had a lovely lunch at their apartment including steak americane (raw mince) which was very tasty and of course frites! Later we watched the final parade through the town before catching the train back to Gent.

That night I slept uncomfortably, worrying about the insanity of my cycling venture. I'd be leaving bright and early the next day for stage 2 of my trip, a cycle through Holland, Germany and Denmark to Copenhagen!

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