July 25, 2018
The journey to Ghent continues along the heavily populated landscape following the Scheldt river. Not much is left to the imagination in the somewhat bleak landscape, token patches of green and fields of wild grasses interrupting the ongoing urban sprawl. But the modest river nonetheless offers some relief from congestion, what with the view of the water, the meandering course of the river, the manner in which the historic centres of the towns abut the riverbanks, and the prevalence of green in the vicinity.
A particularly appealing part of the journey are the ferry crossings that occur either on a scheduled or as-need basis, a small manned boat riding with foot passengers and cyclists between jetties on either side of the narrow river. These river crossings lend the typically innocuous landscape sudden charming and bucolic touches.
Despite the relative proximity between towns, the Knooppunt bike trail system is somewhat challenging to follow. The system is subdivided into innumerable segments ranging in length between several dozen metres and several kilometres. In theory, at the end of each segment, a sign should be visible, illustrating the available path segments that follow, listing the number of the path and indicating its direction. However, at times signs are missing or hidden, at which point getting lost is highly likely.
In the end, it makes sense to take bike trails that seem to follow the rivers that connect urban centres to avoid getting lost. Belgian roads are not the most clearly organized in Europe, however, they would present a lot easier choice to navigate relative to the bike trails – only that cyclists are not allowed to use the roads! Another problem with the bike trails is that they are often very poorly constructed or maintained, very uneven, rife with potholes, not to mention garbage and broken glass.
Ghent is one of the most historic cities of Belgium, in fact, all of northern Europe. It is the capital and largest city of the East Flanders province, the second largest municipality in Belgium after Antwerp, and a port and university city. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Leie, and in the Late Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of northern Europe, with some 50,000 people in 1300.
Archaeological evidence shows human presence in the region of the confluence of Scheldt and Leie going back as far as the Stone Age and the Iron Age. The origin of the name of the city is believed to be ‘Ganda’, derived from the Celtic word for confluence as well as the name with a deity named Gontia. The area was believed to be inhabited in Roman times as well, and with the invasion of the Franks between the end of the 4th century to beginning of the 5th century, the language was changed from Celtic and Latin to Old Dutch.
The centre of town is marked by classic Flemish Renaissance architecture together with stunning medieval ecclesiastical masterpieces, including the Gravensteen, Sint-Niklaaskerk, Sint Baafskathedraal, and the belfry, a classic showpiece of classical Flemish architecture.
(Narrative excerpted from Wikipedia).