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48 hours in Ghent, Flanders

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The Canal running through Ghent with pretty houses either side.

The Medieval Manhattan of Europe, Ghent boasts an array of buildings dating back to the13th century, cobbled streets that are almost car-less and people spilling out of cafes, restaurants and bars everywhere you turn.

We were graced by the gorgeous June sun, and 48 hours to explore, was the perfect Belgian city to be in. I have included prices where I can, but it is definitely worth getting yourself a city card for 30€ this covers public transport and entry fee to all of the main attractions.

Traveling to Ghent.

Eurostar from London St Pancras to Brussels. Time: 2 hours 9 minutes.
Brussels train station to Ghent:Sint-Pieters. Time: 1 hour.
Tram number 1 to the historic centre of Ghent. Time: 17 minutes.

I have never been to Belgium before, or on the Eurostar, so I was already filled with excitement. The special assistance desk is located on the left hand side, next to the regular check-in desks. Kwame greeted us warmly and showed us to some seats. Our tickets and passports were checked and quickly handed back to us. We only had to wait a few minutes until a second member of staff checked over Ida’s documents and passport.

Kwame chipper and friendly,escorted us across to the Eurostar business Lounge and said he would be back to collect us 30 minutes before departure. Plush leather seats, with charging stations, glass tables, carpeted floor, and a breakfast bar was a very nice way to gather yourself first thing on a Saturday morning. We helped ourselves to tea and croissants, all of which would have been very relaxing if there hadn’t been a loud, incessant announcement over the tannoy, and did not desist even after we left the lounge!

I wasn’t particularly well that day, I can also confirm that the disabled toilets are very clean and accessible, so the declaration gave me a headache and put me in a foul mood. When Kwame returned, he apologised for the disturbance and radio through to his colleagues. Apparently the announcement was a daily occurrence, and according to him,who has been working for Eurostar for 3 years, he had never once met the elusive Mr Wong!

Seats we were booked in would have meant another person sharing our table, Kwame kindly moved us so Grant, Ida and I would be more comfortable, this was a great application of excellent customer assistance, even though we hadn’t requested to move. The fantastic customer service continued once aboard. The staff were warm, chatty and extremely courteous alongside being very patient when Ida tried to sneak out from under the table as they were passing or serving us.

Our breakfast included: croissants, bread roll, cheese, yoghurt, fruit, water, tea, fruit juice, oh and a cooked breakfast! Needless to say we were very fat, happy chappies! Our seats had charging sockets, feet rests and reclining features. The tables have extendable trays, perfect for when you are eating or working.Our journey was extremely smooth, pleasant and relaxing. We even shared part of our journey on Instagram.

Passenger assistance at Brussels was a bit of a mess, because the Brussels station staff members didn’t have any idea we needed assistance despite it being booked. The euro-star member of staff was excellent, he took us to find a place for Ida to spend and then to our departing train to Ghent.

The Gap between the train and the edge was horrible, it was a 2ft drop. As someone who is blind, petite and has mobility issues this was far from ideal. Unfortunately we encountered yet another large drop when exiting the tram at our stop. This particularly made me uneasy, if I were doing this journey alone, I would not have known if the platform I was standing on, came to an end (where I could fall off the edge), or as it was; the middle of the road. Also, for any wheelchair users, this would have been an impossible task, with no member of staff to meet them at the other end, they would need to stay on the tram until there was a level platform they could disembark.

Where to stay.

Sandton Reylof Ghent

Our hotel was a 4 minute walk from the tram stop, We entered the hotel reception and checked-in at the desk to our left. The desk itself was tall, wide and marbled, it looked very swish, but was let down by it’s lack of accessibility for wheelchair users. The receptionist was welcoming and and booked us in promptly. We were given our key cards and told we were on level 2. In order to access our room we had to scan our cards. This was a nice touch for security purposes but the door itself was quite heavy, so i’m not sure how a person using a wheelchair would manage.

Grant did point out that there was another side of the building, so perhaps this is where the disabled rooms are? Although I did enquire about disabled bedrooms, I didn’t stay in one, and I don’t even when offered. I believe disabled friendly rooms should be for those with severe mobility issues who need the space and equipment. Our room was big, bright and extremely comfortable, we even had a balcony that looked down onto the outside bar.

European countries are very into fruit tea and creamer, rather than english breakfast tea and milk. Although we were able to track down English breakfast tea, they only supplied 2 teabags in the room.The restaurant had takeaway cups which wee both thought was a great addition. We did sit outside, enjoying the sun in the outside bar. This space was useful; we could relieve Ida instead of hunting the streets for a place for her to spend. The food was good and the service was great, we would definitely stay again.

What to do.

Walking tour. Time: 2 hours.

Our tour guide Stephen met us at the hotel reception, he was very bubbly, chatty and knowledgeable about the city of Ghent and its history. He has been doing tours for around 12 years and explained that to become a guide you had to learn about the city, and be tested on your knowledge through a practice guided tour by qualified tour guides.The tour was a great way to see the city as a blind person.

Although some of the streets were narrow and cobbled, it was still extremely accessible for wheelchair users, the added benefit being we could walk on the roads. In the 90’s Ghent started to reduce car travel within the city centre, methods of transport include walking, cycling, tram and horse and carriage The complete car free zone came into fruition in April 2017. You can travel in a ring around the city in cars, but to be in the centre, no cars are allowed.

Stephen was a fantastic tour guide and Grant and I learnt lots. A happy coincidence during our tour: Belgium versus Tunisia were playing in the World Cup. The few times the Castle of the Counts was invaded was by the citizens of Ghent. On November 16th 1949 students protested the raise of the price of beer, 136 students took over the castle, even binding a guard to a chair.

Students threw oranges down upon the street below, the students were eventually removed by the fire brigade. The students protest made the news travel worldwide and November 16th is now a recognised day of celebration. Lots of people get married in the town hall, if you turn up very early on Friday or Saturday mornings you can get married for free.

If you want something a little more private and romantic then you can get married in the castle, in the room of the knights. The city hall is a fascinating building with 2 different architectural styles: Gothic and renaissance. Charles the 5th, emperor of Spain, invaded Ghent with 6000 soldiers to make the citizens pay taxes. They rebelled. As punishment Charles 5th made the people of Ghent wear a noose around their necks, wearing their pyjamas, and in bare feet to beg for forgiveness.The rebellion is now a festival and takes place at the end of July for 10 days.

There are 3 main towers in Ghent that represent the city. They are the official symbol of Ghent: 2 churches Saint Bavo’s Cathedral and the Saint Nicholas’ Church. stand either side of the middle tower called the Bellfry and holds all the official documents of the city. On top of the Bellfry is a dragon which represents treasure being protected.The same tower used to be used as a look out to stop the spread of fires; houses were made out of wood, meaning that when a fire started it spread quickly and the entire city had to rally together to put the fire out.

Boat cruise.

Ghent sits at the meeting point of two rivers: the Leie and the Scheidt. The buildings lining the waterways have gothic architecture. This is another perspective how to see the city, this would also be included as part of your Ghent CityCard.Due to the inbuilt steps leading down to the water and the boat itself having no ramp for wheelchair space, I do not believe the boat tour is accessible for those with severe mobility issues.It was 6€

Climb the bellfry.

At 91 metres tall, the Bellfry is the crowning glory in the middle of the famous three-tower row you’ll have seen from St Michael’s Bridge, together with the Saint Bavo’s Cathedral and the Saint Nicholas’ Church. Inside the gothic building, you can watch a video about bell-making and then take in panoramic views of Ghent. The Belfry is an important attraction in Ghent because it symbolises the city’s independence. Let the lift take you up to the top, perfect for wheelchair users and those with severe mobility issues. 8€

Saint Bavo’s Cathedral.

I am not religious whatsoever, and I believe that this is the first time I’ve ever stepped into a cathedral, even without sight it was magnificent and steeped in history. There are marble carvings in such intricate detail that running my hands along them made me appreciate the time and dedication to create each piece.

Adoration of the lamb.

The most influential painting ever made: it was the world’s first major oil painting, and is laced with Catholic mysticism. It’s almost an A to Z of Christianity – from the annunciation to the symbolic sacrifice of Christ, with the “mystic lamb” on an altar in a heavenly field, bleeding into the holy grail. In 1934, one of its 12 panels was stolen in a heist that has never been solved. 4€

The audio tour was amazingly descriptive, and I would highly recommend purchasing it for 3€, even if you don’t have a visual impairment, the story is utterly fascinating.

Gravensteen Castle.

This castle was never built to protect the city of Ghent from intruders it was a place for royalty to move around Flanders. However it was important that the citizens of Ghent knew they were still under the authority of Ghent royalty. The castle of Counts was a courthouse for 400 years, which included a torture chamber, making people confess to crimes they may not have committed. A trial would be held, and then they were punished publicly in the square. The torture chamber was even rented out by neighbouring cities! Only the entrance on the grounds of the castle are wheelchair accessible, however there are plans to increase accessibility for the tourism of the castle. 10€

Graffiti street.

The most colorful part of Ghent has to be Graffiti Street. Basically, the government of Ghent opened this alleyway for people to legally do graffiti art as a way of keeping the rest of the city spray-paint free. New works of art are constantly being added, making the walls contain layers and layers of paint. You’re welcome to add your own art too, just don’t expect it to be there for very long!

STAM City of Ghent museum.

You will need to take a tram out of the historic city to attend the STAM. Grant and I spent over two hours in the museum, because the audio tour was absolutely brilliant. Audio tours are accessed through an old school mobile phone, and in each room an artefact corresponds the numbers you need to key into the device. It’s goes in chronological order by each room making it easy to follow.

One of my favourite parts of the museum was right at the beginning, a gigantic aerial photograph of Ghent (measuring 300 m2!) that you are allowed to walk all over. Use the multimedia app to see Ghent in detail in four different centuries. In my opinion this is an absolute must do if you visit Ghent, it’s one for the family and 100% accessible too! 8€ + 3€ audio tour for non-disabled persons.

Dr. Guislain Museum.

The Dr. Guislain Museum is built within Belgium’s oldest psychiatric hospital. Here, you’ll learn more about psychiatric practices of the mid-1800s and the buildings’ role as an asylum. You’ll also find lots of interesting artwork inspired by the mysteries of the mind. 8€

Where to eat.

MeMe Gusta.

Just a 10 minute walk from the hotel, MeMe Gusta has a cosy and relaxing vibe, animal artefacts, tennis rackets, paintings and other niknaks positioned around the restaurant gave the feel of stepping into someone’s home. The character and charm of the decor mirrored the food and service. Our waitress was charismatic, we sat in the corner of the restaurant near to the kitchen, specifically so Ida could have space to stretch out and not disturb other customers, Ida was given a fresh bowl of water and we were assisted reading the menu, you could definitely tell this was a locals restaurant as the menu was entirely in Flemish and the waitress had to translate it for us. Grant ordered the fishsticks for starters and chicken for his main. I opted for the house special meets stew.

For drinks we both had home-made lemonade, which I thoroughly enjoyed, Grant ordered some Belgian ales and I threw the recommendation of the waitress ordered a cocktail. This cocktail had Belgian beer in it, I was under the illusion that this was a highly ranked drink and was almost champagne like. I hate beer, and I regretted my decision instantly… So much for being adventurous and trying local delicacy!

The service at the restaurant was good, but due to a large influx of people, and my sharing platter for family of 50, we did wait a while between starter and main. The food was absolutely delicious and I would highly recommend going if you are ever in the vicinity.The drawbacks however were there was no wheelchair accessible entrance, with thanks to stone steps and a small doorway. I also didn’t use the bathroom facilities, so I cannot share my thoughts on that either.

Belga Queen.

Across Saint Michaels Bridge and to the right is a very sleek and minimalistic restaurant. It was still warm outside when we arrived and the waiter asked if we would like to sit out, we politely declined, I am a fuss pot when it comes to alfresco dining.

The restaurant was quiet, it is an up market restaurant and it was a Sunday evening after all. Our waiter was cheerful and attentive: giving me direction of my glassware and crockery. Even as the restaurant got busier, service was impeccable and the food was absolutely superb.

Grant ordered crab Legs for starters, steak for main and crème brûlée for pudding. The crème brûlée cane highly recommended by a fellow diner, he lived in Ghent for a time and said that this is his favourite restaurant, and the best creme brulee there is.I ordered scallops for my main and melt in the middle chocolate cake for pudding. It was absolutely divine!

Enjoying the atmosphere, company and the food, we took our time and relished our last evening in Ghent. Chatting to fellow customers on the next table also added to the highlights of our experience. And the best bit? It’s wheelchair accessible! A ramp leads down into the restaurant and there is a lift to take you upstairs to the bathrooms. If you would like A high-end experience with excellent customer service and food I would encourage you to take a visit!

Soup Kitchen

Tucked away down a small street in the city center, eat one of the 4 offered soups, choose something to add to the soup, like meatballs, cheese or croutons, or order one of the sandwiches if soup is not your thing. Sit upstairs it offers a great view over the canal.

Belgian waffles and alcoholic slushes.

Across the bridge and on the left is a kiosk. You know something is popular when a queue of people line the Street. outdoor Standing tables, and sharing a massive Belgian waffle with chocolate and strawberries, sipping a tropical alcoholic slushy: a super cool combination!

Daskalides

This cafe is elongated with stone floors, we popped in here as part of our walking tour and tasted 4 sublime Belgian chocolates! Daskalide’s shop front where we tasted the Belgian chocolates in the previous photo.

kaas mekka.

We stood outside, as this was part of the tasting experience, it is a cheese shop out we tasted A variety of cheeses including, blue, smoked, cheddar and goats cheese.

Aux merveilleux de feud.

We also visited here on our walking/tasting tour, again due to the nature of the tour we did not go inside, but were able to taste some really yummy treats including a sweet that had a meringue base but foamy/cake consistency on top, we used a spoon to eat them. This is a French themed shock and I feel that although I know very little about French cuisine, it definitely represented French culinary sweets.

Alternatives.

  • Yuzu, highly regarded chocolate boutique in the country.
  • Temmermans Confectionary shop, a tiny store with deliciously old-fashioned sweets and other popular Ghent delicacies.
  • Tierenteyn-Verlent Mustard Shop, taste this secret mustard recipe scooped from the barrel which has a fiery kick.
  • Roomer distillery, taste 15% Roomer Elderflower liqueur.
  • La Bal Infernal, a unique Cafe where you can browse, read or swap books until the early hours, in the evening it turns into a club scene.

Grant’s thoughts on 48 hours in Ghent, Flanders.

Traveling to Brussels went smoothly on the Eurostar, the staff were amazing and very helpful with anything we needed. Upon arriving at the Brussels station we didn’t have assistance from the station staff. A Eurostar staff member helped us find a place for Ida to spend, and on to our train to Ghent.

The journey from Brussels to Ghent was relatively quick and we had no issues. The issues arose when it came to disembark the train at Ghent: the stairs on the train were very narrow so Ida and Sassy could not get down together. Even as a sighted person the step down was fairly large. So we decided that I should go first, to take Ida and then help sassy, but Ida was too scared to come down the steps. We later figured out that it was because she was afraid her Harness handle would fall over her head, in this case I had to pick Ida up and carry her to the floor. An impossible feat for sassy to do on her own without any sighted assistance.

An extremely helpful staff member at Ghent station helped us figure out which was the best Tram to get to our hotel. The Tram itself was accessible depending on what stop you got on at, I remember that some stops had level platforms with the doors but not all. We had a quick turn-around from check-into meeting our guide for the walking tour. I would recommend that anyone that visits Ghent looks at booking a walking tour, you can’t beat a local guiding you around a city and explaining its History and any little stories they have learnt while growing up there. On the walking tour it gave me time to get a feel for the city and i did notice a few issues that could impact people with limited mobility in how they would get around Ghent.

A lot of the streets were cobbled, it looked very nice but this could cause multiple problems for people in wheelchairs, cane users, and people not comfortable on uneven ground. There is obviously nothing Ghent can do about these cobbled streets as its architecture is one of its biggest selling points for tourism, but I think it is a need-to-know when traveling there with any disability.

I also noticed that the pavements were very narrow, there wasn’t really enough space for more than 3 people at one time, relating this to people with mobility aids, it would be a little cumbersome, People were kindly moving over for sassy and Ida which was very nice of them. I saw one person in a wheelchair on out trip to Ghent, so I wouldn’t say its impossible to go, while in a wheelchair. I would think its good to know what you are getting yourself in for before traveling to a new City.

The architecture in Ghent is wonderful, the Castle of the Counts is a small but quite stunning castle. I loved the way that it was placed in the center of the city, and it’s history surrounding it was very interesting. Unfortunately the castle was the least accessible thing we visited in Ghent, as it was full of narrow stair cases and lots of steps, which is expected in a castle as they didn’t care too much for accessibility. The multiple cathedrals, government buildings, monastery, and churches made our walk around Ghent a fascinating thing. It’s crazy to think that all of this was built out of stone, and, hundreds of years ago. Even the smaller buildings being peoples houses were built in a way to look fantastic.

I really enjoyed our time in Ghent, and would recommend it to those with, and, without disabilities.

28 hours in Ghent with Sassy Wyatt

Hospitality: 5/5

The staff were extremely polite and friendly during check-in and checkout. The Breakfast was tasty but what you would expect from a Continental breakfast. The hospitality of the staff at both restaurants, was fantastic they were very chatty, bubbly and made our time there extra special.

Quality of service:4/5

The euro star staff were fantastic for checking us in, escorting us to the lounge and helping us board and alight from the trains. The return journey with eurostar was great, we turned up almost 2 hours early for our departing train, and the staff even asked if we would like an earlier train, they got in touch with London St Pancras to make sure all the paperwork was in order ahead of time. Upon arrival to the UK, we were greeted by 2 members of staff from Eurostar, we had to wait for Ida’s medical records to be checked. This was handled kindly, professionally, and with good speed so we didn’t miss our connecting train. Unfortunately the service into Brussels, and onto Ghent really let the service down, as a disabled person pre-booking assistance, and it not turning up is completely disconcerting.

We really enjoyed the hotel, it’s atmosphere and accommodations for people in all walks of life.

Accessibility: 4/5

Although I did not stay in a disabled persons room, I felt that the accessibility of my room, moving around the hotel and the different sections of the areas provided were more than suitable for a blind person. The High marble check-in desk created barriers to access as a wheelchair user.

Overall the City of Ghent seemed accessible, accommodations were made where possible with future accessible plans to be made.

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