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Ladies and “Ghent”-lemen, Waffling about Leaving Continental Europe August 7, 2011

Posted by Joseph Mattingly in Travel Log.
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Belgium is one of those countries I will not be making an extra effort to remember.  For one, by the time we rolled into Ghent, I had been so graciously given the plague that had been circling around our bus.  Also, it turns out that Belgium isn’t so renowned for exciting things to do or remarkable things to see.  On top of that, it marked the end of the travel stage of the Oxford Summer Program, and most of us were getting tired of living out of suitcases.

We based our Belgium adventures out of the small town of Ghent.  Our hotel was right across the street (probably best described as a widened  cobblestone path) from St. Bavo’s Cathedral, which is most notable as the home of the Ghent (go figure) Altarpiece.  The fact that we would be “sleeping across the street from the Ghent Altarpiece” caused our art teacher to go into a fit of excitement and hysteria.  Checking into the hotel was no better.  I was quite irked when I was told that I would have to wait to check in because they were still cleaning my room.  This was 2 o’clock in the afternoon, well after the hotel check-in time, and I waited impatiently in the lobby for over an hour and was given the honor as the last one to check in.  After stashing everything away in my room, which had a caustic stench of cleaning chemicals, I asked the front desk for the location of a laundromat, whereupon they sent me off to a vague location where, after walking for quite a while, I determined no such facilities existed.  I was then sent about as far as you can walk without actually leaving Ghent to a laundromat.  Fortunately, I now had clean, dry clothes, but unfortunately, it began to rain on the way back to the hotel.  I was not amused at Mother Nature’s pitiful sense of humor.  To add insult to injury, I was later informed that the front desk had dispatched other members of our group to a much closer laundromat that actually existed.  Enough of that though…

Our first full day in Belgium took us on a quick stop across the street to see the Ghent Altarpiece, which was only slightly more impressive than the picture we had seen in our lecture slides.  Immediately following, we boarded our bus where we were carted off to Brussels, where our Belgian bus driver was kind enough to give us a tour of his home city.  I found the tour quite nice, except that I couldn’t hear parts of it (from the front of the bus, no less) because several members of the group were disrespectfully loud and generally annoying (and it only got worse).  Then, our bus driver made the mistake of mentioning some bar that sold thousands of types of beer, or something like that, which the bus decided was an invitation to go drinking.  So, en masse, the entirety of Travel Group 1 disembarked the bus and wandered through the streets of Brussels to find this bar.  There, everybody (leaders included) except the bus driver and me, decided to indulge themselves in at least one very large beer stein.  At this point, I was sufficiently uncomfortable that I left the wretched place to wander the streets of Brussels by myself.  I did find a delicious, affordable panini shop where I had a very satisfying lunch.  When the group eventually began arriving back at the bus, the situation started going downhill very quickly.  One student simply never came to the bus, so one of the group leaders and a couple students went to find him and take a train back to the hotel.  Many of the others were very much drunk, some to the point where they were vomiting on the bus or had passed out.  From there, our bus driver took [the conscious among] us to his son’s house, where his son ran a chocolate business.  For the sober, this was a fun way to experience the art of chocolate-making and to acquire some delicious Belgian chocolates.

The following day, we were given the opportunity to go to the quaint town of Brugge, which I happily accepted.  Brugge was a nice Northern Renaissance city with fine window shopping, scenic restaurants, and, most importantly, affordable Belgian waffles.  Mine was a delicious combination of waffle, sugar, a huge mound of strawberries, and a little more sugar.  It was delicious.

Finally, it was time to leave for England and the University of Oxford.  We loaded our bus onto the Chunnel train and made our way to the United Kingdom, where we could drive on the wrong side of the road and read signs in ever-familiar English (duh) units.  More on that in my next post, though.

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