As well as needing three spellings to keep everyone happy - or two at least - it suffers from from being seen as the ugly sister of picturesque Bruges, being thought of as less cosmopolitan than Brussels and as not being the shopping capital that Antwerp is perceived to be.
It was my first time in the city so I didn't really know what to expect.
We arrived in the city via Gent-Sint-Pieters station, and it seemed that so did the rest of the known world. The easy thing to do would have been to follow the crowds to the tram and then head in to the city centre but I had another plan, and coerced my two cronies to follow me with a promise that after a short walk we could get a beer on a barge! Luckily enough this was intriguing enough for them to follow me on a shortish slog through Citadelpark and over to Ter Platen on a truncated canal called the Muinkshelde, in the southeast of the city.
I had done a little research on Ghent and had come across an interesting looking bar on a barge about 20 mins walk out from the city centre and also 20 mins from the station. The pictures on the website looked pretty interesting so I thought it would be worth the diversion on the way to our hotel just east of the city centre.
Citadelpark is not quite as interesting as it sounds, mostly because it seems to be missing an actual citadel. Having said that it does have loads of statues, a scary grotto, a faded bandstand, some interesting trees and lots of tinkling cyclists. It does have a large anonymous building in its centre but I have no idea what it was. If this was the citadel then it was less Tolkien-esque than I had expected. (I can only assume that the Citadel was demolished and only the name remains.) At the northeast end of the park we passed the museum of classical art and after wandering over a dual carriageway we ended up on a bridge from where we could see our goal, moored discreetly by the side of the canal.
The (19 year old we found out!) cat was still eyeing us suspiciously as we at last decided that we would have to leave and go to find our hotel. We paid our bill and left vowing to come back again...
And we did, much later that night when we had a Hanssens Oudbeitje, Hanssens Oude Geueze and 3 Fonteinin Oude Geuze. All excellent sour beers that I can not do justice to the description of, although I will say that the Oudbeitje, tasting of farmyard and cider vinegar with a hint of strawberries, was an unique but far from unpleasant taste!
We returned again the following day on the way back to the train when I had a De Ranke Guldenberg and toasted our good fortune in finding this place.
De Planck's prices appeared much better than elsewhere in Ghent, probably because of its location, and the service was efficient and friendly. I can safely say it goes into my top 5 bars in Europe. It goes to show that a great bar is not just about the beer or the bar or the location or the staff or the music, or the company you are with for that matter, it's a combination of all of these things.
Kaffee de Planck hits all the right notes.
As for Ghent? Well it was also a big hit with us too.
Less saccharine than Bruges with even finer architecture and a more lived in feel, it is certainly my favourite city or town in Belgium so far. I could happily spend many a weekend there, and we only barely scratched the surface of things to see and do. We visited churches, the belfry and more than one or two bars. We walked the city at night marveling at the lit up buildings and bridges, we went on the boat trip and even spied some turtles in the canals!
Poor Ghent? I don't think so!
We'll be back.
(Visited on the 11th and 12th September 2014)