Our Barge, Odysseus

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Ghentsefeesten, or, Does My Head Hurt! July 20-25

Sunday the weather was pretty bad, windy and cold, but we made it through Brugge without too much fuss, clearing the last opening bridge just after noon. We managed to find a bankside spot to tie up for the night and reached the Ghent Centrum haven about noon. Sure enough, Pierre the havenmeester found us a spot and the party was on!
Unfortunately, the weather was the foulest it's been since we've been here. Near constant wind and rain and cold! It was so cold we were wearing long underwear. Luckily by Monday evening it had stopped raining and the first concert we attended got our blood pumping again.
We're glad we were here a couple of weeks ago because the transformation of the town is amazing. Cars are banned from the central section and there are at least five main venues for music. There are carnival rides for the kids in the Vrijday Markt and Cirkus Centrum in a small square nearby. All over the city are small venues for MiraMiro, roving small theater groups, the Puppet Busker Festival and music! Music everywhere from jazz to disco to funk to salsa to world and best of all IT'S ALL FREE!!!! All you have to pay for is the beer. Lots of beer.
The most amazing transformation is just a couple blocks from the haven at a venue called Grassleie. Just after St. Michaels Bridge there is a stage completely spanning the canal. They've also floated barges on each side of the canal so there is room for the tour boats to get through but not much; there's much more room for dancing.

This is the back side of St. Michaels bridge before the stage.

And after.
Those tents on the canalside barges are for beer sales, of course.
The dancing takes place in front of them up against the stage.
The tour boats run until about midnite and their customers get a real kick
when they cruise under the stage.

Most of the big events don't even start until 9:30 or 10 at night so we've adopted our old high school schedule: up until 1 or 2 am and sleep 'til 10 or 11. And after Mondays weather fiasco it's been beautiful! As I write this (Thursday afternoon) under the patio umbrella on Odysseus back deck it's sunny, about 80 degrees and a light breeze. This is one amazing party.
We also met up again with some other bargees we met in Brugge, one couple from near San Fransisco who've been living the barging life essentially full time for the last 10 years, and a couple from New Zealand who just bought their barge, Theo; the trip from Brugge to Ghent was their maiden voyage. Both boats are much bigger than ours, Libertine of Alphen is about 30 meters, and both couples are very welcoming. Many more party opportunities.

Libertine and Theo in the Ghent Haven.

There is more to tell but right now a Grimbergen Blonde is calling so more later.

One thing I must mention is the view of this city at night. As I've mentioned and shown a little, the monumental architecture in this city is, well, monumental. The city fathers have taken great pains to light all those buildings at night and the result is just spectacular. My skills as a photographer are not up to nighttime shots; you'll just have to take my word for it or, better yet, see for yourself. We highly, highly recommend a visit to Ghent on anybody's European tour. It's a beautiful city.
The Feesten is also an amazing civic undertaking. It lasts for 10 days and the city, except for restaurants and totally necessary services like street sweepers, sound and light people and the cities finest, takes a holiday. Hundreds of thousands of people come from all over Europe to attend and the city goes to great pains to make sure they're never bored ... or sober. We only stayed for 4 days; I don't know if we could have lasted longer!
Better than Mardi Gras!

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