Gandawa

In Polish.Or Ghent. Or Gent or Gand or 

Gante in Spanish. I prefer the Polish version because it sounds much more romantic. I first went to Belgium on a school trip when I was 13. Unfortunately not to beautiful Ghent. It was a strange place to take a very varied group of girls as we were staying in Ostend (hello sailor!) in a seafront hotel, four to a room, not very ably supervised by Matron and Mrs Kelly. 

Matron was a very unfortunate, very unhappy old lady who did wonderful embroidery and made beautiful crafts as belied her Belgian origins, and Mrs Kelly was our scary geography teacher whose hair was set so tightly and never changingly that we were convinced it was a wig. These termagants did not get on. This became apparent almost immediately at the beginning of the holiday and we used their relationship to our advantage. I say we but I mean the other girls. I was far too shy to talk to either of them. But rumour has it that the older girls went out in the evenings getting to know some of the local boys. Well, travel broadens the mind, and wasn’t that the reason for school trips?  

Ostend itself was horrible but we went for day trips here and there – Bruges – lacemaking, the Atomium in Brussels – loads of escalators, Liege – Wurlitzer organ and puppets, Middelkerk in Holland – C and A Modes, as it was still called, and generally we had a variably boring time. But the last night was significant. 

I was in a room with some older girls I think. I was tired. I fell asleep. At some point during the night I was woken up by raucous giggling and the smell of smoke. My room seemed to be the venue of a party in full swing with wine being swigged from the bottle and cigarettes being smoked with gusto. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. Except me. I remember gazing blearily round me , when all of a sudden a cigarette was popped in my mouth. I started spluttering and the next thing I know both Matron and Mrs Kelly storm into our room. Everything went very quiet. Except me. I still had the fag in my mouth/hand. The shouting then started. Not just at me. But they argued. With each other! I was so confused. Mrs Kelly was all for having fun!  Did she have a glass of wine in her hand? Matron and fun did not agree. She had a night cap on! All the other girls managed to hide everything. I was in disgrace. The only one in the end to get a letter home. Luckily my mother saw the funny side. I haven’t smoked since. Nor been to Ostend. 

But Ghent on the other hand must be one of the most beautiful and delicious places in the world. The architecture, the people who al seem to come out of van Eyck pictures, the fruit beer and the cakes…. 

We have been there many times, usually on the way to somewhere else. And every time there is more to see, more to explore. More to enjoy. 

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