Castles and night moves

I began writing this lying in the top bunk of a train from Amsterdam to Prague.
There was a bit of Australianess in our time in Ghent. Apart from the Australian Ice Cream shop (funny how most of our ice cream shop advertise other countries like New Zealand or Copenhagen), there was Julia Gillard and Bob Brown on the morning news, announcing the passing of the carbon tax.

During lunch we heard a couple of Savage Garden tracks over the restaurant’s sound system. Two young American females seated next to us were trying to pick the group, resorting to Wikipedia. “They perform?” they asked.
I had to make a morning hunt for bakery breakfast food while Alex had a second sleep. It was cold and grey outside, but these are colours that suit Ghent’s impressive but sometimes dour architecture.

When we were all awake and ready we checked out of the hotel to explore the town. Our first destination, across pretty canals, was Het Gravensteen, the castle of the Counts. We paid the entrance fee and joined the groups of school kids on excursion through this rebuilt castle.

Like the very different Japanese castles Alex climbed all the many steps himself, up the winding stone staircases in the turrets. One of the first stops was a hall of armour and weapons, impressive suits and swords (including a huge executioner’s blade), crossbows and halberds.

As we left a group of younger kids filed in and Alex wanted to play with them. Sad that he has no other friends around at the moment.
From the top of the castle there are stunning views of Ghent. These alone were worth the price of admission. A weak sun was visible through the clouds casting a beautiful light over the towers and steeples of the town.

Back down in the castle, which was once a prison, items related to torture and execution equipment was on display. The barbarity of our forebears is astonishing, with a guillotine, swords and knives for the removal of the head and limbs, thumbscrews and hammers to smash fingers, spiked wheels and many more. Plus a waterboarding display, but apparently that’s not too barbaric according to the US government.

Then there is the once altar, then location for stringing the prisoner up so that after a few hours he would kill himself on the iron necklace by his exhausted movement, signs pointing out the hooks in the walls.

Outside of the towers it is again peaceful. Alex was excited to see the toilets in the walls, simply holes open to the ground below. No buttons to flush and hand dryers here!

After completing the castle we walked to the Vridjmarkt, once a market square, and had hot chips and a fried cheese croquet from the famous Fritz Josef stall, seated in front of the massive Socialist Workers’ building.

Then a hunt for more food, a lunch of mussels (for B of course), rabbit (for me) and meat stew (for Alex) at T’Stropke, after which we were too full to eat anything but a compulsory waffle at Ghent’s station. We finally acceeded to Alex’s nagging to catch another tram (we had to), lugging our bags back to the station.
There we validated our rail pass and hopped on the next train to Antwerp, where we changed to another train to Amsterdam.

At Amsterdam’s giant Centraal station we bought sandwiches for dinner, too full from lunch to contemplate much more, then waited for our train to arrive for boarding. Finally the train to Prague arrived, mere minutes before the departure time, despite this being the originating station.
Our deluxe sleeping compartment was a masterpiece in compactness. There was a toilet and shower squeezed in, yet still roomy enough to use, a bunk bed that was configured for two, but could have three levels, plenty of luggage space under the ceiling (though lifting the bags up was a challenge). There was even a power socket for the laptop.

Bottles of fizzy mineral water and basic toiletries (towels, dual use shampoo and body wash and cups of clean water) had been provided. We managed to each use the shower, which was, if anything, too hot – it was large enough for me to bathe Alex even with the door closed.
Despite my fantasies of lying on the bottom bunk snuggled up to Alex while watching the world unfold outside the window I was forced up above, where there was no view, by B’s motion sickness. I had no such issues and found the rocking motion very relaxing.
So despite the constant stream of French SMS message streaming to my phone I managed to fall into a sleep as good as any I have had in the last few days.

Filed under: