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Take a wheel-y great city break
1:10pm Tuesday 17th September 2013 in News
When Ghent’s city centre was declared car-free in 1997, there were more than a few grumbles.
But 16 years on, the city’s become a cycling mecca, and there is little to complain about.
Although I’m not a cycling enthusiast, Ghent, in the Flemish region of Belgium, appeals as a laid-back, culture-packed city that’s easy to reach by Eurostar.
When I arrive, though, I can’t move for bikes! Whether you’re a commuter, OAP, or humble tourist, two wheels are the best way to get around town.
Keen to live like a local, I head for bike hire shop Max Mobiel, which sits between the towering Belfry of Ghent and Saint Nicholas’s Church.
Bike hire is really cheap; a half-day rental costs just seven Euros. However, you can also bring your own bike on the Eurostar from 15 Euros each way.
Pedalling at a gentle pace, I weave in and out of the central streets, passing local ‘Ganda’ hams which hang like a modern art installation from hooks in the Great Butcher’s Hall, on my way to the imposing Castle of Counts.
As I ride along the canals, I make a beeline for the marvellously graffiti-filled Tweebruggen Street and head into Ghent’s Old Quarter. From there, I take in some more culture by cycling to St. Peter’s Abbey and its pretty gardens.
Back in the centre of town, I head for Graslei and Korenlei – two streets divided by a canal, where friends meet and socialise.
Despite a few wobbles about getting my front wheel stuck in a tram line – the trick is to cross them horizontally, apparently – I find cycling in Ghent a breeze.
The fact there are few hills is helpful, but the ease of my journey is mainly down to the friendly, respectful attitude towards cyclists.
Before I return to the train station, I enjoy a plate of waffles at cafe Max, then visit the lanterns on Sint-Veerleplein. Built as an art installation, the candles are said to flicker whenever a baby is born in Ghent.
Unfortunately I witness no flickers, but I still raise a toast to my first – albeit accidental – cycling holiday.
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