Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I will admit it, I’m an immigrant in Ghent. I was born and raised in the western part of Flanders, close to the French border. As there is no real university in the neighbourhood over there, I moved to Ghent in 1998 to study. I chose to go and live in the city centre and not in a student neighbourhood. Mainly during the exam period I went to discover the city. It was my excuse to run away from the books. I will never call Ghent a big city, but as I was a small town boy it was quite a discovery.
I finished my studies in international relations at Ghent University in 2002. After one more year of studies in Louvain-la-neuve (close to Brussels), I left to work in Vienna for 3 years. In 2006 I was happy to move back to my beloved Ghent. I’m currently employed at University College Ghent, where I’m involved in international projects, hosting of Erasmus students, etc.
Besides my regular job I also work as an official tourist guide for VIZIT. I show people around in Dutch, English and German. In the rest of my free time I love to travel, to cook (mainly Belgian, Italian and Asian dishes), to explore the city, to visit restaurants, bars, theatre, concerts, etc. If it comes to sports I try to swim and to do yoga on a regular basis.
How do you like being a Spotter?
I was glad to discover the Spotted by Locals website as this is what I’m searching for when I travel myself. I don’t want to be in a restaurant filled with tourists, eating crap food. In Ghent, like in a lot of other cities, there are some shops, bars and restaurants who only survive because of tourists. Just because they are in a good location or someone wrote about it in a book 10 years ago.
I like to share the spots I visit, but I hope they don’t get overcrowded with tourist. ;) That’s the easy thing about the internet, you can easily update it. But it has also a backside: some spots which are hot today, could be outdated tomorrow. I don’t want to sound conservative as trends can be nice, but I like some established names, like f.e. Rococo or Damberd.
With less than 300.000 inhabitants Ghent is not a huge city, but still it offers everything you need and expect from a city.
Ghent is permanently developing, without losing its historical past. It combines old and new architecture. Old buildings get a modern touch and a new function. The students bring in a vivid atmosphere. Here you don’t find a university campus, but the university buildings and the colleges are spread everywhere in town.
Ghent might be the underdog among the city trips. It will never be able to compete with the London, Paris, Prague, but it might reach the status of a must-do city trip. The city government invested a lot in making the city much more attractive, without being ordinary commercial. This has paid off as f.e. in 2008 National Geographic Traveler labelled Ghent the third most authentic spot and for 2011 Ghent is in Lonely Planet top 10 cities to visit.
Of course you should come and see the historical city centre, but don’t limit yourself to that part. It’s a city where it’s very easy to go around by bike. So why not rent a bike and discover some neighbourhoods outside of the city centre, like Ledeberg, Miljoenenkwartier, Brugse Poort. Every neighbourhood has its own history, character and people.
Which prejudices about Ghent are true? Which ones are not?
There are no real prejudices about the city, but there are some about the locals. The people of Ghent are claimed to be quite stubborn and although this is more a myth than reality to me, they try to be from time to time a bit stubborn. What I like about the people here, is that they are not really narrow minded. Which is maybe a little uncommon for a city of this size. It could be because of the students and the young people staying here after their studies. In all, it’s a great city to live in and a great city to explore as a tourist!
Can you describe a perfect day in your city?
A perfect day in Ghent starts with the perfect weather of course. The weather in Belgium would be quite rainy, but that’s a myth. We’re spoiled with lots of days of pure sunshine! ;) We could start a perfect sunny Sunday on the balcony of NTG with a brunch.
Afterwards we can go and have a walk through Prinsenhof, a very quiet neighbourhood close to the city centre. From there we go by bike to Sint-Pieters Abbey to go and lay in the sun in the relaxing gardens.
As this might make us thirsty we go to Vooruit for a drink and maybe a snack. Probably we will not manage to go there without a quick visit to Quetzal Chocolate Bar.
To finish the day we can go and watch a movie in Studioscoop.
Eating, drinking and relaxing in lovely Ghent, what can you desire more?