Monday, 22 September 2014

From Ghent, with love.

A typical sunset in the city of Ghent

Hallo! A sabbatical of packing and prepping for the Belgium visa to finally settling here, I write back  from the cockpit of Europe (mostly for the fear of becoming the owner of a dead blog).

Been here two weeks, there are many stories to tell from the beautiful memories exploring the city, meeting new people, lip-smacking street food and of course the Belgian beer and chocolates.

I landed in Brussels, with some 60 kgs of luggage (a typical Indian carrying all homely food and spices) and thankfully to my rescue was my colleague Kyle who landed a day before and came to receive me at the airport. Ghent, 60 kms from Brussels, a city in the Flemish region of Belgium is also the capital of the East Flanders province. The city is known for it's historical architecture, beautiful churches and the University. The 60,000 students enrolled in Ghent University alone make up for one-fourth of the city's population.

Panoramic shot of the Ghent City Center

Travel fatigue could not deter us from stepping out in the beautiful neighborhood the moment we kept our bags in the hostel. Seeing a lot of Frituur (Fries) outlets in the streets we couldn't stop wondering, and to our surprise we learnt that French fries actually originated from Belgium. Yes you read it correct! History says that when British and American soldiers came to Belgium during World War I and tasted their fries, they called them 'French' because French was the official language of the Belgian army at that time. Beers can be found in any shop or grocery store! That too for just 1 euro/liter if you are looking for locally brewed canned beers. Crunchy waffles with nutella, strawberry and whipped cream is the most common dessert here. Well, too many calories for even a foodie like me to handle. Contrary to high calorie diet of fries and beer people consume here, obesity is not at all an issue here. You would find majority of people cycling their way between home and work.

Well, coming to language part, the northern part speaks Dutch and the southern French given the borders they share with Netherlands and France respectively. Initially we students had problems in pronouncing and even street names but the mandatory Dutch language classes were a boon for our survival here. Two weeks of intensive three hour classes was a lot of fun. Learning a new language gives you that extra confidence to strike a conversation with the locals and helps a great deal in basic shopping and travelling. Although the local people are bilingual and are very friendly with English speaking people, they are very proud about their culture and language. Festivals and music shows happen almost every weekend around the city center. Nightlife is crazy with pubs and bars open till sunrise even though everything from banks, offices and shops close by 5 pm.

My colleagues at UGent 
The best part about studying here is the diversity we are exposed to. The language class has 22 students from 20 different countries. Albania, Syria, Serbia, Australia, USA, Russia, Mexico, Ukraine, Canada, Czech, Taiwan, Indonesia, Norway, Venezuela, Spain, Colombia, Nigeria, Nepal and more. The national boundaries and the tensions between the world's superpowers and the so called third world countries play no role in the friends we make here. Music, football and food unite everyone. So much to learn, so much to explore, so many languages and cultures to absorb, one would never miss home! This academic voyage in Europe is bound to be a memorable one. Tot ziens!