The seminar I attended some time ago was in Ghent. I have never actually had 'a thing' for that city and it has not grown on me during the time I spent there.
Ghent is very unappealing when you enter city limits, be it by train or by car. Everywhere you look there are dilapidated buildings in dire need of repair, streets are littered with rubbish, broken glass and yobs of all sorts.
According to one local I only saw the most run-down part of town, but I beg to differ. The city center has a lot of boarded up houses too. Even the posh ones have undismissible weeds growing right in front of the front door. Why is the prevailing sense I get from this provincial capital 'It'll all be over in a few years so why even bother'?
The city is steeped in chaos. If you're not familiar with the layout of the town: forget using a car.
There is never any parking space. Even all the underground and ring road parking areas are mostly full. Granted, it is a medieval city that just got bigger, but great urban planning is something that never actually got a foothold here. Trying to circumnavigate a maze blindfolded is easier. One-way streets and closing off streets to traffic, the Ghent way of making it a more 'livable' city, are not actually doing anything for it. Long-term parking is not possible. Three hours tops is what you're allowed to do here, even outside of the ring road. There is a long term parking option on the ticket vending machines, but none of them work. I tried six of them on different routes. Even the pay by sms doesn't work. Every major city is using the same service provider. But not Ghent as it seems. Getting contradictory messages about if you've paid or not is very confusing.
So if you get to Ghent: steal a bike. Forget about renting one. You'd probably look like be like a staggering zombie looking for fresh brains. I could not find a single shop or bike renting facility. It takes ages to get anywhere on foot and there is no clear plan of the city or the public transport anywhere to be found on the ring roads. If it's pissing down like it can do over here, even if you're carrying a brollie and have waterproof clothing: You'll still arrive soaked to the bone. Even the inside of your shoes and socks will be drenched. Why? How? Uneven trottoirs with big holes containing murky grey water. Uneven tiles harbouring water. If you step on them, they move a little and squirt the gritty water upon the sock area. Some borders on the street are veritable swimming pools and the less agile pedestrian is sure to get drenched when a car drives through the Canal-sized puddles.
Cars rarely stop when you're a pedestrian using a crossing which is very odd, thoroughly anti social behaviour and very illegal. Most walkways are a shambles. They are of the cobblestone type and too narrow to walk on because people park their bike diagonally across or have ugly plants growing against the facade of their dwelling.
I will call the city the token of post-urban poverty and have coined the term as of now.
It is quite a shame that a city with 900+ listed buildings leaves a gloomy impression on someone who loves architecture and all things old.
Oh and everywhere the city smells of cabbage.
You can imagine my delight at entering the Small Beguinage. Escaping from the hustle and bustle from the city.
I must be getting old.