Nurse the Hate: Ghent Belgium and the Road to Koln
2/25 Off Day and the Road To Ghent
The hostel in Mechelen is a functional charmless building that feels like a government office. Christoph gives everyone the 9:30 and 10:00 countdowns to the 10:30 checkout. Christoph and I go downstairs where the always dour staff won’t allow us to get juice, coffee, or tea because Breakfast is OVER. The Benny Hill lookalike worker frowns at the inconvenience of even having to tell us this information. I do this move I have where I pretend I can’t understand what language he is speaking and pour myself a juice anyway. He’s pissed. Meanwhile people that appear to be professional in some respect usher in and out of a back office, all of them looking confused. Some sort of pointless meeting was going on where pointless decisions were made by a committee of people unaware of their own utter insignifigance. 10:30 sharp becomes 11:00 as Gary is a no show in the lobby and I am dispatched to go get him. The German is displeased. We must remain on schedule even though we have no real schedule for anything today.
We decide to go to Ghent as a couple of guys from the DeNele told me it was “much better than Bruge”. Ghent is supposed to be a very pretty medieval town after it was re-done for a Expo of some kind in 1913. The tourists came, so they scrubbed the place up and have been a tourist destination ever since. It is really nice with canals cutting through Belgian row houses and stone churches. Every place you turn there is something interesting to look at. The one major downside to our Monday visit is that apparently everything is closed on Monday in Ghent. The alleged best frite stand in Europe? Closed. Den Trollekelder, the cool Troll themed Belgian ale bar that has every small batch ale on the planet? Oh, that’s closed. Every shop of interest? Closed.
I walk up to the Gravensteen, a castle that was one of the gussied up Middle Ages landmarks. It takes me about three minutes to lose everyone. I figure I will bump into them eventually as Leo and Sugar can’t pass by street food without buying it. I walk around for a couple of hours taking in the whole City Center. There is a beautiful cathedral which houses a famous 24 panel painting from the 1400s called “Adoration of the Lamb”. It is cold outside today, but that pales in comparison to how cold it is in the church. I can see my breath as I crane my neck to take in the monster structure. Sint-Baafs Cathedral could be used as a meat locker. No wonder the Catholic Church has been losing so many members. Listening to an old out of touch guy drone on about the Virgin Mary is one thing, but having to endure that in a 28 degree building? No thanks.
I try to figure out where the van is parked and take a new route back. On a quiet cobblestone street my mind wanders and I kick something with a clang. I look down and find an old looking key. It's oversized like a cartooon key. Weird. I look around to see if it looks likely to fit any nearby door, and finally just put it in my pocket. Maybe I will find what the key is for some day in the future. It looks like it protects a pretty big treasure. I take a right down “Graffitti Street”, a thin passageway that is painted and re-painted time and again by graffiti artists. It’s typical of the fun that this culture seems to enjoy. I run into Gary who takes me to a frite shop where there are a dozen brown/tan logs ready to be dunked into hot grease. Gary goes full native and orders fricten mee stoverijsause which is fries with a chunky beef gravy that was stewed in beer. This is not an item you would say is part of a “heart healthy lifestyle”, but it looks pretty damn tasty. I get some fries which are ordinary in every way.
A quick aside on Belgium… Begium has a weird thing about urinals. I cannot figure out why as a culture Belgians make it a priority to put urinating men on display. If you walk into any toilet in the country, the urinals are front and center. There is no effort in concealing the urinals or even obstructing them. In fact, it is like they put as much effort as possible into displaying them. When men and women alike enter a toilet facility, BAM! There’s a guy taking a leak. The women’s rooms are consistently placed so they have to walk right behind urinating men. It’s very odd to me. They are so far into this bizarre urine fetish that public urinals are open view and placed not tucked back on a corner but in main traffic flows. For example, on one of the busiest traffic circles in Ghent’s old town they have one of these urinals about 18 inches from traffic. “Hey look! Gern is taking a piss!” It’s like city planners get off on having others watch them urinate and figure they should share this thrill with all.
We make a tedious drive to Koln (Cologne) for our show tomorrow. The good people at the Sonic Ballroom have allowed us to stay an extra night in the band apartment. This is a double edged sword. The logical side of me likes to save the money on hotels by getting a free night’s stay. The other side of me is bummed because although the Sonic Ballroom is a landmark punk rock venue, the band apartment is as banged up as you would expect it to be and is not exactly four star. I don't think that most places Agnostic Front or The Lurkers stay are full of amenities. What do you want? It's a punk rock crash pad. Since most people stay only one night one time in their life in places like these, the downside is there is not a lot of “pride of ownership” if you get my drift. Bunk beds are crammed into every corner with graffiti everywhere. An odd thing that women might not know about men is that in places like men’s rooms and punk rock crash pads some men really like to draw pictures of cocks. You walk into any scrungy punk rock dressing room, and you will see at least 3.8 cock drawings. It’s guaranteed. Still, a free place is a free place and we will have to deal.
We drop our bags and walk around forever until we find a traditional German restaurant. We have somehow lucked into finding one that is into our band as a poster for tomorrow’s show is on the back wall as well as a running soundtrack of obscure rockabilly, psychobilly, and celtic punk on the sound system. Hell, they even have vintage 1950s kegel lanes, German 9 pin bowling. This is kolsch country, the crisp light beers served in .2 liter glasses. They are so small, you fire them back with astounding quickness. The deal is that they keep bringing them until you put a coaster over your empty glass. I keep forgetting to do this and keep getting a new fresh one. I felt like I had 22 of them, which is actually possible. I order leberkase, a kind of ham meatloaf which is served with a fried egg on top and spicy potatoes. It’s really good.
We head back to the Sonic Ballroom and crash.