From Ghent, Belgium

– The city has some serious history. Some of the buildings are close to 900 years old. Buildings rightly expose the histories behind them, e.g. drawings depicting medieval torture methods such as chopping off prisoners limbs, which the Belgians incidentally later took to the Congo, and which later spread to other parts of Africa.

– It’s not a city many non-Europeans might have heard of, but the place is bustling. Schools are out, and many people are vacationing. That, combined with the summer sale – which the Belgians formally announce and market (July 1-7 in case you are interested), has the shopping streets jam packed.

– The whole city is on construction. One of the large pleins is completely squared off for renovation, almost every single church in the city has some part of it worked on, every second or third houses you see around the city centre has a painter or scaffolding in front of it. Quick round-up of the skyline totals at least 20 cranes. Apparently much of the city’s sewage and phone line system’s getting a makeover. The city is very old and beautiful, but some parts do need some serious work. Infrastructure, gentrification or fiscal stimulus, the construction sector’s keeping a lot of people employed.

– Ghent has a castle smack in the middle of it. A real, gigantuan castle.

– Housing looks much more spacious than the NL, with houses in the city center with built-in garages. Prices are much lower too. There are also a lot if for rent and for sale signs all around the city. In comparison, the Dutch housing market has all but frozen up in the last half year in anticipation of less favorable changes in mortgage interest subsidies.

– Ghent is for the most part, Dutch speaking. In my limited interaction with the service industry however, a high proportion of those are French-speaking. Perhaps better economies and better pay up north?

– I’ve come to look at dogs as a sort of rough barometer on the general prosperity and economic well-being of a place. Friendly, submissive and diverse breeds of dogs tend to signal more well-adjusted and comfortable communities, which most Dutch cities are. Aggressive and few breeds-dominated ones usually come with places with more unresolved social issues. Vienna and its subways filled with punks and their muzzled pit bulls, and certain districts of Berlin with the skinheads and their German shepherds come to mind. Ghent sits somewhere in between.

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