Glory of Green
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Stories from the Great Outdoors

 

Scene 1

In front of Hostel Uppelink and Kajaks Korenlei in Ghent

(Sour wind blowing, temperatures around zero, city all dressed up for Christmas)


Guy 1 

(Hunching shoulders, no hat, no gloves, looking cold)

- Are you here for the city walk?

Me 

(In very proper all-weather attire - stand-by kids looking self-conscious in context of hip city walkers)

- No. Kayaks.

Guy 1

- Oh, kayaks… KAYAKS?! RESPECT!


Scene 2

Inside Hostel Uppelink and Kajaks Korenlei in Ghent

Me

- Hello, we’re here for the kayaks. Two twins. 

Friendly receptionist (fumbling)

- Yes… Ehm. I haven’t rented out kayaks for months.


We’ve never felt cooler. We could just as well have told these people we were going moon walking – on the moon.  We’re good to go. Buckle your seat Dorothy, ‘cause Kansas is going bye, bye. 


Ghent has it all

Back in Norway we would usually spend our weekends skiing or ice skating this time of the year (snow might be coming and going, but I promise you it's generally a lot darker and colder). Having moved to Belgium, we’ve had to branch out in new directions. Hiking and biking in Belgium can be fun, but there’s more to life outdoors, and I’m determined to discover as much as I can. Besides – we had to get some Christmas presents and I’m NOT spending a Saturday shopping. It can only be tolerated as a bi-product. So – where can we get it all? Google tells me Ghent is a good idea.


Getting in outside Hostel Uppelink / The Lintworm

The tapeworm-house

The hostel and kayak rental reside in the third oldest building in Ghent. The foundations for the first building at site was laid down ten centuries ago. Some parts of the building are 800 years old, while others stem from a renovation in 1909. Around the fifteenth century the house got its namesake – the Lintworm (or tapeworm in English). Back in the middle ages the tapeworm was a mythical creature that symbolised force, power and invincibility – matching how the powerful residents saw themselves.

Roman physicians were familiar with parasitic tapeworms, but then the middle ages came along, turning the lights low and blurring the medical vision. “The medical literature of the Middle Ages is very limited, but there are many references to parasitic worms. In some cases, they were recognized as the possible causes of disease but in general, the writings of the period reflect the culture, beliefs, and ignorance of the time”.

In the twentieth century the house was used as the abode for the pastor of the St. Michael’s Church (which is across the street) and later as a restaurant, before the hostel opened in 2012. 

Friendly, stoic receptionist who doesn't believe in telling ghost stories, but knows a lot of interesting stuff

How to invent a ghost

I specifically asked if the hostel houses a ghost – any building with a history dating back to the middle ages should have one, but the nice receptionist denied it and referred me instead to entertain myself reading about the historically famous guests that have stayed at the house over time. Reading about them, I found that the house was rented by the Count of Egmont in the sixteenth century, to house the King of Spain and his party. In 1568 the count was falsely accused of high treason and heresy by the third Duke of Alba in one of the Catholics versus Protestants squabbles of the time. And then executed.

Through the confiscation of the count’s property, the widow Sabina of Beieren was left penniless with eleven children. They fled to take refuge in an abbey, but the Duke of Alba later ensured that she was able to return to the castle of Gaasbeek with a small annual allowance. As the count of Egmont himself doesn't seem to have lived in the hostel, was beheaded in the Town Hall Square in Brussels and buried in Zottegem, I guess some other place might have claimed his ghost. But with eleven children, I go for one of them as an eligible house ghost for hostel Uppenlink. Dear stoic receptionist, are you sure you haven’t heard any unaccounted crying or felt a chill passing through you in the hallway?

Cold enough for Christmas

After getting instructions – the receptionist gave us a free and very charming map made for young travellers (as written on front) – we carried the kayaks down to the canal and crawled in as graceful as possible. We headed straight in the direction of what sounded like the ultimate highlight – a tunnel!


Seeing the city from the canal in winter was perfect. We had to make way for a few tourist boats – the four of us probably starring on a substantial number of tourist photos from Ghent this Christmas – but in general the canal was quiet and the city a delight for a history buff. 

While my husband and youngest daughter Alma decided to do some plastic and garbage picking in the canal, Erla and I named our cortege “the carolling kayak” and entertained – well, anybody passing on the numerous and very varied bridges or living along the water (no complaints, so I guess they endured it). After months in seasonal confusion (Belgian weather is a little different from Norwegian), we were a bit low on the Christmas spirit, but singing Joy to the world and whatever else we could come up with – with improvised home-made lyrics – it totally helped.


The tunnel was great and spooky, but as we turned back and went down another waterway to see the Gravensteen Castle, we got ourselves another peak moment. So medieval and fairy, dating from the 12 th century, and with a dark history as prison and torture chamber. Not an exactly Christmassy history, but as the water continued to soak our mittens, we got so cold it finally gave us the perfect Norwegian holiday feeling. Next time kayaking in winter, we’ll bring water-proof mittens, but for this exact trip, the mistake of wearing wool was just perfect. The cold forced us off the canal after about one and a half hour of paddling, singing, photographing and garbage picking, but there’s still more to explore. Part of our trip happened on the Leie river – we’ll be back to explore more of that later.

After changing socks and mittens, we were ready to thaw up at a restaurant with a fire place – and have a hot beverage – and buy the needed presents. There’s only one thing left to say: Have a very merry Christmas!