An Insider’s Guide To Belgium’s Biggest Party: The Ghent Festival
Belgium probably does not spring to the front of one’s mind when considering examples of hip happenings and exciting cultural phenomenon. It is more a place one would associate with a platter of well-prepared mussels, the setting for In Bruges perhaps, or somewhere your grandmother may elect for a weekend away with Aunty Joyce.
But, if we hold those judgmental horses of ours for just a moment, we would see that Belgium has in fact been wildly underestimated.
Bring forth the Gentse Feesten!
Forget saving your pennies for the likes of Oktoberfest. Between July 14th – 23rd, the annual Gentse Feesten or “Ghent Festival” is set to enjoy it’s 169th edition. A free celebration of music, excellent beer and light-hearted debauchery and located in one of the regions most beautiful cities, 30 miles northwest of Brussels. It is a veritable master class in how people with trendy hair and bicycles know how to party.
Having eagerly juiced the minds of some of GF’s most weathered disciples, The Expeditioner is pleased to present an “Insider’s Guide” to the whole Flem-tastic debacle.
To get the night started . . .
. . . Graslei is the place. Right on the river, this is area of the festival has become synonymous with a sexy southern vibe. Dance, drink a mojito and get acquainted with Ghent’s nefarious student population, shaking your booty to latino beats and african soul. Closing at around 1 p.m., you’ll need to get here in good time to take advantage of pop-up bars hosted by popular clubs and bars, such as Hasta Manana and Pole Pole.
You haven’t fully experienced the GF until . . .
. . . you’ve eaten Uuflakke. Uuflakke is a Ghentish delicacy and comprises a slice of minced pig head coated in herbs and gelatin, smeared with mustard on a piece of bread. Yes, it may sound horrendous, but it is a signature dish of the festival. So, make like a true Ghentonite, head to the Vlasmarkt and embrace your inner pork-brain-loving Belgian.
The two words you have to be able to say are . . .
. . . “De max!” which translated basically means “Awesome!” Be sure to exclaim this often and at seemingly significant points in order to express excitedness, thus becoming one with the natives.
To save money like a local you should . . .
. . . buy your alcohol from a Nachtwinkel (night shop) rather than from one of the many temporary bars that spring up around the city. Much of the entertainment is outside, so you won’t be missing out by opting to bring your own booze rather than being inside a pub. (Note: While this is a sure fire way of conserving funds, be aware that this is also somewhat of a moral choice; the GF is free and partly relies on funds coming from bar alcohol sales to keep it that way.)
If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the noise and the crowds . . .
. . . head to Baudelo Park. Here you will find a rather more relaxed approach to the whole affair. Lie on the grass and contemplate the weird and wonderful plethera of folk who frequent this relative oasis of tranquility. Be sure to venture into the Spiegal Tent or “The tent of mirrors,” a birthplace of yet undiscovered singer songwriters.
To stay healthy, you should . . .
. . . . schedule in at least one evening off during the festival. While the slogan for the GF is “Nie neute, nie pleuje” (“Don’t whine, don’t give up”), this is a marathon in partying and needs to be respected as such. In order to cross the finishing line in style, and with all your limbs and at least a few of your brain cells still functioning, you have to give yourself a chance to recuperate.
Keep your fingers crossed that . . .
. . . “The voice of Europe,” Eddy Wally, makes a return appearance. For many, this showman, crooner and regular on the U.K. show Eurotrash epitomizes the spirit of the festival, and has been a staple of the GF for many years. Unfortunately, due to ill health, his 2012 billing may be in jeopardy.
To get the most out of the experience . . .
. . . remember that this isn’t a festival solely preoccupied with getting sozzled. The GF also represents almost an entire fortnight bursting with activities for all ages and dispositions, from innovative street theater to jazz and circus performances, to hours and hours of live music. Check out Gentsefeesten.be for more information, including the full event program.
A special thanks to Pieterjan Colpaert; his mind offerings were fundamental in putting this together. At any point during the festival, you will find him at one of the points of the “Magic Triangle”: Pole Pole, Baudelo Park or the Vlasmarkt.
About the Author
A restless Brit with big dreams and limited cash flow, Hannah is a freelance journalist and student. She is currently being sponsored by the European Union to take a Masters in Journalism and International Politics at the University of Amsterdam/University of Santiago, Chile, and the Danish School of Journalism. You can keep track of her wanderings with TheTangerineRidiculousness.com or follow her on Twitter @Hannah__Bowman.