This story begins on the night of my birthday party—surrounded by tea candles and good friends and delectable food. My handsome Belgian friend (who we shall call Charming from here on in, because he is) gave me a piece of worn sheet music with a handwritten note on the back promising me dinner and a private piano concert.
Have I mentioned that I love piano music? Also, food. Also, charming Belgian men.
But I digress.
Fast forward a couple days: it’s Tuesday night now and I’ve curled my hair. We’re at his house, chatting over sparkling wine, feeding his neighbor’s goats, talking about goals and traveling and life. I ask him about his goals and he says he wants to be happy—a goal as lovely and vague as my own.
He sits down at the shiny, well-kept grand piano and plays. He’s nervous about playing for an audience, but the music is delightful. And, honestly, I find both the playing and the nerves endearing. I have a special place in my heart for people’s shyness.
We finish our bubbles and depart for a quaint little Italian restaurant in the center of town. Its largest wall is decorated with a photo of its employees recreating The Last Supper painting. It’s rather brilliant. Just what I’d expect from artsy, creative Ghent.
The food is delicious. The company is, as you’ve no doubt guessed, charming. We talk a lot about books and writing. And we manage to demolish a carafe of rich red wine.
After dinner, we don’t go home right away. Instead, we wander the evening streets of Ghent, noting the charming buildings in the low light and talking about everything from new construction to travel. The city is really pretty in the evenings with its quiet canals and low lights, brick facades and uneven cobbles. And on a Tuesday evening, this late, it’s rather deserted too. Just us and a few passers by with our shoes clicking against the cobbles.
We stop in a cafe-bar, somewhat hidden away from the street down a long, narrow alley. I’ve been here once before, on my first day in Ghent. Then we were escaping the rain. This time, we sit in the garden and drink tart Belgian beers.
I ask about his love language and we end up talking about compliments—about how we should say the nice things that come to mind. I tell him that I find him adorable. He tells me I’m pretty. We get up from the garden table and wander back toward the car.
I’ve spent more time in Belgium this summer than in any other place. And I’ve had a lot of wonderful nights here, discussing love with the girls, eating a birthday dinner by candlelight, swing dancing into the wee hours. So when I say that this night was one of my best nights in Belgium, you know that’s saying a lot.
There’s just something about the simple nights. Good conversations. Long walks. Heels clicking on the cobbles along deserted corridors. Feeling fascinated and interesting at the same time. Starting to really know the people with whom I’ve been enchanted for months.
So just in case you missed it the last thirty times I’ve said it: I love Ghent. I really love the people here. And it just got a lot harder to leave.
Consider this post my love letter to Flanders and the absolutely wonderful people I met here.
Consider it a particular thank you note to my Charming friend, the architect of this simple, perfect evening.
And if you’re a traveler looking for a new destination, perhaps it’s time to sneak away to quiet, welcoming, magical Ghent.