Category Archives: Cultural Travel

Art, Torture, Laundry, and Wallpaper in Ghent, Belgium – More Fun Than You Think

For me, Ghent was just a day trip from Brussels, but if you want to stay in Ghent, here is a complete list of hotels in Ghent with user reviews and multi site price comparisons. Ghent, Belgium Rafael was kind enough to pick up some maps from a very cool tourist office so the next day I took a shorter train trip to Ghent, a very hip, very cool little town. Ghent Wallpaper

Ghent has the coolest wallpaper store in the world. Wow.

Mango Ghent Sadly, it rained all day, I woke up with a sore throat, and it seemed there was immense construction going on, Ghent toilet historic as a result of some or all of the above, it seemed that just about everything was closed…maybe because it was Monday. Ghent, Belgium Anyway, I brought my dirty laundry and found a laundrymat, then I explored the Gravensteen castle Ghent Gravensteen Castle Gravensteen Castle which had an excellent torture museum. Waterboarding, old school style Ghent Torture Museum plus a guillateen which was used for numerous executions. Ghent Torture Museum Took a lot of pictures, Ghent walked around in the rain with my laundry, Ghent felt my flu getting worse, had some Belgian Fries and then headed back to Brussels, hoping that I didn’t have swine flu. I didn’t really care if I had it, but I didn’t want to pass it on to Raphael and his daughters. Ghent ashtray

Ghent also has the coolest ashtray I’ve ever stuck a butt in.

for some interesting Ghent History: (Originally published 08 October 2009)

Art and Travel – Discovering Beauty While Discovering the World – The Art of Travel

The Art of Travel is a phrase tossed about often, but I’m more interested in discovering art and travel. That’s what I mean by the Art of Travel.

One of the reasons I began to travel was my love of art. It was the love of art that made me wander and wonder. The sculptures of my grandparents, things they had brought from the Orient and installed in their home, presents and trinkets from abroad that sat in people’s homes.

the art of Denchu Hirakushi

Don’t misunderstand me – I love art from all places, but it was the exotic art of the Far East,the Arab World, Africa, and India that truly drew me into travel. The textiles of India, the burnoose my grandfather brought back from Iraq in the 1940s, the Indonesian knives my other grandfather had on his walls (now on my walls) and all manner of exotic art which called to my soul.

Never was I so touched by art as by that of Japan. It may be the reason why I spent so much of my undergraduate years looking at Japanese culture. Certainly it is why I have watched so many Japanese films, and it might even have something to do with why I ended up living in Hawaii. The Japanese aesthetic sings to my soul. And yet, I’ve still not been to Japan. My travels carried me East from Hawaii and I went as far as South Korea before returning West. Someday, I will visit Japan. I’m certain.

Denchu Hirakushi

In the meantime, I continue my fascination with Japanese art. I attend lectures when I can, look for antique pieces of Japanese origin, and make art of my own. I also look at different lectures and circuits in places where I am possibly going to be so that I can learn more. An example would be a nature and figure study about the Sculpture of Japan which will be held at the Henry Moore institute until the 20th of April and then again from 14 May to 27 July.

Art of Denchu Hirokushi

I’m not sure if I’ll be in Yorkshire during that time – If I am, I’ll probably get a hotel in Leeds and then go check out this exhibition which looks at figure and nature studies from the Taisho and early Showa periods. The main thing that drew me towards this exhibition is the prominence of one of my favorite sculptors Hirakusa Denchu (more correctly Denchu Hirakushi) who lived during the Meiji Period of Japanese history – for those who don’t know, that is a period of about 30 years when Japan’s Emperor Meiji transformed Japan from a rural and agricultural feudal society to a modern industrial society that defeated Russia in a war. This was a rich period for art in Japan and there were countless new studies and forms developed and absorbed into Japanese art. Denchu lived a long life, he was 107 when he died in 1979 which might be a part of why he continues to fascinate me. Our lives overlapped for 8 years. The other artists featured in the exhibition Hashimorot Heihachi and Takamura Kotaro were perhaps more influential but died well before my time.

Denchu Hirokushi
This is certainly an exhibition that I recommend anyone who finds themselves in Yorkshire attend. You will be witness to the birth of new forms of expression by three masters. Yes, it is art that I travel for … and food. The big question is, Why haven’t I yet been to Japan?

Do you travel for art? Tell me about it!

Romance or Adventure – Bring a Novel on the road…

Lost to the world.. by rosemilkinabottle, on FlickrAs all vagabonds know – deciding exactly what to put in that rucksack or travel bag before you set off on your next adventure is crucial. Space is limited and weight is the enemy, so every item must be carefully considered, mulled over, and possibly rejected once or twice before finally earning its place. Ideally all items have more than one purpose and are capable of earning their keep many times over.

So given your lack of space – why on earth would you take a novel with you on your journey? It’s bulky, heavy, and it’s not even a guide book or a history, so how is that going to help you with the practicalities of day-today travel?

The truth is, it won’t. But who wants a life of practicalities? Where’s the romance and adventure in that?

When I travel I want to absorb the place I’m visiting. I want it to creep under my skin and spill out in my conversations with the locals. I want to understand what they are thinking, what they’ve been through and what makes them who they are. I want to know the places where people fall in love, where they play with their children, or are shocked by family secrets. I want to go on an emotional journey as well as a real-life one.

And I can’t get that from a guide book.

But I can, and I do, get this from novels.

Not any novel. Sci-fi set in remote galaxies or books about fantasy worlds far into the future have their place of course – but I would argue that it’s not in your rucksack.

What you need is a novel (or three!) set in the place you are traveling to. Believe me – this changes everything. No city is a stranger when you have met it first on the pages of a novel.

Trekking along some of the smugglers’ trails of the Pyrenees will mean so much more to you if you have just read about those very same trails being used in WWII to spirit downed allied airmen out of France (some heart-stopping scenes in Dave Boling’s novel ‘Guernica’) and having a flutter at the Casino Estoril near Lisbon is a much more romantic experience when you realize this is where spies and dispossessed royals partied their way through the war (all is revealed in Robert Wilson’s crime novel ‘A Small Death in Lisbon’). You will never look at a bridge in the Bosnian capital the same way again after reading harrowing descriptions of besieged residents trying to survive sniper fire in 1992 (Steven Galloway’s ‘The Cellist of Sarajevo’) and you will have far more respect for the drivers of Delhi after sharing your days with amateur philosopher Balram Halwai (Aravind Adiga’s ‘The White Tiger’).

They may be fiction, but these novels ooze just as much history, politics and contemporary culture as any guide book. And their stories remain with you long after your journey has ended.

So assuming I now have you convinced that reading novels set in your destination is a good idea, you are going to tell me that you could do all this with some kind of electronic device – a kindle, ipad or even your iphone. This is true – and I have to admit that I never travel without a kindle now.

moments for oneself VI by procsilas, on FlickrBUT – I always have a novel as well. At least one. And this is why…
1) It gives you something to read when the plane is taking off and landing, when they won’t let you have any electronic devices on.
2) It keeps you company when your batteries are flat
3) You can still read in muddy, wet or sandy places

And my very favorite reason…
4) It is one of the best ways to make friends on the road. If people can see what you are reading, they are interested. They’ll come and chat with you, ask you if it’s a good book – especially if it is set in your location. In my experience, people just don’t do this with a kindle. The paperback novel is a wonderful conversation piece.

Leyendo by americanistadechiapas, on FlickrAnd when your reading is done?
You get to seek out someone else who has just finished a book and do a swap. If you are really lucky, you’ll find someone who is ready to trade a book set in the next place you are heading off to and you can start all over again.

As Vago tells us, vagabonding is about celebrating the spirit of adventurous travel, letting it bring you in touch with local people, culture and landscapes – next time why not let a novel help you make that journey?


Suzi is the editor of Packabook Travel Novels, a website which explores that special place where travel and literature meet. She likes nothing more than helping you find the perfect novels to match your itinerary. Find a book set in your next destination at