Its October 2013 and the second time we have booked to go this awesome event, in 2011 I happened to be looking for a weekend away, close by, with cheap flights to get away with Kelly for a bit of a laugh, few beers and take in a city. It probably isn’t the first thing you might think of but she likes city breaks, i like cycling, we both like beer, and it wasn’t race season.
And the flights were £60 for the 2 of us return.
So, I was looking around last month for something very cheap to get us away for the weekend. I wanted to give myself and Kelly a weekend away before Xmas and before our life changes again (more to come on that) and lo and behold, Charleroi airport does it again, £60 return for the 2 of us, and over the 6 day weekend, booked !! Below is a few collected thoughts about our trip in 2011 as I wrote them down at the time but never got round to posting in case anyone fancies doing this in the future.
So what is the ‘Gent 6 Day’
The Six Days of Ghent (Dutch: Zesdaagse Vlaanderen-Gent) is a six-day track cycling race held annually in Ghent, Belgium.
It takes place in the Kuipke velodrome in Ghent’s Citadelpark.
I read that it was a great place to spend a few days in a hot sweaty environment, drinking expensive Belgian beer while watching mainly unheard of european pro cyclists ride round a small wooden track. The intimate size of the track amplifying the already deafening air horns. On the outside of the track area you are assaulted by fantastic smells of open cooked food and confectionery stalls and all in a brilliant atmosphere due to the excitable local fans.
And if we didn’t get too drunk at the track, we would spend the day soaking up historic Belgian locations, quaint cobbled streets, old castles and drinking more Belgian beer and tasting fantastic food.
It would be rude not to !!
There is a lot of history about the racing at this event on the internet and I didn’t know any of it, if you really want the low down, please look it up, this was about having fun on a spur of the moment thing. I did learn a bit from a local Belgian that we sat next to on the Saturday. Mainly because I was interested in the allround experience, I wanted to better understand the crazy mix of events and the lovely people who just want to talk about it but I had a non cyclist with me so this was a question of balance.
We flew Ryanair to Brussels Charleroi as it was the cheapest route for us. Silly cheap flights, so I must have booked at the right time.
If you do go via Charleroi hopefully this may help a little. A sort of travel planner that will stop you making the same silly mistakes we made, or you could just copy us and have some fun trying to talk your way out of it.
At the airport you will need to get a train ticket to Ghent St Peters. This isn’t as simple as it looked, firstly we weren’t the only people to come out of the terminal and head left to the far end of the concourse following signs we thought said bus station. We walked for almost 5 mins being followed by 3 other couples only to get to the fire station at the end of the airport ramp and decide to turn back, the face on the others was a treat to behold, I think we had started drinking way too early. Numpties.
The ticket machine we were looking for was actually right outside exit 2, and the bus stop is right next to the machine. 30 yards in total from leaving customs to the ticket machine. D’oh.
Then our second mistake, in Belgium, ‘return ticket’ means just that !! For the return, i.e. one way on the way back. What you actually need is a ’round trip’ ticket. Make sure you get this ticket sorted first time. Its about €40 each return. Its a combined bus/train ticket all the way to Ghent.
So, first part of the journey is a bus to Charleroi Sud – about 20 mins. When the bus stops, get off and follow the crowd to the train station terminal. The next stage is to find the train heading to Brussels M or Midi, this is the central hub stop for all travel in this area. takes about 50 mins, and if you were going to Bruge, you would be heading for this too.
Get off at Brussels Zuid, look for the next train for Knokke or Gent St Pieters. Job done. Although, it might have been if we had bought a round trip ticket, having a return ticket with the return date of 2 days away caused much confusion and plenty of smirks from the locals as we tried to explain that we bought the ticket at the airport and we were going back on Monday, the inspector just gave up when it turned out we were the 3rd couple on the train to have done the same.
On arriving in Gent, you are in a stunning city full of great buildings but the station is outside of the city and can be a little confusing if you exit the wrong doors. Best route to follow is to exit towards centrum, go straight across the car park and you will find the tram stops to your destinations.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn at Flanders Expo, it’s a long way out of town on the tram but the tram is cheap and runs regularly, plus it’s a nice trip. If you do stay here, when you get off the tram you are on the last stop and you can’t actually see the hotel, it’s behind the Horeco expo building opposite IKEA. We spent a few worried minutes walking around but got there eventually.
One key point to note before booking this hotel for the cycling, is, if you get caught in Ghent after the last tram has left (i.e. late night cycle watching) it’s a €40 taxi ride to the hotel, be warned, closer to town is advisable. last tram is 23.45 and the cycling goes on way past this every night except Sunday.
Plans for the weekend
Our plan was to arrive Friday afternoon in Charleroi, a few hours travelling, and then pan out like this…..
We had tickets for 3 nights of racing, Friday to Sunday (note – for normal cycling enthusiasts, 2 nights is plenty, 3 nights with a non cyclist was way too much)
Friday – Getting there later in the evening on the Friday we would get to the cycling about 9pm after we checked into the hotel and then had food in town, we would then stay to the end, around 1.30am, note this was the expensive taxi night !!
Saturday – Get up late after the previous late night, lazy day in Ghent and then get to the track early and experience something different. The racing started around 6.45pm, so we could just leave when we had had enough around 10pm then get food.
Sunday – Racing started at midday and went til 7pm, arrive when we wanted, leave when we wanted and then go out for a meal, depending on the previous 2 days racing with my non cycling wife meant his was definitely a ‘play it by ear day’.
Monday – home. That was the plan.
This is how it actually panned out
Friday – Arrived Ghent St Pieters, found the tram we needed after about 20 mins as there were building works in the station and you all had to go out of a side door to the main station, very confusing, we found the tram stop and set off for the hotel, its a long way out of town but the public transport is wonderful.
Checked in, got a few leaflets on things to do and set off back to town to get something to eat, found the most amazing bar in the Gent St Pieters area near the main station, it was on the left side of the circular plaza as you look out from the station front doors, brown front and looked really dark and sinister from the outside, but the food, OH MY WORD, and the pace just chilled us out completely, we could have stayed there all night.
Then set off for the cycling, its not easy to find, its 2 stops on the tram from the central station in the direction of Gent city. We followed a few others from the tram, as you got closer you could actually hear the sound of the track but the building is quite surreal from the outside, it looks like an old school !
We had seats all 3 nights but if there is room in the centre of the track you must go down, having a seat ticket gives you access to the centre for free. And this is the scene.
I had no idea what was going on, the racing was frenetic and it was immediately apparent that due to the size of the track (around 170m) trying to watch the riders for prolonged periods and drinking at the same time was going to result in one ending up on ones arse quite quickly.
The night was filled with watching the cycling, drinking from different bars, checking out the souvenirs, buying lotto cards, and winning ! and generally soaking the atmosphere up completely.
By the time we left, it was about 1am, so we tried to find a bar for another drink, then try to find a tram – oops, trams stop at 23.45 !! Taxi ride to hotel = 40 Euros later.
Needless to say we got up late, missed breakfast and got the first tram we could into town, sight seeing and shopping, and a bit of food and more Belgian beer was called for. We were on holiday after all. We went to the track earlier tonight so we could see the up and coming juniors from the GB team and a few euro stars, we still didn’t have a clue who was riding but it didn’t matter, you are right next to the riders in the pits and if you want to chat they are normally happy to.
We had more beer and stayed til about 10.30pm. We made it up to the seats at one point but it was so warm, Kelly immediately fell asleep while I had a chat with a local Belgian guy about the riders. I watched the Madison and some Kieran fun and we left, but not before we won again on the Lotto and I got a cycle shirt.
I am also sure Saturday was the night Phillipe Gilbert put in an appearance, he is a pretty big thing in cycling and he was warmly welcomed especially during the racing he took part in.
Into town we found a few places to eat and had a leisurely stroll to the tram and got the last one home.
Beware, ladies, don’t leave your shopping to the Sunday, the city is pretty much shut down, the whole city basically goes into chill out, bar a few coffee shops and ethnic scarf and hat places trying to make a few quid, its a rest day.
So we went to the castle, yep, they have a great castle, (you can get a museumpass – this gives reduced entry to loads of places and worth the money if you want to do a few cultural stops) which Kelly wanted to visit so we spent a few hours traipsing around the history of the city.
The racing starts at midday on the Sunday and finishes at 7pm, to be honest I could have missed it as Kelly had about worn her cycling passion out at this point but we had bought tickets and there was still beer.
We exited just before the end and strolled into town, one mistake we came across here was the lack of places to eat in Gent available on the Sunday night if you hadn’t booked. Too many people trying to get into too few good restaurants meant a 90 min wait.
Monday – home, retracing our steps out with not too many issues.
Hints and Tips – (apart from the ones in the main blog)
To be honest explaining the cycling would be pointless, this blog is more how and what to do in terms of traveling from the UK, however, here are a few pointers
The track is small and steep. A lap is a mere 165 meters (current Olympic velodromes are 250 meters). The velodrome’s nick name, Het Kuipke, means tub, or hipbath, which should give you an indication of the size maybe.
When you first get there the only give away that you are in the right place is the whirring noise of the cyclists on the track, the building actually looks like a school from the outside.
The infield is crazy – but awesome, always packed with spectators. I don’t think you can really follow the racing while watching from the infield, but everyone is full of beer, enjoying the spectacle and having a great time, while we were there a few conga lines kicked off. You can get to the centre no problem even if you have a seat, ladies no heels
Tickets can be checked through this site http://www.z6sdaagse.be/ and if you want to book online you have to use this place www.uitbureau.be
You can use an agent like sport tours international but booking direct is cheaper, painless, tickets are sent to your door and even better, if you book direct you get a free beer with each ticket.
If this helps one person enjoy this great event then I am happy.
This year we are going with great mates who also like a drink and the cycling will be a bonus. 🙂