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My Gent: Synchronised swimming and a new life in a friendly Flemish city

Originally from the UK, Liz and her husband are planning on moving to Ghent after they recently bought a house here. To get involved with the local community, Liz is bringing her years of synchronised swimming experience and putting on a show at the 2019 Gentse Feesten. We caught up with her to find out more about the show and her new life in our wonderful city.

Synchronised swimmer Liz with her medals

Tell us about your show at the 2019 Gentse Feesten

I am organising a synchronised swimming show (called ‘Aquafollies’) in the Gentse Feesten. This year we are planning to stay for three months in Ghent to ‘test the waters’ which I am very much looking forward to. However I needed something substantial to keep me occupied and to get to know Ghent better. I have been doing synchronised swimming for over half my life and have organised shows for the past 10 years in the UK so synchro seemed the natural thing for me to do.

The show is a collaboration with the Synchronettes Showteam based in Antwerp who specialise in putting on shows in art deco pools. I got to know them at the international competitions we have attended over the years and I proposed we do a show together in the Gentse Feesten. We’ve been working on it since the end of last year’s Feesten and I’m the main contact for Ghent.

In ‘Aquafollies’, Hollywood and the Far East meet on a journey that will enchant young and old alike. This unique and swirling spectacle will take our audience to the bygone years of dance, water ballet, circus, pearls, plumes and sequins, both on, in and around the water.  We are delighted to be swimming in the Van Eyck pool exuding the atmosphere of the 1920s with adapted music and wonderful costumes to match.

The show is on Saturday 20 July, at 5 pm and 7 pm. Tickets via Uitbureau, 6/12 €. For all ages. Wheelchair accessible.

How can Gentenaars get involved?

It’s really important to me to involve Genentaars in our show so I am very excited to be teaching synchronised swimming on a weekly basis from May to July in the Rozebroeken Pool. The class will learn at least one super simple synchro routine and will play an important part in our show. For further details contact gentsynchro@gmail.com

What’s it been like organising this event?

I have been organising shows in the Brighton Fringe Festival and teaching synchronised swimming in the UK for many years so I approached the organisation of the show in Ghent in much the same way. I started with the Gentse Feesten organisers and then contacted the sport department to book the pools. More recently I have met the managers at the pools and the lovely staff at Uitbureau.

Because everyone is so helpful and enthusiastic I’d say it’s been easier than organising a show in the UK. My Flemish is very rudimentary – I can read more than I can speak – but it’s not a problem because Gentenaars’ English is excellent (plus I use Google translate a lot!).

More of a challenge has been to figure out how to reach swimmers who would be interested in learning synchro. Again, the sport department and pools have been very helpful.

So, how did you get into synchronised swimming?

I have always loved being in water. After I finished university where I did sub-aqua diving, I wanted something new to do. I was in my local pool and saw a tiny little notice saying “Do you fancy trying synchronised swimming?”. I have been doing synchro ever since – for over 30 years now, only stopping whilst I gave birth to our two children (now adults!). So I started synchro as an adult (which is unusual) and I swim in national and international masters competitions. I also love finding the right music and creating the choreography. It’s great to see a routine coming together in the water.

How can locals get into the sport?

There are water ballet lessons for children but as far as I know there is nothing for adults in Ghent.

Why did you decide to buy a house here?

After the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 we decided to buy a house on mainland Europe with the longer term aim of moving over. With family in the south in the UK we wanted to be somewhere that was easy to get to. And we weren’t keen on France so Belgium was a good option. We looked at Antwerp (because of the synchro connection) and were also interested in a property over near Liege. On one trip we stopped off on the way back in Ghent and fell in love with the city.

How was the house-buying process?

We ended up buying the first house we saw so it was more about seeing other houses to make sure that house was right for us. We did a lot of research on Ghent and the area where our house is and we also found a solicitor who spoke English. The frequency of public holidays was surprising. And meeting the sellers at the meeting where we signed the paperwork.

Before the sale could go through the house had to be offered to the local community which caused a three-month delay but we were happy with that. TheSquare.gent was very helpful in finding out about energy companies and residency, etc.

What do you like most about Ghent?

Gentenaars are lovely – straight forward and friendly. Ghent is a calm and genuine city that listens to its citizens and there’s always something interesting happening. It is a lot less commercialised than the UK and people don’t go around attached to their phones! We love the car-free centre and it is so easy to get around on a bicycle. And of course we love the beer. It’s also very veggie and has a good music scene and lots of swing dancing. We have learnt some Boombal and have been to a very lovely New Year’s Eve dance two years running.

What’s most difficult or odd about life in Ghent?

Difficult – very little – mostly understanding Flemish however we will be doing lessons this year.

At first we assumed everything was open all of the time including Sundays (like in the UK) but quickly got used to that not being the case. Having a large DIY superstore closed on a Sunday would be unheard of in the UK!

We’ve noticed Gentenaars go out in the evening very late (10-11pm) and wonder how they manage to get up for work the next day.

What do you look forward to about living in Ghent?

The excitement of making a new life in a wonderful European city. Having the freedom to visit many other places in Europe with Ghent as a base.

And my own dream is to create an enthusiastic adult synchronised swimming community.

Thanks, Liz. From one expat Brit to another, I can certainly agree with that!

If you’re interested in getting into synchronised swimming, contact Liz at gentsynchro@gmail.com. And make sure you check out the ‘Aquafolies’ show this Gentse Feesten.

Heather
Heather is a language and travel geek at heart, having gotten the bug for it while studying German and Italian in her home country, England. After managing hotel content for a start-up in Berlin, being an Erasmus student in Bologna and writing for Frommer's travel guides while in London, she moved to Gent in 2015 for a year. Still here, Gent must have been doing something right! She's now determined to help other newbie expats settle in and build a great life here in this beautiful city. If you'd like to get in touch, send an email to heather@thesquare.gent

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