Belgium 29th April to 3rd May
We decided to make a short stopover in Belgium on our way back from Amsterdam.arrived in Brussels on 29th evening by Intercity from Amsterdam as there was no reservations available on Thalys. (If you want a quick trip, book your reservations early. I was caught napping on this front!)
Stayed in an Airbnb apartment close to Brussels center.
We had three days in Belgium, so decided to spend a day each in Brussels, Ghent and Brugge.
Bad weather was predicted, so we stayed in Brussels and took the Hop on Hop off tour. Frankly. quite disappointed. Didn’t expect much in Brussels anyway.
The Atominium was impressive, but queue for entry was extremely long and we did not have the patience or strength of character to stand out in the cold rain so as to get an overview of Brussels.
Another point of interest was the Cathedral. Quite nice once you go inside. Outside does not look very inviting!
We got off to see the Manneken Pis – a bronze statue of a naked boy ‘urinating’ into the fountain basin. It is a famous and sometimes called Brussel’s oldest citizen.
Had Waffles from one of the many outlets. The more famous Waffle factory had too long a queue.
Also nearby was the Grand Place or Central Square of Brussels which is surrounded by the Town Hall and other opulent buildings.
There were 19 other stops on the two routes, but none that really stimulated our curiosity. For those Politically minded, the EU Parliament and EU Commission will be of interest.
The commentary was good and gave an overview of the History of Belgium.
The tour itself was poorly organized with few buses running at 30 minute intervals. No staff to control the crowd at majors stops that resulted in a free for all charge when the bus stopped. The crowd was so much that they encouraged standing passengers. This was not acceptable as the standing tourists blocked our views.
Decided to visit Brugge today.
Took the train via Brussels Midi to Brugge.
Tourist information was at the station and they gave us a map and advised us to walk so as to see all the highlights. Good advise. We took the scenic walk stopping at the Minnewater Lake (Lake of Love), with the Lovers Bridge, then on the the Benedictine Abbey with the silent garden (meant for prayer).
This is now a monastery for Benedictine sisters who live there. Church inside dedicated to St. Elizabeth, was also very nice.
Then walked on via the Church of our Lady, which has the second tallest brick tower in the world.
On the way you come across the canal cruise boats. There are four different companies running the boats from various boarding points. (These are not hop-on hop-off, you have to do the entire trip and get dropped off at the boarding point). We took one of them from a point just after the Church of our Lady. They take you on a 30 minute ride through the canals for €8. Quite a nice ride, except that out Guide/driver did not know English! Would have been more enjoyable if we understood the commentary. however, the Boat ride gave us a different perspective of Brugge.
After lunch of Belgian specialities and beer brewed in Bruges (which had different flavor) we walked on to the Markt Square. This was very impressive and lively. Lots of museums, shops and cafes around. Spent some time there and then took the bus (€3) back to the station.
Brugge is a quaint town with many cobbled streets, lots of shops, cafes, restaurants and fast food joints. The architecture was typical of the medieval period. You need to spend time walking through the streets and try the waffles and chocolates!!!
On to Ghent today. Took same trains as yesterday except we got off at Gent St Peters. Ghent itself is the city center/centrum. You can get a map with bus routes and places to visit at the information center. However, it is advisable to go onto the Tourist Information Centre in Ghent, as they will give you a map and also a guide book which is really useful.
We took Tram 1 to Evergem and got off at Gravensteen Stop. You can’t miss it as it is opposite the Castle. You need to buy a €3 ticket before boarding the tram. The Tourist Information staff were very helpful and set us on the way.
You can start from the Castle of the Counts which is opposite the Centre. Entry is €10 each. Quite a nice castle.
On the way you come across the old ‘Butchers’ Hall of the Middle Ages where meat selling was centralized. Now it is a restaurant serving a good variety of meats. We had the Meat & Cheese platter with Belgian beer.
Then walk down towards St. Michael’s Church and Bridge. The church is open only from 2 to 5 pm. From the Bridge you can see the three medieval towers that overlook the city of Ghent – St. Nicholas Church in the foreground, the Belfry Tower next and St. Bavo’s Cathedral next to it.
You can walk into St. Nicholas Church, which is OK. Next is the Belfry Tower where you need to pay €8 to go up to the top. You first need to climb 55 steps to the lift!
St. Bavo’s Cathedral is really impressive. Wonderful architecture, stained glass windows, carved statues and it has a painting called the Mystic Lamb by the Van Eyck brothers. The original painting is in a separate room which you have to pay to enter.
From here we continued the walk to Markt Place. This is a large square with cafes around. However, not as interesting or impressive as the one in Bruges.
There is the usual Boat trip down the river Leie and canals @ €7. We did not take it after the experience in Bruges where we didn’t understand a thing! You can see the sights just walking down the banks and crossing various bridges.
From the Markt we walked back to the Castle and took Tram 1 back to the station.
Overall a Day well spent. I must say both Bruges and Ghent are places one must visit. Each has its own charm.
Back to London by Eurostar!