Belgium is not all about the beer, lace and chocolate (although these do play an important part)! If you only have a short time in the country, check out these three cities – they are easy to access by train and full of things to see and do. If I were to choose a favourite city, it would be Bruges. But I will let you make up your own mind!
As I was only in Brussels for a day, I had to pick and choose what to do. The Grand Place was first on the list – an elaborate town square surrounded by gold-laced buildings. There are many shops and cafes in this buzzing meeting place. I stopped for a lunch of chilli mussels, with crusty bread and a glass of wine. Everyone needs to try mussels in Brussels!
It was then time to browse the shops and I was happy to realise that the stereotypes of beer, chocolate and lace were not a myth.
My final stop was in the Musée Hergé. I grew up with Tin Tin and was fascinated to learn more about the creator of these comic books. It is well-worth visiting for anyone interested in animation, film and illustration. I particularly enjoyed seeing some of the early Tin Tin sketches!
Bruges was everything I expected and more! Just as it is depicted in the movie In Bruges, the cobbled streets and hovering mist give this city a sense of mystery and enchantment. What I did not expect were all the pretty water ways and arched bridges.
I stayed in a small hostel that required climbing up a very narrow staircase to get to my room. That night, I walked downstairs to find myself in the beginnings of a beer-tasting tour. Of course, I had to join in! I loved how each beer had its own, unique glass. The variety was astounding and I was particularly impressed by the fruity varieties.
The next morning, I sampled some of the Belgian fries, complete with a big dollop of mayonnaise (quite a novelty, as hot chips are always served with tomato sauce in Australia). I love the convenience of serving them in a paper cone. A delicious post-drinking snack!
A walk around the city the next day revealed Bruges to be one of the prettiest places I had been on my travels around Europe. I adored the old houses with their brick rooves, which looked like staircases leading up into the clouds.
As usual, I had to take a trek up the highest building in town, which revealed this splendid view.
I even managed to catch the glimpse of a horse and sulky being driven through the streets. It really felt like walking back in time.
After a visit to a chocolate factory, some lace shops and a few windmills, I felt as though I had seen everything I expected of the place. I was sad to leave, but keen to explore a bit more of the country, before moving on.
When I arrived at the train station, I was astounded at the number of bikes parked outside! This impressed me, not only because it keeps the city folk fit and healthy, but it reduces the amount of cars on the road and does nothing to pollute the environment.
Built in 1180, Gravensteen Castle has stood the test of time. It is really interesting to walk through the castle and grounds, examining the torture devices and the dingy, dark rooms, which I can imagine would have been freezing in the Belgian Winters. From the top, there is a wonderful view of the city.
Another unique way of viewing the city is by taking a tour along the river, which offers fascinating historical explanations and also provides great photo opportunities, particularly of all the pretty architecture.
I was only in Ghent for the day, but as always, I needed more time. Just another excuse to come back again one day!
Where have you been in Belgium? Have you got any suggestions for the next visit? I would love to hear your recommendations.