Bruges

So after several weekends of catching up with people since Christmas, Netflix binges, and penny pinching, I decided it was time to go somewhere.

Well actually, I was thinking about going somewhere and told my roommates I was going somewhere and then one of them wanted to come, and then I was committed! The thing that is nice about Lille is that there are a fair number of nice day trips nearby (both within and outside of France). The two places I’ve had left on my list in Belgium are Bruges and Antwerp, and we ended up in Bruges.

Lets have a quick breakdown on how trains work. You have two types of trains, regional trains (slower, cheaper) and high speed trains (faster, $$$$$$$$$$). Also, each country has different train pricing schemes and discounts available. Some countries don’t offer any advantages for buying in advance, some have great discounts for group travel, some have weekend discounts, etc. etc. This is why if you are looking at booking train tickets between 2 countries, you should always check out the price from each country’s train company. SNCB, the train organization in Belgium, has tons more discounts available than SNCF, the French train organization (https://www.b-europe.com/Travel/Promotions/Discounts).

Living in Lille is great because Gare Lille Flandres is serviced by both Belgian and French regional trains, so not only can I access the great discounts from Belgian Rails, but I also get to start with a cheaper, regional train rather than just high speed options.

Josephine and I arrived in Bruges around 11 and spent the next hour and a half just wandering the city. It is a fairly small city that has preserved and restored it’s medieval, Flemish, architecture and has some canals wandering through it. We really lucked out as it was a sunny, January day! We were able to see the majority of the city within an 90 minutes of walking.

After wandering, we wanted to find lunch and a bathroom. My #1 first thing I look for in a city is a soup restaurant. They are awesome… cheap, warm, nutritious + almost always with free wifi. So, we had lunch at Soup. It was good! The local beer in Bruges is a Zot, so I had soup, half a panini, and a Zot blonde.

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Souuuuuuuuuuuuuup! (€12)

There are a bunch of smaller museums in Bruges, so after lunch we visited two of them. Firstly was the Groeningemuseum, an art museum featuring local art and artists. It was pretty good… a smaller museum, but about the biggest size art museum I can actually enjoy. What was nice was that there was a range of time periods, styles, and techniques represented so it was more interesting than 465132165451 religious paintings from the 15th century.

After that, we ended up at the Bruges City Hall, the Stadhuis. This is a 2 room museum, but the main room is amazing! The building itself is centuries old, but the interior was redone around 1900 into a Gothic Hall, with murals depicting the history of the city (and explanations are provided). Fairly interesting and very striking!

The absolute best part of the day was after the Stadhuis. There was a gelato/waffle cart just across from it in Burg Square. OMG. OMG. So good. What I’ve learned about Belgian waffles:

  • there are 2 types, Bruxelles + Liège (Liège is 456116874 better than Bruxelles)
  • they can be served with toppings of all sorts. Maybe with Bruxelles waffles you would want toppings, but DO NOT be tempted to order toppings on Liège waffles! Plain, without even a sprinkle of powdered sugar is best
  • go somewhere with a line and good smell. Most waffle places make a bunch of waffles in advance, and then reheat them in the waffle iron as ordered. These are good, but not that good to be honest. AMAZING waffles will be found at places where they have either ran out of pre made waffles or only make them fresh to order. They are piping hot, the inside is not completely cooked, and the outside is sticky from the sugar. These places usually have a line because they aren’t pre cooked.
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Praise the Lord, oh my soul

The rest of the evening was spent popping into and out of some churches, eating frites, buying beer + chocolate, and window shopping. I went to Chez Vincent for the fries, but really not nearly as good as the friteries here where I live or in Ghent. Really they just tasted like normal fries. We got chocolate at Dumon, as I’ve heard it was good and was reasonably priced. We went to The Bottle Shop for the beers – they have tons of different varieties of beer and the appropriate glasses for each one.

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All in all, it was a good day 🙂

Things I wanted to do but didn’t:

  • visit The Folklore Museum, showing the historical Belgian way of life
  • tour De Halve Maan Brewery
  • climb the belfry
  • visit The Beer Museum
  • rent bikes and bike to the beach + in surrounding natural areas

A bientôt,

Amy

Ghent

At the end of my few days in Ghent – very cool town. I’m staying in a hostel that is right in the City Center, is the 3rd oldest building in Ghent (impressive especially considering Ghent has been inhabited since before the Middle Ages). Moreover, it is on the canal, right next to the St. Michaels Bridge, and has a view of all 3 towers in the city.

The view from right outside the door of Hostel Uppelink
The view from right outside the door of Hostel Uppelink. The Belfry tower that I climb is the right-most tower.

Day 1 in Ghent:

After I arrived, I grabbed the map and went on a walk. Since I hadn’t eaten anything yet, and had yet to eat frites (fries), I tracked down a Frituur. I found Frituur Jozef’s cart and had great fries! Very crisp, golden on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside. They even came unsalted if you so wished! Love it. The sauce game is big when it comes to frites – I had the belgian specialty sauce. Its kind of like a gravy.

zeee fries
zeee fries

Ghent is really cool at night – all of the buildings and towers are lit up – which looks especially cool on the Graslei (the port/area on the canal) because the water reflects the buildings. Ghent has a light festival every 3 years and I bet it really worth watching.

Day 2 in Ghent:

On my morning walk, I ran into an elderly-ish man. He looks right at me and says “tourist?”. So we talked for a few minutes – very nice person. He told me all about how the US and Ghent are connected by the Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812. He was appalled that I didn’t know that from primary school and wanted to take me into the Town Hall to show me some of the artifacts, but it was Sunday so he couldn’t. But he did suggest I go to Holy Mass at one of the cathedrals so I could listen to the Gregorian Choir. I couldn’t make it to the mass but if I’m here again on a Sunday, will be on my list! Sounds beautiful.

After our chat, I went to the Belfry and climbed the tower. Great views, for really not very much work.

View of Gent from the Belfry
View of Gent from the Belfry
View of St. Nicholas Church from the Belfry
View of St. Nicholas Church from the Belfry

After climbing the Belfry, I went to my new favorite restaurant. Its called Soupelounge and they have 4 types of soup that change each day, are served with various toppings, an apple, and 2 little breadrolls. For only 4 euros. As if I needed another reason to eat soup.

I visited the castle in Ghent next. The castle is literally right in the middle of the city, kinda crazy. Its called the Gravensteen and it is from the Middle Ages. Honestly was kind of a waste of money to visit it + I don’t feel like I need to go to many castles again. It could have been cool if they had more information on the way the castle was built for various functions, what happened there, etc. but the theme was death. So there was a lot of information on various traditions surrounding death from the Middle Ages until now, a torture museum, and things of that nature. It wasn’t interesting to me, but I am sure Julie would have really liked it.

View from one of the mini-windows on the top of the Gravensteen. The tower is the Belfry Tower I climbed
View from one of the mini-windows on the top of the Gravensteen. The tower is the Belfry Tower I climbed

Gent has days where no cars are allowed in the city center, and on those days they have markets, festivals etc. This was one of those days, and the start of a peace initiative by the city, so they were having a free concert on the Graslei. This was great because it was sunny and beautiful outside, and I could sit and listen while people watching. But this wasn’t any concert – they loaded a grand piano into a gondola and were going up and down the canal. In the gondola. With the piano.

magic gondola piano
magic gondola piano (also, please note: this is the view from my window)

Day 3 in Ghent:

I am moving to my new home base today, I’ll miss you Soupelounge and Potatolicious. Haubourdin or bust!

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Bruxelles

Well, I made it to Brussels and am now en route to Gent, just west of Brussels. I’m staying in Belgium for a week before heading to France to move into my apartment and am basically just bopping around.

Day 1 in Brussels:

Unluckily for me, around 2 minutes after getting to the train station at the airport to go to my hotel, the entire system for buying train tickets crashed due to a strike in Brussels. After 2.5 hours of standing in a stagnant line, they finally decided that they couldn’t fix it and we would all just have to buy our tickets from the automated ticket machines. I’m sure this method works great for most other people. Unfortunately for me, the machine wouldn’t read my card and only accepted coins (which I didn’t have yet). Fortunately, one of the workers helped me by breaking my bill up into some coins. So, after spending more than 3 hours at the train station, I was able to take my 20 minute train ride to my hostel… wooooo.

Upon arriving at my hostel, I was able to sit down and rest for a little bit. I eventually decided I was much too tired to be sitting on my bed and went for a walk. Brussels is a pretty interesting city! There are a good variety of shops and restaurants, lots of street art, and these cool alleyways from as old as the 14th century that connect the larger streets.

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Day 2 in Brussels:

So despite having many plans for Day 2, I ended up only going to the Museum of Natural Sciences. I took the metro there, and was going to walk there from the metro stop – about a 20 minute walk. This 20 minute walk…. magically… transformed into a 4 hour exploration of the SE of Brussels because the museum was NOWHERE to be found. What I ended up discovering was that Maps had the metro station one street down from where it actually is. Regardless, I got to see so many cool parks! Parks here are much more manicured than in Oregon – I have yet to see one forested area but have seen many beautiful, soothing parks with various greenery, paths, and statues/fountains. Brussels has a lot, some small, but others are quite big. The ones I liked the most are Parc de Cinquantenaire and Parc Léopold.

From the Parc du Cinquantenaire. Not sure why this is in the middle of a park full of running trails and trees, but I like it.
From the Parc du Cinquantenaire. Not sure why this is in the middle of a park full of running trails and trees, but I like it.
Bigger view of the Parc du Cinquantenaire.
Bigger view of the Parc du Cinquantenaire.

I was also caught in a huge rainstorm and was soaking wet, which added to the fun of being outside, and basically lost for half the day.

I did eventually find the museum, though, and it was really cool! Lots of dinosaurs, information on the history of the museum and belgium, and on human bodies. The most interesting fact I learned is that it is possible that T-Rexs were covered in feathers like chickens!!!!!

Day 3 in Brussels:

Day 3 was my monument day. Many impressive buildings, churches, squares, etc. etc. in Brussels. All in all a good day – just wandered around the city center and old town for several hours. I visited:

  1. The City Hall of Brussels
  2. Cathédrale des Saints-Michel et Gudule
  3. Mannekin-Pis
  4. Park of Brussels
  5. Petit Sablon**
  6. Eglise de Beguinage
  7. Eglise Notre Dame de la Chapelle**
  8. Eglise Sainte Catherine
  9. Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon**
  10. Grand Place**

**Most impressive/favorite places

Eglise de Sainte-Catherine
Eglise de Sainte-Catherine
Brussels Town Hall in Grand Place
Brussels Town Hall in Grand Place
Square du Petit Sablon. Loved this little gem!! Best place to read and eat a sandwich
Square du Petit Sablon. Loved this little gem!! Best place to read, journal, and eat a sandwich
Mannequin Pis.... cause I had to.
Mannequin Pis…. cause I had to.

I ate the famed Belgian gaufres on day 3 🙂 yummy. Also, spent 5 euros on a Starbucks latte. That means I spent more than $5 coffee and milk. Whoooops. I can’t hang with all these European straight espresso drinkers & I’m okay with that.

On to Gent!