October 7, 2017
There are two main things I heard about Bruges before deciding to visit, one positive and one negative and both were right on the spot. On a positive note, there is not a description on the city I have read that hasn’t called Bruges the city straight out of fairy-tales. The city is filled with picturesque cobblestone streets lined by beautiful red-brick shops along with canals everywhere you look. The result is a wonderful small town feeling to the city that charmed the three of us instantly.
The only negative thing about the city, other than perhaps the weather, is that all of the wonderful things about the city are so well-known that the city is more often than not filled to the brim with tourists. The narrow streets and alleyways that make Bruges so charming also serve to restrict the passage of people from moving through the streets freely. However, the rain that had followed us from Ghent did us a favor and eventually got under the skins of a lot of visitors who either stayed inside or went home early.
Our first order of business was to find somewhere for lunch. As it so happened, our internal brewery homing device is top of the line so we of course made our way to a brewery – the only one in town – De Halve Maan. The brewery was first mentioned in the town register of Bruges in 1564 and was acquired by the Maes family in the 19th century. The beer they produce now is of the highest quality, winning several prestigious awards on the highest level.
Though very crowded – the masses forced from the rain to move inside to eat – we managed to find a table for the three of us. The food was not necessarily what you would call cheap but after having a brief discussion of if we should stay or not, we voted to stay and eat and we could not be happier that we did. Between the three of us, we ended up with not a single bite of food left on any of our once crowded plates. It was one of those funny moments where upon having our first bites we all did that thing we have all done where you say “oh my God” with your mouth still full at the same time making a little eye-roll gesture. We left there debating on if it was the best meal we had had on our travels thus far.
From the brewery we set out to explore the city a little bit, wandering around, looking at shops, and just generally enjoying the views. The city is very comparable to Venice with its many canals, but has a very different decorum. The amount of canals in the city cause some to refer to it as the “Venice of the North.” Also in the city there are a number of amazing churches and cathedrals which we of course had to see, along with an enormous medieval bell tower in the center of the city called the Belfry.
When we decided we had had enough of the freezing cold rain, we stopped at a unique little bar/shop Lauren had heard of which sold 60+ beers as well as an eclectic bunch of antiques, jewelry, records, and all sort of other trinkets. It was a little bit of a tight squeeze but was incredibly interesting to examine all the various knick-knacks that surrounded us while we drank.
After drying off sufficiently we hit to the streets again, eventually making our way to a little part of the town called Bruggelingen, or the convent, which once held an actual convent and now has a bunch of little white houses and a park that is very nice to walk around. Beside it, there was a picturesque little field next to one of the canals with a cute little bridge over it. There are hundreds of swans that swarm the area like they own the place, which makes sense as they have been lounging around there since the 15h century. There has clearly been a long history of the swans in the city which Bruges has come to embrace going so far as to ensure that their number never drops below 100.
Before we headed back to the train and to Ghent, we of course had to stop to snag a variety pack of the famous Belgian chocolate before stopping at yes, another bar, where every beer they had could be opened and sampled. We of course all enjoyed very much getting to try even more of the many variations of Belgium beer, after which we made our way back to the station.
All-in-all we had an amazing time in Bruges even despite the rain. It is a very charming city that I would highly recommend visiting. Of all the cities in Belgium we visited, all three of us agreed this was our favorite one.
- Bring an umbrella! As we learned first hand, Bruges has notoriously bad weather that is more cold and damp than most other western European cities.
- To get a better feel of the city, it is recommended to visit Bruges on a weekday since the majority of the many tourists to Bruges visit during the weekend or in the winter. You will feel much more at home in the city without them. Trust me.
October 8, 2017
The last city in Belgium we wanted to go to before leaving was Antwerp. Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium besides Brussels and is known for its diamond trade with 70% of the worlds diamonds going through it, as well as being a major fashion hub. The city is an ever evolving one with its dynamic mix of history and modern touches that would make any body feel at home.
Antwerp is slightly further away from Ghent then Bruges, the train taking close to an hour and a half as opposed to 30 minutes. The wait, however is worth it as the main train station is among the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. The building made me realize how important good first impressions are since before I had even left the building I already had a feeling I was going to like the city and I most definitely did.
Outside of the train station was not quite as nice as inside the train station, of course, but a lot of that can be chalked up to the fact that it was, once again, pouring down rain. We got stuck in a little cafe for a good half hour because of it but thankfully it slowed down enough that it wasn’t too much of a hassle. Eventually, we took a train over from the main station to the city center to get a better view of some of the sights.
The city center in which we rode to was one of my favorite ones I have seen thus far. The gigantic city hall was decorated from every nook and cranny with different country flags which made the building look quite regal and important. While in the square, there was a large choir of around 50 people performing for free to onlookers alongside the city hall. The song they were singing had a whimsical tune that went along perfectly with the statue in the center of the square.
This particular statue (seen below) is quite a unique one of a mythical Roman soldier named Brabo who is said to have disliked that a certain giant was issuing a crossing toll at a nearby river to people by cutting off their hands and throwing it into the river, so Brabo taught him a lesson by cutting off the giant’s hand instead. The city, according to legend, got its name from this particular story from a condensed version of the phrase “Hand werpen”, which, when translated means “throwing (a) hand(s).”
Our first stop was, you guessed it, a bar. It was a fairly small one but very cozy whose owner also owned a dog named Vito that looked very much like Pippin and spent a lot of his time sitting in the bar and relaxing. While at the bar, I got up to go to the restroom to find that my seat was occupied by Vito! He had gotten into the booth while I was gone and sat across from the table – very prim and proper looking – with his paw on the table like he was just sitting down to chat and have a beer with us. It was quite a comical look that got a chuckle out of everyone in the bar.
From the bar we rented a few bikes as the weather started to finally clear up and we did a little sight seeing near Antwerp’s port, one of Europe’s biggest. Right along the water is an old Medieval fortress which is the oldest building in Antwerp called Het Steen. The fortress itself has a lot of history but there is not a whole lot to see or do there. It does make for a really good picture though. There is a statue at the entrance of the castle of a trickster by the name of Lange Wapper who is said to cheat while playing with kids, laugh like the devil, and play tricks on drunks. For the last reason, Lauren and I, quite understandably I think, left in a hurry.
From that point, we found that there was a very handy bike station to keep our rented bikes next to the only brewery in town so just to spite Lange Wapper we spent our last few hours in Antwerp hanging out at De Konnick Brewery. Thankfully, we ended up far enough away that Lange Wapper couldn’t play any tricks on us.
- Take a Train! The train center in Antwerp is amazing and is a sight in itself
October 9, 2017
The next day we stayed in Brussels to be able to catch a flight the next morning. We did not do much since we had already seen much of the city so we stayed very near to the Airbnb, going only far enough away to see a bar called The Black Gate. Being the Lord of the Rings nerds we are, we had to check it out. It had a nice underground atmosphere and several Lord of the Rings style decorations. We had a good time.
Though we had a not so comfortable first couple of days in Belgium, the longer we were there the more we loved it. You cannot go too wrong with a country known for producing chocolate, waffles, french fries, and amazing beer among many other wonderful things. There is great architecture all over the country along with such a wide variety between all the cities despite being so close to each other, making the country well worth a visit.
Next up is Krakow, Poland. (Sneak preview: it was not at all how we expected it!)
- We all agreed after visiting the 4 cities in Belgium we saw that if you are not able to see all four, we think you should prioritize the cities we saw in this order: Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp (very close behind), and lastly Brussels.