This year, as expected, is going to be an year of travels. What was not expected, however, was that the travels will begin in India itself. While I made one of the best trips of my life to Pushkar, I also visited another place that most of you will be more interested in knowing about. I think I’ll disclose it in a blog post itself.
Meanwhile, here’s to the first country I visited after starting my stay in Berlin. I had always wanted to visit Bruges, a really small town in Belgium. I came across it through travel posts of other bloggers. Although it is after visiting the place that I realized its a very odd thing that not many people know about it. While on my trip, I got to know through one of those young travellers maps (recommendations maps that are made by young traveller groups in collaboration with locals) that a part of PK, the Bollywood movie, was shot in Bruges. I haven’t watched it, so I didn’t know that bit.
Our trip started off with Brussels, the capital city, and it is here we spent the least amount of time of our trip. Brussels is like any other big city, with tourist-y bits thrown in all over the city. The European Commission is in Brussels, probably the reason it was chosen for terrorist attacks very recently.
Since we had very few time here, we decided to start off right from the tourist centre, i.e. Grand Place. It is the central square of medieval Brussels, which has many halls and buildings (or edifices, if you may) out of which the Brussels Town Hall stands out the most. The ornate gold detailing on buildings here was really eye catching and beautiful.
From here, we moved to see the ‘Manneken Pis’, a bronze statue of a little boy urinating into a fountain basin. This place was used for supplying water in the city in olden times. The original statue was, I think, stolen, so its replaced by a small statue now. When we reached the spot, we were laughing we didn’t even realize that we are there already as its such a small statue.
From here on, we were already feeling a bit tired by the walking (I know! I totally feel I am such an old person residing inside a young body). We started walking towards the Church of our Blessed Lady of the Sablon – a 15th Century Catholic Church in the historic Sablon district of Brussels. It was patronized by the royals and nobles. The carvings here were, as you can see, marvellous and very intimidating. Also, it was the first time I entered a Church, so even that experience was very intimidating. Like many Churches in Europe, this one also had really beautiful glass paintings inside (I don’t know if they are called something specific).
Belgium is full of medieval Churches in Gothic or Neo-Gothic styles. By this time, we were thoroughly tired, so we chilled out for a while near the Sablon area at a place whose name I am forgetting (and not able to Google), it had a very beautiful view of the city!
We took the train for another part of the city, a place where some modern tourist attractions are situated. One is the ‘Atomium’, a structure built in the shape of a single cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Some of the spheres of the unit cell have exhibitions going on all the time, and the others have museums housed. There are over 300 steps inside the pipes to climb within the Atomium. It was originally built for the Expo 58, Brussels World Fair in 1958 but people loved it so much that it was decided to be kept. Next to it is ‘Mini Europe’. An amusement park combined with beautiful tourist-y restaurants, the highlight of this place is miniatures of important European monuments, which we couldn’t see because that area was closed. 😛
After this, we took the train for the Central Railway station, from where we had to buy tickets (all details at the end of this post) for our next city – Ghent.
Ghent is a beautiful city, an undeniably lovely example of medieval meets modern. Ghent came highly recommended from our European classmates because Ghent has many students, hence it is popular for its hip clubs & night life. None of us were huge clubbing people on the trip but we still thought it to be better to stay in Ghent than Brussels. We realized how right we were as soon as we entered our youth hostel. It was literally booming with energy. The in-house bar there had a concert every day and really fun ones on Thursday. That was a Thursday! After being there for a while, we went out for dinner and a bit of look around.
The next day we were to embark on our journey to Bruges and come back to Ghent again in the night.
Bruges is postcard picture perfect. Its tiny, cute and very tourist-y. Its beautiful canals and buildings are some of the prettiest things ever but what is even prettier? The tiny lanes housing cute little shops and restaurants. A special mention should be made to the Belgian Chocolate shops, not only for the chocolate but also for the visual treat that these cozy shops were.
For me, the best thing about Bruges is that it is so small a town that it is very easily doable on foot and that too in no time. From the train station, we walked to Minnewater Lake or the Lake of Love. It is a very romantic lake with greens surrounding it and a bridge with tales of love attached to it and the tales that walking on it with your love will make your love eternal.
We moved on to the Begijnhof, these were places where single and widowed women lived together in the olden times, almost like nuns, to follow religion deeply. The one in Bruges is now a monastry.
After this, we reached the Church of Our Lady. It is the tallest structure in the city and is famous for the sculpture of Madonna & Child made by Michelangalo, one of the very few of his sculptures outside of Italy.
We then reached the Market Square which houses the intimidating and huge Belfry tower, which used to be even higher once, but got ruined by storms so many times that the authorities decided to leave it like that.
At this point, I should mention that I love this step like structure on top of most buildings in Belgium, especially if they are as colourful as this. I just checked on Google that they are known as ‘crow-stepped gables’. Can anyone tell me why ‘crow-stepped’? I realized that they were there in Amsterdam as well, so after searching on Google, I figured they are popular in Dutch culture overall.
While watching the ongoings in the Market Square and munching on Belgian fries, we chilled out here for a while and then went inside the Basilica of the Holy Blood. It is believed to house the Holy Blood, which is kept in a cylindrical vessel and brought out everyday for worshipping. Religious believers believe that the blood which is otherwise solid turns liquid during this time and scientists believe that it is due to the temperature changes. The Church is extremely beautiful, but the dark interiors with sculptures leave you with a very strange feeling.
Again, we came back to Ghent to our hostel. After relaxing for a while and roaming around in markets, we went to this fair-like place in our area known as Student Centre. They had really uplifting lights with many games going on and, of course, food stalls but the major highlight was the rides. We took two rides and the kind of person that I am, those were very dangerous ones for me but I thoroughly, thoroughly loved that experience.
The next morning we reached Korrenmarkt, the main area of Ghent where many of the important Churches & other important buildings of the City of Ghent are, all in Gothic style, of course. There was also a Castle nearby, whose name I keep forgetting. We took a long walk alongside the canal and the St. Michael’s bridge and it is then when we could truly enjoy the Medieval & Gothic nature of Ghent, apart from the young city-like hip culture that we saw in the night.
Now coming to my favourite part of the post, my two cents if you are planning a trip to Belgium.
Useful tips for planning a trip to Belgium:
- We planned a two and a half day trip to Belgium, in which we spent one day in Brussels, two nights & half a day in Ghent and half a day in Bruges. All three are well-connected by trains and are only half an hour or 1 hour from each other, so you can make one of these as your base and make day trips to the other places. For us, it was Ghent and I am fully satisfied with that. I am also satisfied with the duration of our trip. I’ll explain in further points how you can increase the duration.
- Why Ghent for base? It’s cheaper than Brussels and its popular for its hip clubbing culture, although we didn’t really make use of that. Most natives believe that Brussels doesn’t have much to offer *in comparison*.
- We are students so we had planned that we won’t be spending money on things like museums or canal tours unless we really, really want to. That’s why you see no mention of them. You can do Beer Brewery tours or Chocolate Factory tours if you plan a longer stay, then you can even include the city Antwerp in your itinerary for Belgium.
- It’s better to buy public transport pass in Brussels, as well as Ghent although you can manage without one in Ghent. Bruges you should strictly do on foot.
- I saw some online posts debating over Ghent versus Bruges. Both are totally different and I strongly believe that Bruges is a totally unique experience. It is super tourist-y and you should not miss it on a Belgium trip. If you have less time and you have to choose only one thing to do, choose spending half a day in Bruges.
- We stayed in the Backstay Hostel in Ghent. I highly, highly recommend it if you plan to stay in youth hostels. It is very hip, exuding with energy and hip concerts in the bar at night. I should also mention that it is clean and hygienic, but with an ordinary breakfast menu. Not as good as the hostel we stayed in our initial days in Berlin, but then, Berlin is Berlin. 😉 More on that later.
- Belgium is famous for fries, waffles and, of course, chocolates. Try all of these sinful things. Oh, and, Belgian fries are usually cooked in beef oil, so check on that if it matters to you.
- Belgium is also famous for lace, in case you intend to shop.
- One thing we should have done differently is going there in spring. With all the flowers and greens in full bloom, Bruges would be a wondrous site.
Phew. With this I cover, 1806 words of this post!! If you read till end, thank you so freaking much!! Please do share what you felt on reading. 🙂
Happy Traveling 🙂