Last weekend, I went to Belgium.
I know. Surreal, right? Surreal.
It was my first trip to Europe EVER, and we chose Belgium because the prices were quite reasonable on the Eurostar. We were picking between a few different places that were cheap on Skyscanner; Oslo, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Basel, Cologne, to pick a few. But once we’d picked the flight times that suited us, and added baggage, they turned out to be quite expensive in the long-run.
So, we jetsetted to Belgium! By jetset, we didn’t take a jet. It was all trains, baby.
Eurostar across the English channel to Brussels – train from Brussels to Ghent – then a day trip from Ghent to Bruges.
There’s something about train travel that makes me really happy. There’s a sense of romance that comes along with it – I think part of it stems from the movie Before Sunrise that I watched as a teenager. I fell in love with the idea of, well, falling in love with a stranger on a train. Of course, I wasn’t really looking for that as we swept along the French plains, but I just love the way a train rattles softly along, past sleepy villages with no name, rolling fields, church steeples poking out of each town.
It had been snowing in Brussels. Snow lined the train tracks, and us kiwis squee’d in delight as it hasn’t been snowing in London and the whole idea of it excited us to no end.
We made it to Ghent by 3pm on Friday, ready to check into our Air B&B and go explore (mainly to find waffles and a coffee!). It was raining, and it didn’t stop until the next day. By the time we got back to our warm apartment, we were saturated.
Ghent stole my heart, in a big way. It was small and tight knit, with classic Belgian architecture, tram lines running down the street regularly, chocolate shops scattering the market square, small alleyways, beer bars lining the canal.
We had waffles at a cafe named Fritz – it was small, cosy and very traditional. Everyone was speaking either French or Dutch, and when we asked for an English menu they said no, but they helped us with the menus – much to the amusement of the locals who were dining. I got a waffle with chocolate sauce and slagroom (which is whipped cream in dutch – I couldn’t help but giggle). Absolutely DELICIOUS. I still dream of those waffles. Sigh.
We wandered the streets until we became too cold and saturated, and retired to a little (well, not so little – it was about 4 storeys high!) Belgian pub named Sint Jorishof – Cour St Georges. It was truly something. The waiters dressed in amazing white outfits almost like they were the Captain of the Titanic, and our waiter Franck was really polite and helpful. He gave us the most delicious Belgian beer, and we choose beef stew with fries and a huge bowl of salad. Amazing.
ALSO, when I wandered upstairs to use the bathroom, I came across the most amazing floors the pub had to offer. It was like a museum up there. There were ornaments, and lavish furniture, bookcases filled with books, busts of old historical figures, oil paintings on every wall. I was in awe.
Bruges was also a dream.
Bruges is also like a museum in itself. There are a lot of tourists, but we were so busy sight-seeing ourselves that we weren’t really aware of them. It had small little alley-ways, brick lanes, Belgian architecture, the amazing famous bell tower, a beer museum, chocolateries around every corner. The traditional horse and carts were wonderful – they took me back to the 1700s with every clip clop.
We got caught in a magical hail/sleet/snow session for an hour or two, as we strolled the canal. Note: I did not have appropriate boots for this. Toes = frozen! But it was glorious. We ate Belgian fries, wandered in the white winter wonderland that encapsulated Bruges in the afternoon, and topped it off with Belgian chocolate.
Then, we found a cute little bar on the Ghent canalside and drank enough Belgian beer to be very merry indeed.