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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Belgium: Ghent, Bruges, and Brussels

The Atomium in Brussels

So. Belgium.

It was a long time getting there – we spent probably 24 total hours on the bus, traveling all the way through Italy, then spending the night in Switzerland, enjoying a leisurely lunch in Strasbourg, France, and then finally arriving in Ghent.
The main square in Bruges

After a few weeks of hot temperatures (especially in Italy), Ghent was a complete reversal. It was cold, rainy, and windy. I don’t think anyone in our group was prepared for the drastic changes, especially me. My decision to bring one jacket on this trip isn't looking very good, especially after arriving at Oxford yesterday (more on that soon).
A boat ride in Bruges (and lots of ducklings!)

The hotel we stayed at was in Ghent, which is the home of one of the Belgian universities and therefore one of the youngest cities in Belgium. Our hotel was in the main town square, directly across from St. Bavo Cathedral and a few blocks away from the main river and stretch of shops and restaurants.
 Typical "staircase" architecture seen throughout Belgium

Our first day in Belgium we took a day trip to Bruges, about a 45 minute drive. Picture a small Belgian village and you’ll have a good idea of what Bruges was like. It was touristy for sure, but, unlike Venice, the people were so much nicer, the canals were beautiful (not smelly), and the food was delicious. We took a boat tour through the canals, wandered through the streets, and enjoyed our relaxing afternoon free. I tried a Belgian liege wafel (made with a thicker yeast dough) and it was one of the tastiest treats I’ve ever had. Belgium in general is a sweets-lover’s paradise. On seemingly every corner there’s either a wafel stand, chocolate shop, or gelato vendor. I was pretty overwhelmed just looking at some of the displays. It’s safe to say I was in a foodie heaven.
Chocolate and sweets overload

The next day we took a(nother) day trip to Brussels, which is much more of a modern city than Bruges, which retains a lot more original, antiquated architecture. We visited a few museums there and then went to see the famous Manneken Pis statue. Our music professor then told us all that we should see the female version of the Manneken Pis. We meandered through the streets of Brussels and down a narrow alleyway. After seeing the statue, we realized we were in front of the Delirium Biergarten, a famous bar that sells the namesake Delirium beer, which is brewed very close to Brussels. The next thing we knew, almost our entire group was in the bar, where our professors and group leaders left us for two hours.
Manneken Pis: only in Brussels

I’m not sure what they expected, especially considering this place sells 2-liter portions of all types of beer, but I’ll just say that the walk back to the bus and ensuing bus ride back to Ghent were incredibly interesting. For the record, I was completely sober—I tried the blonde Delirium brew and was not that enamored. They were selling a “cactus” beer (it was green), though, that tasted delicious and that I wished I’d ordered.
The aftermath of 50 college students in a bar in Belgium.

We wrapped up our stay in Belgium by spending the day in Ghent and seeing the St. Bavo Cathedral, which was really beautiful and houses an altarpiece by the famed artists Hubert and Jan van Eyck.

Overall, I really enjoyed our time in Belgium. The people were some of the most friendly I’ve met in Europe so far, and the scenery is really beautiful. But I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t waiting for Paris the entire time.

More on the City of Lights soon. It was really lovely.

4 comments:

  1. really pretty photos (even that green beer - yikes!!) - it doesn't look cold at all!

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  2. if i drank that much beer we'd be making MANY potty breaks an the way back! i think the belgiums consume more ice cream than any other country ( or at least more of something), can't wait to hear your take on paris-it'll be where i celebrate my 50th-guaranteed! happy trails.

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