A Short Break in Belgium

Having decided last month to spend the Easter holidays in Belgium, I quickly buy a guide book and book a room. My good man takes Thursday off. After a long uneventful drive, we arrive at our hotel in Ghent by 5pm. Our superior room at NH Gent Sint Pieters is very spacious. It is outside town, about 20 mins walking distance from the centre. Trams pass frequently in front of the hotel and it is very easy to get to town or to the station. After checking in, we decide to walk to town to get some dinner.

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The walk beside the river is very pleasant and I am delighted with the town centre.

The medieval centre is beautifully restored and looks fabulous. In the picture above, we are on Graslei, the other side of the river is Korenlei. It is a university town and the streets are full of young people looking to enjoy themselves in this warn spring eve before Easter Friday.

There are plenty of restaurants for all tastes but vegetarian choices are limited for me. After dinner, we stroll back along the river and I am quite taken with the near perfect reflection of this mansion.

The next morning we set off to Bruges, about 50 kms away. The freeways are good and we make excellent time. We park at a central location and stroll into town. I walk with my head tilted back, enjoying the rooflines of the step-gabled houses which line the street.

Above you can see the perfect little Market Square which is lined with medieval houses. Markets have been held here since the 10th century. The square is dominated by a 82m belfry the top of which is visible in the previous and next photos.

We then walk to the Burg, a cobbled square a few metres away. This was the original centre of power around which the town grew.

The beautiful sandstone town hall (left) has a facade dating from 1375 and is beautifully decorated. Facing us, on the far left, is the Basilica of the Holy Blood.

This upper section of the Basilica is from the 19th century and it holds a sacred phial, supposed to contain a few drops of blood and water washed from the body of Christ.

We then go on a boat trip on the canal which is wonderful for photo opportunities!

Bruges looks very attractive from the canal and I am happy to recommend it to anyone.

We then continue our walk around town, admiring the many beautiful touches such as the cast iron work above. You can see the Church of Our Lady behind. We settle for a light lunch and we return to the car clutching our lovely souvenir – a little lace table runner.

We drive back to Ghent and after parking our car at the hotel, take a tram into town. The first stop stop is the austere Niklaaskerk built in the 13-15th century. You can see Niklaaskerk in the background and the belfry in the foreground.

We then pop in to see the lovely St Bavo’s Cathedral which is on the other side of the square.

The interior is stunning. It boasts an original Rubens painting and also Jan Van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.

We then visit the Groot Vleeshuis, the castle (on the right above). We are a bit hot and tired and I am too squeamish to look at the torture implements displayed inside. On hindsight, I would have skipped this.

My only reward for climbing all those steps in the castle is this view.

After wandering up and down a few more streets and squares, we have dinner in one of the restaurants on Korenmaarkt which is lined with many eateries. I take this last picture as a goodbye to the beautiful Ghent town centre.

The next day we set off towards Brussels which is about 50 kms away. We park in the underground parking at Grote Markt which is an excellent place to start the tour, very central. Our first look is at the Galeries St-Hubert, the shopping arcades built in 1847, the first one in Europe. It is lined with up-market shops.

My first look at Grand Place or Grote Markt takes my breath away. It is so PERFECT! One side (far side facing us) is lined with guild houses which clearly display how powerful and rich these guilds were, such as the Boatman’s Guild, second from left. On the left, you see the facade of the 15th century Town Hall. It is simply magnificent! Facing it on the other side of the square is the elegant Maison Du Roi, home to the Spanish monarchs and at right forefront, the Pigeon, which was home to Victor Hugo.

Detail of the guild houses.

From there we walk uphill towards the museum of fine arts. The views are lovely and we take the opportunity to pose for pics.

The art collection is very interesting, even though the 19th-20th century section is closed for renovation. I choose not to see the Magritte collection as I am not much interested in surrealism.

I enjoy the collection very much, especially this marvellous room which holds a number of major works by Rubens.

After a couple of hours in the museum, the sun feels pleasant as we stroll to the Palace which is open to visitors only June through Sept. The Palais Royal is the official work place of the Belgian monarch and as the flag is flying today, I know he is home.

On the other end of the park facing the palace is the Palais de la Nation, built in 1783. It is home to the Belgian Parliament.

The Belgians are passionate about comic book art. Tintin and the Smurfs, both Belgian, are world famous. Brussels is dotted by fantastic comic book art as murals, a very entertaining concept.

Our next stop is the impressive Cathedral Sts Michel et Gudule.

I am always fascinated by Stained Glass Windows and today, with the sun shining outside, the windows of the cathedral look brilliant.

The lighting afforded me other photo opportunities as well!

We walk next to the Rue des Bouchers, a bustling, vibrant street with restaurants on either side. It reminded me so much of Asia! Even though it is late afternoon, people are happily eating main meals.

Not a place for vegetarians though. My dear man sits down to a royally rich paella with all kinds of seafood while I chew on some lettuce! He is very very satisfied with his meal, it is, he says, an Experience.

Next we head towards Manneken Pis, the rather unlikely symbol of Brussels. I am amused to see a sign for a W.C. in the window behind!

Though our energy levels are fading by this time, we soldier on to see the last remnants of the 12th century city walls.

After a brief stop to see the church Notre Dame de la Chapelle, we go to our last port of call, the Palais de Justice, the law courts. As it is under construction, I can’t really admire it but the views are good from this high vantage point.

Our last day in Belgium. We head to Antwerp and start with the train station which is an impressive structure.

We wander through the world famous diamond market but on this Sunday morning, its half-closed and not impressive.  The shopping street of Meir that we walk across is also quiet but there are some lovely old buildings to admire. We walk to Sint Jacobskerk where Rubens is buried but it is closed for tourists as the service is on.

After admiring Ruben’s home (which is now a museum) from outside, we walk into a lovely square where a girl with a golden voice is singing in Spanish. We sit to enjoy the music for a while.

Antwerp’s Grote Market is as impressive as the others we have seen on this trip. You can see the town hall on the left and the guild houses in front.

We try to visit the cathedral but again a service is on and it is closed for tourists. Sundays are best avoided for tourism in Europe but sometimes there isn’t a choice. We stop for a drink and then set off towards the Hergé Museum.

Herge

This museum is in a small town in the outskirts of Brussels. I am a fan of these comics; I think the art work is extraordinarily good. We spend a couple of hours in this museum which has original drawings and plates, details of the artist’s life and his work. It is all quite fascinating. The picture above is not mine; it is from their site.

Afterwards, we go back to Brussels to have dinner in a little street off the Grand Place. We have had a nice holiday, the weather had been fine throughout, Belgium is beautiful and I am pleased with our little holiday.

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15 thoughts on “A Short Break in Belgium

  1. As we will be in Belgium next week, looking at your pictures is so fun. Stunningly beautiful country. We will be staying two nights in Bruges, then go to Bayeux for three nights, back to Brussells for two, finishing up in Amsterdam for three nights.

    Thank you for posting the pictures and commentary.

    • Glad you enjoyed my blog Marsha. You have hit it lucky with the weather, this year Europe has become warm quite early! I am sure you’ll love your trip, there is so much to see and do in all the places you are visiting ! Enjoy yourself and send me a link to your post/blog when you write it up, I’ll relive it all again 🙂
      Cheers.

  2. Hi Suja

    Thanks for posting those amazing pics. I am planning a trip to all of these beautiful cities next year in April…I am just so impatient to go now after reading your accounts. I share your liking for stain glass paintings in cathedrals.

    Cheers

    • Hi Asha, Thank you 🙂 Next April does seem a bit far away 🙂 But I am certain you’ll enjoy yourself, there is much to admire in Belgium, one cannot do justice to a country in just a few days really. If you like stained glass windows, look at my earlier post about a trip to the North of France to see the famous Gothic cathedrals and also the write up about a trip in the Loire Valley when we visited Chartres where the windows are just sensational.
      I wish you joy in your travels 🙂
      Cheers. Suja

  3. Hi ,
    Loved your blog
    We are planning to go to brugge gent and brussels in june too so was very helpful.
    We’re vegetarian too so i was wondering if you remembered the names of the places you ate at with vegetarian options.

    thanks

    swati

    • Hi Swati, You’ll love it, its very beautiful ! As to vegetarian options, there aren’t many. Here are the few I ate in :
      Gent : There is a Chinese Restaurant in Korenmarkt (old city centre), dont remember the name but its in this main square, very easy to spot. There is an Indian man of Mauritian origin working in this restaurant, he arranged some vegetarian stir-fry and rice for me. Dont eat the spring rolls if you think vegetarian means not having things fried in oil used for other things! There are also pizzerias which have veggie pizzas. Salads available in a couple of places but warning: they think that a salad is lettuce with 3 pieces of tomato and a dressing! Not in the least enough after a long tiring day of walking.
      Brussels : I spotted an Indian restaurant while walking, it had a nice menu with lots of veg food but unfortunately I didnt take down the name. Perhaps you can do an internet search before you go. There are a number of pizzerias in the city centre near Grand Place, very easy to find. We ate in Kaasmarkt, it was good, very nice atmosphere.
      Brugge: As we only had sandwiches here, I cannot recommend anything.
      Just a warning : French fries in Brussels are fried only in Animal Fat, I had some by mistake and then cried later when I found out! So if you are a strict vegetarian, dont touch the fries.
      Enjoy your holiday!
      Cheers. Suja

    • Hi Swati,

      I am born and raised in Ghent, and there are actually 12 dedicated vegetarian restaurants overhere.

      To name a few …

      Greenway Foods – Nederkouter 42 Ghent
      Komkommertijd (translated cucumbertime ;o) – Reep 14 Ghent
      Warempel – Zandberg 8 Ghent
      Toi et Moi – Sint-Michielsstraat 31 Ghent

      I only mentioned the ones situated in the very city center.

      Enjoy your stay in Ghent !

  4. Thx for great pix. Watching feels like being there again. May I ask – what camera and lens, esp. the wide shots? Panos? If so, in-camera or stitched in post?

    Many thanks.

    • Thanks Wally for visiting the blog 🙂 As to the camera, its just a point and shoot – A Sony HX5V which has a 25-250 lens and in-camera pano feature. I used to lug around heavier equipement once upon a time but I found them unwieldy and I was forever making excuses to take my little one instead. The HX5V works fine and I just bought the upgraded one, HX7V, for my boy!

  5. Great photos! And lots of interesting info. You were lucky in that the weather seemed to be great during your stay. If you ever return to Belgium, check out http://www.discoveringbelgium.com – it’s full of interesting ideas for places to see that are “off the beaten track” – not just the cities and main tourist attractions.

    • Thank you Denzil. Yes, we were lucky with the weather 🙂 I checked out the site you recommend, it seems to have many interesting ideas. This was my first trip to Belgium and naturally I wanted to see the most famous sights but I normally love to visit less tourist-oriented spots. I’ll keep it in mind for my next trip. cheers.

  6. Great pictures & information. I’m visiting Belgium for 4 nights from 14th to the 18th of August before heading to Amsterdam & then Prague. I am highly confused about one thing, and hope someone can help me. I’m planning to stay the 1st night in Bruges. Then, head back to Brussels for a night. I want to stay the 3rd & 4th night in either Ghent or Antwerp & take a day trip to the other town depending on which of the two I choose. I’m 33 & am traveling alone. Want to do a bit of sight seeing, photography during day time & just chill and mingle with the locals over some drinks in a lively atmosphere in the evenings & nights. I only manage to take such breaks once in every couple of years due to my busy work schedule, so, want to make it count. Would appreciate if anyone could help me choose between Antwerp & Ghent for my final 2 days in Belgium. Thanks!

    • Hi Rajat, I reckon Ghent would be the better choice for you. It is a university town and it was quite vibrant in the evenings, the centre of town teeming with young folks. Enjoy! Suja

  7. Hi Rajat, you seem to be very experienced, so I would like to pose a question here.

    We are a couple, of 36-39 yrs old. Although not yet finalised, we are planning to spend 9 nights in Belgium – our landing airport is Brussels. Given that a few days are sufficient to visit Brussels, we would like to visit other cities, in particular Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. We are considering making Brussels as our base. However, a hop-on/hop-off option might be cheaper in terms of accommodation. The period I am referring to is first week of December 2011.

    I would be grateful if you put forward a few suggestions. Our accommodation budget is usually in the range of EUR75-100 per night.

    Rgds, Marisa

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