Belgium surprised me in a lot of ways. This small country, about the size of Maryland (or the Basque Country autonomous community (not Euskal Herria, which is bigger) has a lot to offer. Although I saw a lot during my short time there, I know there are a lot more things to see. There are more waffles and chocolate to try, and if I could just make myself like beer (I’m a total wine guy…don’t like the taste of beer), there are a ton of beers to try. That’s the thing about traveling. You always miss out on something cool no matter how well you budget your time as there is just too much to see in this world. It’s impossible to see it all.
Bruges (Brugge/Brujas) was by far my favourite city. The medieval feel combined with the canals makes it an awesome destination.
Antwerp, the City of the Biscuits (British for cookie) was my second fave. It has 510,000 habitants but wasn’t too big or too small. It has the World’s Most Beautiful Train Station (so they say). Legend has it that Antwerp got its name from an evil Giant who demanded a toll to cross the river, and for those who didn’t pay, he chopped off their hand and threw it into the river. The giant was named Antigoon. He met his demise at the hands (see what I did there?) of the young hero Brabo, who was able to chop the giant’s hand off and throw it into the river. For this reason, there is a hand statue at the town hall, and Antwerp might be descended from the Dutch hand werpen…to throw a hand.
Ghent was also impressive with its river and old town. Brussels is a modern city with a ton to offer the city folk out there. (I can’t believe I used to dream of living in the big city!)
Belgium has a bit to offer for everyone. Maybe it’s because it was once part of Spain, but Belgium just might be my fave non-Mediterranean country. I’m not going to lie, I’m partial to Spain (and Euskadi and Catalunya shhh), Portugal, Italia and Greece and the slower pace of life. Belgium, however, was a nice change of pace, even if it was a bit hard to adjust to eating lunch at 12 or 1 p.m. and dinner at 6 or 7 p.m.! When in Antwerp, do as the Flemish do.
Again, there is a lot of the country left to discover (and a lot of the world left for me to discover), but based on my week there, these are the Set Meravelles. There are many more than seven, of course, so if your fave didn’t make the list, sorry!
¡Hay brujas en Brujas! Ok, no witches outside the shops catering to Spanish tourists, but Bruges is a lovely city and the “Venice of the North” due to its canals and medieval charm. If I only had one option for Belgium, this city would be it. Wednesday is market day at Grote Markt.
It’s been voted a few times “The Most Beautiful Train Station in the World”, and I can understand why. If only every train station were nice enough to alleviate the rush of trying to catch the next train with beauty. It’s nice both inside and out.
Het Steen (Antwerp) and the Scheldt River
The medieval fortress was the first stone fortress in Antwerp and built to defend against the Vikings. Holy Roman Emperor Spanish King Carlos (Charles) V later rebuilt it and gave it its current name, the King’s Stone Castle. It has been a toll booth and a prison and in 1890 became a museum of archaeology.
Rooftop of Mas (Museum Aan de Stroom)
The “Museum at the River” was opened in 2011, and although it costs money to see the exhibits, it’s free to take 8 flights of escalators to the roof to see some of the best views of the city.
Manneken Pis (Brussels)
The “Little Pee Man” has been a Brussels staple since 1618 or 19. Over the years, it has been stolen several times, and the current one has been in place since 1965. The original is kept at Maison du Roi/Broodhuis in Grand Place/Grote Markt. The most famous legend says that in the 12th century, during a battle with the Berthouts, an infant Duke Godfrey III of Leuven was placed in a basket above the troops. The infant urinated on the Berthouts. Another legend says a small child urinated on a starting fire to put it out which saved the city. There are many more legends and myths about the famous statue.
European Parliament (Brussels)
Brussels is the de facto capital of the European Union, which means in the European Quarter of Brussels, the EU meets for many discussions in massive buildings. I, for one, felt a bit intimidated.
Ghent is a university town with an amazing old quarter located on the River Leie. It’s a shame the rest of the city isn’t as beautiful as the city centre, as you have to walk through some not-so-nice parts to get to the really good parts. Of course, that could be a metaphor for life, eh?