Saturday, 16 September 2017

Belgium: Bruges+Ghent+Brussels

It's an absolute breeze travelling to major cities within the country by train after reaching Brussels, the point of entry for most, as availability as well as fares are constant regardless of time and channels of purchase, and it takes only an hour to go from the central Brussels to the northwest Bruges, for example, not to mention the ease of communication with the English-speaking Belgians.
Apart from admiring the medieval beauty, also not to be missed of this route are savoring waterzooi, the flemish chicken stew; Belgian fries, of which the choice of sauce probably matters the most; Moules-Frites, mussels cooked in different kinds of sauces also served with fries accompanied by mayonnaise; and a variety of waffles topped with fruits, whipped cream, icecream, chocolate sauce, etc., and finally bringing back home some quality Belgian dark chocolates, speculoos in special flavors and more waffles!


Having a warm Brussels waffle with homemade hot chocolate sauce and vanilla icecream as breakfast was probably the best thing to do in a gloomy rainy morning. The rain stopped just in time before a nice short walk into the historic center where Church of Our Lady, Quai of the Rosary, Tanners' Square, Basilica of the Holy Blood, City Hall and Palace of the Liberty of Bruges in Burg Square, and Belfry of Bruges and Provincial Court in Market Place are all easily reachable within walking distance. Climbing up the Belfry for panoramic views of Bruges and lunching amid colorful and traditional Belgian buildings right in front at the plaza in the sunshine were highlights of the day. A canal boat tour during which sightseeing was from an unusal perspective compared to just walking around completed a day trip in the pretty little Bruges.
 Not only do the very many chocolatiers in Bruges offer wider range of choices at lower prices, they also sell speculoos in multiple flavors that cannot be found in the other two cities. Some time for shopping before departure should therefore be included in the itinerary, especially one of a chocoholic. Trains run every 10-20 minutes from Brugge to Gent-Sint-Pieters and after a 30-minute journey a satisfying dinner with waterzooi, Belgian beers, followed by a shot of jenever in the Flemish city of Ghent awaits.


It is not as easy to find a right place for breakfast on a Sunday morning. Another Brussels waffle with warm cherry sauce served at outdoor seating of Brasserie Agrea just opposite Sint-Baafsplein, heart of the city, against an azure backdrop with Saint Bavo's Cathedral and Bell Tower is definitely one of the best things to enjoy before exploring Ghent. The cathedral opens on Sunday only in the afternoon but paying a fee just to see "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" might not be a thing for everyone anyway. The Bell Tower, on the other hand, is worth the entrance fee of EUR8, as the elevator stops on several floors of exhibitions on the way up, including a massive bell and a large antique music box that still plays, until visitors reach the top for panoramic views of Ghent. To the west past City Pavilion are Saint Nicholas's Church, Saint Michael's Bridge, Saint Michael's Church, and Graslei and Korenlei which constitute an iconic postcard shot of Ghent.
Next major attraction should be Castle of the Counts. Oringinated from the Middle Ages, this well-preserved 10th-century moated castle affords the best panoramic city views and hosts an armory museum and a museum of judicial objects made for cruel punishments not suitable for sensitive viewers but probably seen as a hidden gem of the majority.
Quick casual lunch is always the desirable option if only one day is allocated for seeing one city. Freshly made Belgian fries at Frituur de kraanlei taste much better than those from the cart outside Bell Tower in Bruges; Liège waffle with strawberries, whipped cream and melted dark chocolate at the cafe called Chocolates tastes just as good as, if not better than "waffles on a stick" at Go.fre the previous day.
After a brief stop at Graffiti Alley followed by a 40-minute canal boat tour, it takes around 40 minutes by train to reach the capital, where there is an abundance of the gourmet moules-frites. Worth mentioning is the need to compare prices among restaurants and rely on diners' reviews beforehand.


Unlike Bruges and Ghent, Liège waffles are popular and cheaper. There are plenty along the way from Manneken Pis to Grand Place. One should try at least once a plain version that costs only EUR1 each, as the flavor of waffle itself is very often masked by the various toppings and sauces.
Touring around Brussels on foot is not at all challenging since major attractions are situated close to one another. The most visited one is the Grand Place. Lesser-known ones include Jeanneke Pis and Zinneke Pis intended to form a counterpoint to the famous Manneken Pis. There is really not that much to say about sightseeing in Brussels particularly for second-time visitors. Simply wander around and get lost, or get surprised discovering the unknown in the quest for shelter from rain. EUR10 for a visit to Museum of Erotics and Mythology might sound too much but it is surely worth the money.
One can never have too many waffles on the last day in Belgium. Waffines filled with either chocolate sauce or speculoo spread sold only at Waffle Factory are phenomenal. Other ideas for desserts are Pierre Marcolini's dark chocolate icecream and Neuhaus's chocolate mousse that seem to exist only in Belgium.

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