Charlie and I are doing some traveling this summer and we thought we would share some of our experiences with you. This was for me my longest adventure away from family. However, I think, I handled it well because of FaceTime.Hei or Halloo from Belgium! Our first stop was Brussels, the capital of Belgium, the home of NATO, home of the 1958 World’s Fair and the seat of EU. It is a friendly Flemish/French with a helpful command of American English mix of a city with lots of sights to explore. It was here in 2016 that they suffered a terrorist attacks at the airport and in the Metro. However they have remained strong and determined radiating a joie de vivie attitude.
Most of the activity is in Lower Town, Upper Town and Grand Place (a good place to get your bearings). We did not study our map beforehand so our only mistake here was that our hotel, Sheraton FOUR POINTS, although a very lovely, modern, pleasant and accommodating comfortable hotel, was a little far from there and most of the activity, so Taxi was necessary but never a problem. There is no lack of great places to eat (I have to admit that I ate mussels 3 times here and enjoyed every one of them and I suggest Café Leon, although touristy, the food is excellent and the service is pleasant and quite fast considering the size. It has been in existence for over 100 years so that must tell you something or of beautiful Cathedrals! Of course you will want to walk around Grand Place where you will find a myriad of stores and restaurants. We had dinner there one evening and were entertained and fascinated by the colorful light show reflected on the ancient buildings surrounding the square.
It is in this square that they have the yearly flower show and the entire square becomes a gigantic carpet of live flowers. There are far too many exciting places that we visited to mention and the Little Peeing Boy is still their quaint symbol; so take advantage of Google!
Next we motored by hired car (I highly advise) to Ghent which is about half way between Brussels and Bruges. It is a great walking city with four or five interesting Cathedrals within walking distance of one another and, therefore, this was not an overnight stop for us. Not to miss in Ghent is the breathtaking Van Eych masterpiece Adoration of the Mystic Lamb altarpiece in St. Bavo’s Cathedral.
After taking in the sights we deemed important to us we continued on with the same driver to Bruges. Although small, I don’t want to underestimate the charm of Ghent. Also, it is home to one of Belgium’s largest universities. Flemish residents pronounce the name “hent” while in French it sounds like “gone”. Either way, it should not be missed when traveling to Belgium.
Next, on to Bruges, also called Little Venice because of its many canals.
(Here our driver left us only to return a few days later to take us to the Brussels airport to continue on to Italy.) A boat tour is a must. This was a place where I really enjoyed the architecture, quaint houses and the cobbled stone streets reminded me of old New York. Not to be missed here is the opportunity to climb the bell tower in Market Square; a mere 362 steps and then a spectacular 360º view.
Indulge in some of the finest Belgium chocolate (We purchased chocolate at The Chocolate Shop on Hudenvettersplein 13 (for munching) and Depla Chocolatier on Eekhoutstraat 27 where they packaged it for us to take back home), the lightest waffles even waffles on a stick dipped in chocolate and ladened with sprinkles, learn about lace and, again, eat mussels.
Also visit the Church of Our Lady to see Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child, his only carving outside of Italy and Basilica of the Holy Blood which according to Tradition a relic of Christ’s blood was brought to Bruges in 1150 after the Second Crusade.
Not to miss here, also, is dinner at Assiette Blanche and a visit to Cuvee Bar a Vin owned by Ivo and Hilde Bulcke-Rigolle. Here you can taste a few wines from their vast collection and then sit outside and enjoy your favorite. My favorite place for lunch was at Cambrinus where although considered a Pub, the food was Finnish and delicious and the beer was cold. (While I think of it, a very nice place for breakfast is Le Pain Quotidien.)
There is so much to see in this quaint little city and there are boat tours, horse and carriage tours (the horses look healthy, well fed and happy, which makes me happy enough to enjoy a carriage ride.)) and bike tours.
Take your pick. As you are walking around indulge in the many varieties of waffles and artiginan ice cream and sample some chocolate, lots of chocolate and gelato. You’ll walk it off. That day in Bruge my Fit-bit told me I had put in a little more than 10,000 foot steps.
Our Hotel was the extremely conveniently located Crowne Plaza. Unexpectedly here, after checking in, we learned that the Hotel built in 1992 (although seemed to me to be quite newer) sits atop the ruins of the towns oldest structure, a fort, which was later converted to St. Donatian’s Church in 950. If you ask at the front desk for permission, they will show you how to access the ruins. The Hotel was only allowed to be built at this location with the condition being that the ruins would remain accessible to visitors.
We did not plan enough time in Belgium so I would like to come back to visit Antwerp, Flanders Fields and maybe hop over to Luxembourg. However, we thoroughly enjoyed and were pleasantly surprised by Belgium. I have only written a thimble full of info here. If we can answer any questions just stop in the Market and ask Charlie. Next on to Italy. But more about that later.
PS: Mussels in Brussels (I like the way that sounds and just rolls off) are called moules and are everywhere in all of Belgium and are delicious. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that they always come with a side of Friete or frieten.
Hyvasti, Kunnes Palaamme
(Goodbye Until We Return)