An Exploration of Belgium’s Big Four – Brussels, Ghent, Bruges & Antwerp
Markt, Bruges, western Flanders, Belgium. January 16, 2016
Belgium doesn’t get a very good rap. It’s known for its medieval old towns, chocolate, waffles, beer, Tintin, Flemish Renaissance architecture, tolerance, and as the international headquarters of the European Union and NATO. Quite the package for such a small country, one squeezed in between France, Germany and the Netherlands & one divided into 2 distinctive multilingual regions: Dutch-speaking Flanders to the north and French-speaking Wallonia to the south. But it still has a reputation as being dull. Boring even. It can’t be that bad. Roughguides claims it to be perhaps the world’s most ‘misunderstood’ nation. VisitBelgium.com claims it to be the ‘hip European experience you’ve been looking for’ (but they would say that, wouldn’t they?), citing its ‘timeless Gothic & Art Nouveau architecture & majestic castles of the green countryside.’ So there. How’s that boring?
Archived Belgium Entries Posted From The Road (In Chronological Order)
– UNESCO commenting on La Grand-Place, Brussels
I’ve been to Brussels before. Indeed, I’ve even worked here in the past, albeit only for a few days and so long ago (it was in 1999) that I scarcely remember anything about the city. I had a look around tonight but I’ll get a proper look tomorrow at the parts of the city I’ve earmarked for exploration; I haven’t time to see it all. Belgium may be one of the smallest countries in Europe but its misunderstood capital is a bit of a spread-out beast. And not a boring one either.
UPDATE || I did get a proper look around. See more destination photography & insights from Brussels as posted in the entry Brussels – The Underappreciated Belgian Capital.
I left Ghent earlier today, arriving in Bruges. That was some 24 hours after leaving Brussels to arrive in Ghent, all three locations a quick, smooth & economical 30-minute train ride apart. The Belgian cities are changing fast but the weather isn’t; it has been non-stop miserable since I arrived in the country a few days ago. I’d read that climatically Belgium this time of year is a tad depressing but gosh, the conditions of the last few days make me yearn for the Irish January sun. Yes, I did just type that. Apart from being constantly wet, I’m loving the medieval architectural overload that Belgian Flanders has treated me to thus far. Medieval Belgium probably reaches its zenith here in Bruges, somewhere, unlike Brussels & Ghent before it, that is getting two nights of dMb’s time – after all, Bruges is the reason I’m in Belgium. More to come from In Bruges (sorry, I couldn’t help it) in due course but for now here’s a trio of pictures captured today while dodging heavy hail showers in Ghent.
UNESCO commenting on the Belfries of Belgium and France
Bruges is one of Europe’s most beguiling cities. Yes, it is a tad fake & more than a bit touristy but the so-called Venice of the North will keep even the most hardened of travellers content for a day at least. It did me.
Bruges is made for wandering and wander is what I did today. And for the most part it was a glorious day for it – the clouds came to spoil the party every now and then. It meant there was plenty of water around, and not just in the city’s canals.
Just like Ghent, Bruges grew wealthy on the back of cloth trading. It has had its up & downs over the years but today it’s firmly on the up, riding as it is the tourism wave; it does have an industry on the outskirts of the city but the bulk of its earnings these days come from extracting money from the likes of me.
UNESCO commenting on the Historic Centre of Brugge
I’m in Bruges for a few more hours. When I wake in the morning I’ll be off to Netherlands via Antwerp. Where in Netherlands I’ve no idea. I’ll know when I get there.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love rail travel in Europe. Frequent, fast, comfortable and affordable. Today, and after a final Sunday morning & early afternoon parting scoot around the historic centre of Bruges, I boarded a train to Antwerp, stashed my bags in its impressive train station, paid a fleeting visit to the historic centre of the city, and was shortly thereafter on a train to my present location of Delft, via Rotterdam, in Holland. Three cities & trains, two countries, one day & no hassle. Just like that. I love travelling when I’m travelling; I love getting places as well as the places themselves. So today was my kind of day.
Belgium’s second city and the most populous city in Flanders, Antwerp is a fashion hub & the country’s capital of cool. The city, Europe’s second largest port, is famous as the world’s leading diamond centre – 70% of all the world’s diamonds are traded here. It has a long and culturally rich history, including being one of the world’s most important financial centres in the 16th century where traders from all over Europe and Asia sold and bought their goods. While its medieval centre, beautiful in its own right, may not be as historically preserved as say Bruges or Ghent, modern-day trendy, dynamic, cosmopolitan & confident Antwerp still manages to impress with not only the country’s most impressive train station but also its most impressive cathedral.