If there’s one thing you should know about me (if you don’t already), it’s that I love a challenge, be it a career, a boy or a destination itinerary.
There are so many different ways to travel, and whilst travelling the world shouldn’t become just a checklist of barely touching down in a city before ticking it off, sometimes dipping your toes into a fast paced adventure can be exhilarating.
This was ‘one of those’ adventures.
So my 3 days in Belgium sandwiched two days exploring Brussels with a day uncovering the nearby cities of Bruges and Ghent and I LOVED IT!
My day in Bruges and Ghent begun with a very early start, 6.15am infact, at which point my eyes were putting up some serious resistance to the daylight that was creeping in through the translucent curtains draping over my window. But with the sudden realisation that a full breakfast spread was waiting for me as part of my stay at The Mercure Hotel I soon found the bounce back in my step…
The combination of fresh air and warm, melted Belgian chocolate waffles had me a sudden rush of energy as I walked the 3 minute distance that followed to Brussels Midi Station.
With zero confidence that I was purchasing the right ticket, and noone there to reassure me, I headed away from the machines to the assisted ticket counters where they spoke wonderful English and sorted me out.
My day required 3 tickets…
BRUXXELLES MIDI – BRUGGE (56 MIN DIRECT) $6
BRUGGE – GENT (30MIN DIRECT) $6
GENT – BRUXXELLES MIDI (30MIN DIRECT) $6
So for the day of travel it cost me $18/£14, which was without a student card or railcard (UK saver card), a total bargain when you compare it to the likes of UK transport prices!
The trains were clean, spacious, very very frequent on all of the above routes, and punctual – I directed myself solo around Belgium with ease.
One thing I like to do when I’m travelling is navigate around (or at least try to) without the use of my phone. When outside of the UK I don’t like to justify the cost of data roaming and so self navigation is even more appealing. We have become so heavily dependant on technology in an overwhelming percentage of our life, to the point that half the time we totally miss what’s going on around us.
I knew my day was going to be fast paced and I didn’t want to miss a single bit through my phone, so as I walked out of Brugge station, I took a judgement as to which direction I thought the city centre was. I backed it up with a guess at translating the road signs and, to my luck, a 10 minute walk had me in the centre of Bruges.
A sense of both achievement and wonder.
Along the way I rightly translated a few more signs and stopped off at the famous Minnewater Lake (The Lake Of Love) which one of you guys wonderfully recommended to me on Instagram.
The lake and it’s surroundings were pretty cloudy and desolate when I arrived, but even so it was a beautiful space for reflection and plenty a friendly runner greeted me as they passed.
As I continued on into the centre from the lake, I passed under castle like arches and over cobbled bridged waterways. The adrenalin of adventure was picking up it’s pulse through my veins as I was warmly welcomed by Bruges beauty…
One of my favourite things about Europe is the diversity of character between the cities in such a small distance.
Call me a tourist or call me predictable but prior to any trip I like to research (and note) the iconic photos taken in each city along with the ‘must do’s’. Capturing some of those signature experiences/spots as well as a little time to get myself lost, is the perfect combination for me.
I headed first to seek that iconic row of colourful houses that lies in the Main Square. By the time I arrived it was still only 9am and so I had the whole square to myself to take photos and admire the architecture.
Just like in Copenhagen, the colourful houses stole my attention and I instantly begun dreaming through the big sash windows that accommodated the front of the buildings about my dream apartment. Raw oak flooring, white walls filled with beautiful quotes,fairy lights adoring the skirting boards, and a mattress with a collection of cosy vintage throws piled on top. One day…
On the opposite side of the square I found the famous Belfort tower which stands at 83 metres tall and hosts 43 melodious bells which rung during my ascent up the 366 steps to the top of the tower. It was a pretty demanding climb but, for those who wished, it allowed for you to stop off along the way and discover the old treasury and the history of this iconic building.
I love ascending towers, mountains or buildings because it provides an element of exercise to my day and you are additionally rewarded with an incredible perspective over a city – win win.
Top tip: TO STAY ACTIVE WHEN TRAVELLING WHEN TIME DOESN’T ALLOW FOR THE GYM, CHOOSE THE STEPS OR A FEW ACTIVE ADVENTURES TO COMBINE EXERCISE AND DISCOVERY.
For my first solo adventure, so far, I was doing absolutely fine. When I reached the 360 pano over Bruges from the top of The Belfry I got talking to a Man and his wife who then kept me company the whole way down. They were visiting for the day also as part of a European trip from Canada, to celebrate their 30th Wedding anniversary. After listening to his (i didn’t catch his name!) recent adventure on Vancouver Island, Canada, by the time i reached the bottom I had a firmly cemented addition to my bucket list and a grand smile on my face.
A simple bit of human interaction and an absence of 3G can bring incredible freedom.
One thing that made these 3 cities in 3 days a lot easier (on my stomach) was the overlapping of the ‘must try’ delicacies.
Belgium as a whole is famous for its Waffles, Chocolate, Beer, Frites and Mussels so, as much as I happily would have, I didn’t need to try them ALL in each city – cutting each ‘to do’ list slightly.
One thing I did insist on though was a Hot Chocolate shop that had cropped up a few times in my online research of Bruges.
Everyone in Bruges seemed to know this place, making my self-navigation a lot easier. Simply after a 5 minute walk through the beautiful lanes of Bruges, I arrived at The Old Chocolate House.
The smell of cocoa goodness hit me like a wave as the owner of the shop opened the door and welcomed me in. Whether you want to buy chocolate, browse chocolate, take away a hot chocolate or dine in and indulge – you can do all of the above here.
I, of course, chose the dine in and indulge option and, again, my early start served me well…
I had the choice of all the seats in the house and so in my cosy little corner by the stained glass windows and the fire place, i sat with my solely chocolate covered menu and melted over the options.
Now, seriously, i need your attention.
THIS was THE best hot chocolate I have EVER had.
Probably because Belgian chocolate is like, the best chocolate going, but also because you can tailor the taste to your exact taste buds. The waiter spoke me through the wide variety of different beans on offer, and all the specials available before I settled on a mix of dark and milk chocolate alongside a selection of mini chocolate treats. (Coming second and definitely worth noting was salted caramel hot chocolate – yes way)
A ridiculously pleasing large soup bowl mug was settled before me, alongside an edible chocolate pot filled with milk and dark chocolate drops and a super cute mini whisk.
So not only was the final product OUT OF THIS WORLD, the construction of it as the drops melted into the milky bliss was super fun…
…and when the hot chocolate reaches your acquired taste but theres left over chocolate?
I can guarantee it won’t last long.
Every piece in the selection of chocolate and sweet treats that came on the tiered stand deserves a mention of it’s own, but i’m getting serious chocolate cravings writing this so i’m going to save you the torment too.
My two favourites however were the mini Belgian mousse and the brownie.
I got a bit distracted (understandably) and lost track of time whilst being a piggy, so I settled the bill ($8) and got my wander pants back on. I followed the nearby canal admiring the hotels, houses and cafes that hung over it.
Time for a canal cruise…
I stopped beside Hotel Duc De Bourgogne (just off of Rozenhoedkaai) where some little boats were departing and touring the canals. Not one to ever miss out, I used the 10 minute interval between boats to capture some shots before hopping on for a cruise of my own.
The boat ride took us as far we could in half an hour with the captain translating the history of our surroundings into both French and English.
The information was limited and very scripted but for $8 I didn’t mind – I really enjoyed the fresh air and new perspective over this beautiful city.
Feeling totally fulfilled by my time here in beautiful Bruges (even though i’m sure i missed LOADS), the sun began to peak through the clouds and i retraced my steps back to the station where I hopped on the just-short-of-half-an-hour train to Ghent.
Having already been up and actively exploring for 8 hours at this point, added to the fact I was most likely experiencing a sugar crash, I’ll admit I didn’t give Ghent the time it deserved.
Unlike with Bruges, I walked out of the Saint-Peters train station and waited for intuition to give me a sense of direction to the town centre… but nothing came. After 10 minutes of walking in circles my heart beat was increasing and I felt totally lost.
It’s moments like these that usually, with the company of another, you would laugh and walk confidently in the wrong direction. But with the traffic, the pace of people exiting the station around me and the fact i was REAL tired… I was completely thrown.
Luckily for us English, our language is a common ground with many Belgians and the lovely fruit stand owner pointed me in the direction of the tram ticket office and advised the 10 minute ride over the 35 minute walk.
Phew! My legs were really not in favour of the hour round hike.
To find the centre of Ghent from the train station:
– Turn right out of the station
– Head to Plat. 1 (Kovenmarkt)
– Grab a day ticket for the tram $6 (as many trips as you want)
– Hop on the next tram!
I wandered aimlessly from the bus stop around the bustling university town that felt a lot more youthful and commercial on first impressions.
There were an abundance of highstreet shops and chocolate havens, both of which I had little interest in by this point and so I dipped into EXKi for a yummy soup and sat by the River Leie with it.
As I continued to wander, I caught sight of a castle and remembered some of your guys comments on Instagram about ‘the castle in the city’, which I soon found to be it – the Gravensteen.
It’s a gorgeous asset to the already filled centre, again setting Ghent apart from both Brussels and Bruges.
I didn’t go into the Castle museum or up to the top for the 360 view over Bruges, but I wandered through the gates and around the castle in the historical centre where there is too The Hotel Gravensteen. Should you be interested in the Castle and it’s offerings you can see here for a first hand experience.
It was at this point that the dark cloud descended upon us and the heavens opened, marking the end of my adventure in Ghent.
In hindsight, the 2 cities of Bruges and Ghent were definitely do-able in one day due to the ease and close proximity, but when exploring both extensively on foot and getting up so early, tiredness most definitely ruled in my case.
An over night stay in one of the cities would have been PERFECT for me and would have allowed me to explore both to a larger extent.
But we all know what that means… I’LL BE BACK.
Antwerp too, i’ll be back for you!
Have you been to Belgium?
What did you think? What did you get up to?
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