In Bruges (…and Torhout and Ghent and Brussels) – Part Two

On Saturday 17th November the gang and I headed to Ghent. It didn’t know much about the city before we went, other than the fact that it’s where Caitlin goes to university and that she loves it. By the end of the day, I loved it there too.

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Had to include this pic I took at the station – of course they sell waffels in Belgian vending machines!

Not only is it one of the most picturesque cities I’ve been to, but it also had a great variety of quirky little shops, cafes and restaurants. It was more of a student city than Bruges had been and – even with most of the students at home for the weekend – somehow more lively. I could definitely see myself living there at some point!

We really did eat well that day. We filled our hungry tummies with delightfully warm sandwiches, tried some ‘Cuberdons’ or ‘Gentse neuzen’ (some gelatinous Belgian sweets), as well as a scrumptious array of sweet delicacies from a quaint little – but very busy – bakery. And to top it all off, we ate dinner at what appeared to be an extremely popular restaurant called De Kastart. Their pasta sauce is so notoriously tasty that people queue up just to take a pot of it home to pour over their own pasta!

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Gentse neuzen

cupacakes cupcakeshopWe did do things other than eating, of course. We wandered, took photos and visited various churches and other landmarks. There was also some lovely vintage and retro-style shops about but unfortunately the clothes were too expensive for me to make a purchase this time. My favourite shop was called ‘Zoot’, so check it out if you’re ever in Ghent.

ghentboatflowersghentbridgecatherdralharpmanghentchurchweinghenttouristscanalghentHaving previously said that Bruges was like a fairytale city, I would be so bold as to say that Ghent is even more so, especially at night. But don’t just take my word for it, have a look for yourself:

Ghent bridge, GentGent bridge, GhentSadly, we had to depart from this glorious city but our happiness was revived when we returned to Caitlin’s home, as an evening snack of ‘piknikken’, Dumon chocolates and warm drinks awaited us. It was like we were staying in a 5* hotel!

The next morning we had to say our final goodbyes to Caitlin’s family and to Torhout before hopping on the train to Brussels. Since we had to travel all the way back to Nijmegen that evening, we didn’t have all that long to spend there but we had just enough time to get a good feel for the place and, of course, sample another Belgian waffel.

waffelterhiwaffelDespite the limited time (and the abysmal weather), we managed to see quite a lot. We began with some wandering, which lead us to the Royal Palace. It was a fine thing to look at but I didn’t manage to get a picture – it was too huge to fit in my lens!

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This guy was working the Sherlock Holmes look!

Brussels, Belgium black and whiteWe shuffled along and had a look inside a beautiful church but left rather quickly as a service had just started. We, quite luckily, stumbled upon an antiques flea market just outside the church and couldn’t resist a browse. I finally got to speak some French, asking one of the sellers about a vintage handbag that was just divine, although it appears that anything more than that just comes out in Dutch or English. I do hope it all comes flooding back when I move to France!

Within the space of about 10 minutes, our little group managed to split up and lose the other half. To make matters worse, our Dutch phones weren’t working because we were in another country. We soon found each other once again and continued on our merry way.

Our next stop was at the statue of the little weeing man that you’re supposed to see when you go to Brussels – the ‘Manneken Pis’. I had been unaware of this little fellow until the previous evening so needless to say I wasn’t as excited as some of the other people there, nor did I know anything about it. I have since read that the statue is dressed in a costume several times a week and that his wardrobe consists of a few hundred different outfits. I am now very disappointed I didn’t get to see him all dressed up!

Manneken Pis, Brusells, Belgium statueMoving on from public urination, we soon encountered a much less vulgar statue at the entrace of the Grand Place. It depicts Everard ‘t Serclaes and it is supposed to bring you good luck if you rub it. You can never have enough good fortune so I took my time with that thing.statue, Grand Place, Brussels, BelgiumI was, however, unaware of what was to come. I had never seen the Grand Place before – not in pictures and not in real life – so it came as a great surprise to me just how magnificently resplendent it was. The guilded buildings were so ornate and radiant, they practically glistened in the sunlight. I couldn’t believe it had taken me this long to see this square. I did try to take a few photographs of it but they just came out as feeble attempts at capturing its beauty. Also, my lens could barely fit a whole building into one frame. I managed to get a snap of the corner of the square as we were walking away from it, but you really have to go and see it for yourself to get the real effect.

brusselssqaureA trip to Brussels is naturally not complete without seeing something to do with Tintin (or ‘Kuifje’, in Dutch). Thus, when we saw ‘La Boutique Tintin’, we just had to have a look round.

laboutiquetintintintinBut time was ticking on and we wanted to have a quick drink and look round the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral before we left. Despite the beauty of the place, I was somewhat preoccupied since I had managed to lose my hat between the Tintin shop and the cathedral. I didn’t end up finding it so I hope it’s having a lovely time in Brussels without me!

St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral Brussels, BelgiumcatherdralstepsBut soon it was time to go back home to Nijmegen. I couldn’t believe our trip to Belgium was over, but we definitely packed a lot in. We even had to change trains in Antwerp and so managed to see the inside of the exquisite station and ventured outside a little whilst in search of a post box. I also got to try my first brie and honey sandwich, thanks to Caitlin, and I have not looked back since. All in all, I had a fabulous time and I think everyone else did too. I even enjoyed the train journey because the views that followed us all the way home were so brilliant. A wonderful end to a wonderful trip.

Antwerp Station Belgium

In Antwerp Station

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Spooky mist…

sunset train belgium

A Terrible Halloween Party and Other Stories

After Cologne, some more things happened.

Layton and I threw a Halloween party a few days before Halloween. Although our decorations were pretty phenomenal (not to blow our own trumpets), we both agreed that it was the worst party in the history of parties and concluded that we should never work together on party-planning ever again. Ever.

tvcobweb pumpkinsThe attendees did really make an effort with their costumes though and looked scarier than Marilyn Manson in the morning. Others just looked pretty darn good!

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Layton’s invention: Pin the Eye on the Zombie

vampiressterhi katyshannon heherachmatt redridinghoodromanZombie Little Red Riding Hood (who ate her own Grandmother) and a sexy Roman!

On actual Halloween, we went on a big bar crawl in the centre of Nijmegen. I got to dress up and pretend I was Hermione Granger (or ‘Hermelien Griffel’ in Dutch) for the evening, which was pretty fun. I felt studious and yet brave: a true Gryffindor! My costume was pretty easy as it was mostly items I already possessed (apart from the tie), but finding a stick to use as a wand proved to be much more difficult than I had expected. I had to pull over to the side of the cycle path on my way home earlier in the day as I finally saw the perfect one, poking out from some leaves. DEQ (Daily Excitement Quota): REACHED.

Some more lovely things happened as well. For example, Caitlin and I went on a walk in the autumn leaves.

autumnwonderlandautumnleavesLayton, Shannon and I went for lunch at Cafe de Opera (I think that’s the one) and the food was so scrumptious! I’ll have to double check on the name, but if you are ever in Nijmegen then I highly recommend this place. Their food is delcious, it has a ‘gezellig’ atmosphere, and it’s even got a great range of drinks if you’re just going for an evening swig. And I promise you, I do not work for them!

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Layton tried an Uitsmijter

coolplaceOh, and Caitlin had some friends visiting from Belgium and cooked for the 5,000. Seriously, I don’t know how she managed!

And now finally we get onto the part about our trip to Rotterdam. Summary of the day: we went, we saw, we went back home. Seriously, if I wanted to be concise, now would be the easiest time for me to do so…

No, no, no. I’m being way too harsh on Rotterdam! It is a really interesting city but I was rather tired that day, the weather was dismal which, in turn, made the city seem rather gloomy. It definitely has its good points.

We began our time in Rotterdam trying to find our way from the train station to the centre of the city. As Terhi navigated our way through the streets, I got a chance to take in my surroundings. I had been told by many people that Rotterdam is “de lelijkste stad van Nederland” (the ugliest city in the Netherlands) and I could definitely see why. It’s so different to all the other Dutch cities and towns you visit. The quaint little houses and idyllic scenes are gone and replaced by looming skyscrapers and giant slabs of concrete that enevlope you and cause you to lose all sense of where you are at any given time.

Not that I ever know where I am. That’s what Terhi’s for!

terhiumbrellaDespite the architecture being such a huge change from everything else I’ve seen in the Netherlands, and despite that fact that it involved a lot of the colour grey, I actually grew to like it by the end of the day – especially in the dark (and no, that is not a joke about how I like it better when I can’t see it. It’s just nice when it’s all lit up!)

Anywho, once Terhi, Caroline, Elisa and I found our way into the city, we jumped right into being tourists. We stumbled across a little market so we wandered round there for a while. We later saw a statue of Erasmus (because he was from Rotterdam, don’tcha know?!) and then went to take a look round the famous Cube Houses. They looked pretty spectacular from the outside so we chose to continue our investigation into their cubic nature by paying a small entrance fee and observing the inside. The investigation lasted a fair amount of time as we found a comfy sofa on the top story, where we managed to hide from the rain.

rotters records cubehousesOur next port of call was the port (GET IT?). It’s the largest one in Europe so we thought we’d be missing out if we didn’t. We battled the wind and rain to get there, but we made it. It was pretty impressive and we got to see the Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge).

doublebrolly infrontofharbour rotterdamharbour_edited-1 After walking along the port, the sound of the wind began to resemble the sound of our rumbling tummies so we decided lunch was in order. Unfortunately, it took us a long time to find somewhere we wanted to eat and which wasn’t too expensive. We finally found a bagels and burgers place where both the food and the decor were divine. I would definitely go back there.

Once we had filled our stomachs and regained our adventurous spirits, we hit the pavement once again. We soon discovered that Rotterdam has a lot of shops. A lot of really good shops. And that pretty much sorted out our plans for the rest of the afternoon.

A few hours later we hit up La Place for a quick caffeine kick, and then it was off to the station.

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The view out the window of La Place 

All in all, Rotterdam seemed – on the surface – like a very different, but very nice Dutch city. However, we didn’t really get to see all the much of it, and I felt like we just managed to scratch the surface. If anyone reading this has been to, or even lives in Rotterdam, then please let me know some of the places we should have visited and perhaps I can try to be a little more cultured on my next visit!