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…

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

I thought I’d split this post into two parts seeing as I’ll be telling you about a 4 day trip, and my posts are long enough when I write about something that happened in less than 24 hours!

As you may be able to guess from the title, the trip we took was to Belgium. We managed to visit so many places and see so many things with ease since we always had our free tour guide with us: Caitlin. Yes, lucky for us, Caitlin is both our friend and she’s Belgian. What a great combination.

On Thursday evening (15th November), we began our long journey to Bruges. The travelling wasn’t that bad because we all had things to keep us occupied. Layton and I, for instance – having been inspired by one of the more old-fashioned trains we had to take – decided to sort everyone into their various Hogwarts houses: a very worthwhile way to pass the time.

Nijmegen trainOnce in Bruges, Caitlin’s mother met us at the station and drove us to Torhout, a nearby town where Caitlin’s family live. Upon arrival, we were met by the whole family, and a delicious meal of homemade Vlaamse Frites – perfect! Caitlin’s family were so kind to us and generous too. I’m amazed they managed to put up with us for so many days! But they did and I definitely felt very lucky that we got to meet and stay with them.

Friday morning was spent vying for the bathroom and eating a delicious breakfast, before heading out to Bruges. I’d heard so much about it already and I was not disappointed. It was as though I had stepped into a fairytale, except that in this fairytale there was scaffolding around the square in preperation for the Christmas market, and you have to pay 50c to go to the toilet. Despite those two things though, it was pretty magical, and made even more so due to the fact that many a window was adorned with Christmas decorations and the like.

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Even the sandwiches were magical!

We whiled away the day looking around the city, taking in the historical sights and the ornate architecture, as well as trying some of the local Belgian delicacies. In other words, chocolate and waffels! When in Rome (or Belgium), eh?

friendandtourguidelookingatpostcardslacemapblackandwhitedifcrazydumon morechocbootsnongreenchoc laytonchoccarealbelgianwaffel

Of course, as is necessary when one visits any new town or city, some shopping did take place. We then rounded off our time in Bruges with a delicious meal in a hipster-chic sort of restaurant and then alas, before we knew it, it was time to leave.

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The night, however, was still young (unlike Bruges). Back in Torhout we went for a few drinks in a local cafe and met up with some of Caitlin’s lovely friends. ‘Twas a jolly eventide before we all returned home and retired to bed due to an unfortunate yet necessary early start on the morrow.

…I don’t know why I decided to write the last part like that…just something about Bruges giving me that old-timey feel, I suppose.

Until next time, good sir/madam!