Once again I am writing a blog post in the train. We are heading to Cologne from Brussels. Since it is a high speed train we have assigned seats and there was a bit of mix up because someone else had taken one of our seats. It appears Dennis and I bought the tickets for 19th of JULY instead of 19th of JUNE (the controllers must have laughed very hard at 2 stupid Canadians). At least we were offered to buy a NEW ticket at a slightly higher price instead of paying a fine and our original tickets are reimbursable… Back to the subject; Belgium.
The original plan of visiting Belgium consisted of visiting Brussels… However, some people told us smaller Belgium cities were well worth a visit. 20E train ticket took us from Amsterdam to Antwerp or Antwerpen as they say.
Once out of the train we headed to meet Randi who we met through CS (read more about CouchSurfing here).We took a tram but weren’t sure where to buy the tickets so we didn’t. Apparently if you get caught in a tram without a ticket you’ll have to pay a fine of 75E or so, we got lucky. As we were told later, the ticket control happens on very rare occasion – I guess this shows that Belgians are honest.
We met Randi and her family and we were invited to their friends’ BBQ the same night and so we went. People were very welcoming and friendly, the food was amazing, all in all our first night in Belgium was very memorable.
The next day Randi and her boyfriend Gregory took us around town. Antwerp is a small yet very charming city with lots of shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs, historic building, a beatiful cathedral and few very interesting monuments ans statues.
After supper at home we went back to the center to try some Belgian beers. At first I was surprised that a lot of women drank beer since in Canada ladies usually prefer cocktails but when I tried Belgian beer I understood it all. You see, Belgium is known for its beer and they produces so many kinds and varieties of different tasting brews that every single person would be able to find at least one beer they like. Needless to say, I liked them all.
The next day Randi and Gregory were leaving to Latvia so Dennis and I decided to move on to Ghent and Bruges. Our plan was to see both towns in one day and we’d have leave Antwerp rather early. Of course we overslept and when we finally woke up we realized it was impossible to visit both that same day.
Gregory gave us a train pass to faciliate our traveling. Train ticket prices vary quite a bit in Belgim and Gregory gave us a 10 ticket pack (with 5 tickets still unused). The 10 pack usually costs 50E, so 5E per trip. Buying individual tickets at a train station normally costs from 6E to 15E so if you are planing on taking a lot of trains in Belgium – head for the 10 ticket pack.
We finally arrived to Ghent at 4pm or so and went looking for some food. I was suppose to meet Mihai, a friend of mine (whom I first met when I visited Bucharest) but as he was at work until 7pm, Dennis and I had a lot of time to kill. Ghent is another relatively small city however, it was very different from Antwerp. We found one of the main squares, had some cold beers while sitting on the bench and just enjoying life. Europe felt good.
Later on we decided to see the town a little more so we walked towards cathedrals, as we noticed usually where there is a cathedral – there is the city center. We were right. The whole historic center of Ghent seemed to be under construction and restoration. While admiring the old Architecture we noticed a huge screen on which a football match was broadcasted. People were sitting on the ground, drinking beer and cheering, once again, Europe felt good. This is something that is hard to explain and as they say one image is worth 1000 words… I guess one video is worth 1000 images? And those who visit Alex Traveling Facebook page have seen the video.
We finally met Mihai, took our luggages to his flat and went out to have a few beers. Of course when East Europeans meet, it never stops at just “few” beers. The drinks kept on coming, we kept on talking to people and eventually it was the closing time. Instead of going home we went on to another bar; Peanuts. It seemed like a pretty popular place to go in Ghent; full of people drinking, dancing, having fun… Eventually, somehow, we got home and as you can imagine the next day none of us was in the mood to do anything, so we had a lazy day, staying at home and planning the rest of our Euro trip. Unfortunately Mihai couldn’t have a lazy day and spend his day at work.
When Mihai came back we cooked some “Patates a l’ail”, had supper and went out to see the city, or at least some parts of it. Ghent at night looked very nice and a lot of people were out, terraces were very lively and people seemed to have fun. We walked around the center, had a drink on one of the terraces (no one felt like repeating the previous night’s experience) so we took it slowly. We were surprised to see “Amsterdam’s Red Windows” in Ghent… Not many people know, just like in The Netherlands, prostitution is legal in Belgium. And just as in The Netherlands, Belgians try to centralize such activities to one small part of the town – hence the red district.
Thursday we left Ghent and headed to Bruges. Not because we have seen the movie but because a few people referred to it as “Venice of the North”. I have never been to Venice so I can’t compare however, we were more than glad that we decided to visit it. Bruges is very calm and very beautiful. Narrow streets with old houses where one car can hardly pass add to the charm of the city. The main square was surprisingly full of people. Mostly tourists, of course. Unfortunately Bruges is pretty small and could be visited in a few hours, so a few hours later we were on our way to Brussels.
Brussels is another story and it deserves its own post, which I will write as soon as I get the chance. For now, keep in mind; Belgium is not just Brussels, Belgium is Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges and many other beautiful cities. When you visit this country, make sure to visit at least a few cities which are all different and charming in their own ways.