The best part about travelling Europe is the opportunity to do mini-holidays. Everything is so close by! Well, relatively. But let’s have this discussion again once you’ve taken a 24-hour-sleeper train from Jaisalmer to Varanasi.
A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to visit a travel friend in Amsterdam, and as I was snooping around the map, I relised Belgium isn’t too far away. And one of my firends just happened to be doing a student exchange in Ghent! So, I hopped on a Flixbus and dashed over the border to the land of thrice-fried fries, sugar-topped waffles and luxury chocolate. And BEER. Let’s not forget the beer. (Because my hangover head sure won’t.)
I managed to spend one day in Ghent and another one in Bruges. Since most of my activities were focused around eating waffles and trying not to get my feet wet, I would’ve felt like a cheat writing a guide, so instead you get a photodiary. Fun! And there’s a video at the end of the post. Double fun!
Ghent. Gent? Gand? What.
While the city is called Ghent in English, the Dutch/German spelling Gent is also very much used. The French variation Gand is also seen sometimes. Ghent is located on the Flemish area of Belgium, and the language spoken is Dutch. (Although you will easily get by with just English.)
Being the street art nerd that I am, I wanted to check out the Graffiti Alley in Ghent. While the art is mostly comprised of colourful tags and less of cool pictures, it’s still a nice place to check out while you’re in the centre.
One of my ultimate favourite things to do in a new city is to get high – wait, no, let me rephrase that! One of my favourite things to do is find the highest place I can climb and check out the bird’s eye view over the city. At 91 metres, the belfry of Ghent is the tallest belfry in Belgium. PLUS you get to visit a UNESCO Heritage Site so that’s cool!
Fun fact: The golden dragon on top of the belfry is a symbol of the city’s freedom, so much so that they even named a delicious dark beer after it – Gulden Draak. People of Bruges claim that the dragon was stolen from them, but people of Ghent seem to think that’s just crazy talk. I kind of want to believe the Ghent side of the story. I mean, if there is a goddamn dragon guarding a city, who looks at it and goes, ‘oh boy we should totally go steal that’??
Oh and guess what? There is a freaking castle in the middle of the city! Granted, Gravensteen is not the most exciting castle I’ve seen in my life but still – dragons, castles and medieval houses, how is this not a hotspot for Game of Thrones spin-offs already?
And since no visit to Belgium would be complete without a pint, head to Dulle Griet for a giant beer. To get the impressively tall 1,2 litre glass, they require you to give one of your shoes as a deposit, which is then hoisted to the ceiling in a little basket. Because why not.
Bruges – or Brugge. Seriousy, we need to have a talk about all these names.
Only a 30-minute train ride from Ghent, Bruges makes sense as a day trip destination. The “Venice of the North” gets a bad rep for crowds, but try visiting way off-season and you’ll have the streets basically to yourself.
The city of Bruges was as much of a protagonist in the 2008 film In Bruges as Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson were. While it has been included in many films, novels and stories, for me it was exciting because one of my favourite books, Cloud Atlas, is partly set in the city.
Fun fact: Gotye is actually from Bruges! Might be that the name doesn’t ring any bells. You could say he is… somebody that you used to know.
Second fun fact: Austin Powers’ enemy Dr. No was raised in Bruges.
Guess what? There is also a belfry in Bruges! Of course I had to climb it. The bells on top play a melody every quarter hour, and although admission is pricey (ten euros to climb some tower? With no student discounts?? Bastards), it was cool to see the town from high up. And there are a few bell facts along the climb if that floats your goat.
Apparently there is a dog that likes to hang out at the window by this bridge, but unfortunately I didn’t spot him. Sad.
I also skipped the De Halve Maan brewery which is supposed to be nice because who would’ve thought that one beer could give you a hangover?? (‘1,2 litres of beer is the equivalent of four beers’, whispers a little voice of mathematics on the back of my mind.)
I got sick in the Belgian rain, spent way too much money on waffles (‘not enough’, says that little voice again), and I had to travel for 22 hours to get home from Bruges, but I loved my time in Belgium. (In fact, I’m looking into an opportunity to perhaps move there in the autumn… But more on that later, maybe.) I feel like there is still beer to be drunken, waffles to be eaten, and houses to be photographed, and there is no way that two days in a country could serve to give a comprehensive idea of it. So, watch out Belgium – I’m coming back, and I’m coming back hungry!
Check out everything I got up to and watch the video below!
(I just realised it looks like I’m falling asleep at the beginning of the video. I can assure you, I was only checking Google Maps to see when we’d cross the border. That little smile there is a ‘DAMN YEAH BELGIUM’.)
Have you ever visited Belgium and if so, what was your favourite place there? Or would you like to visit Belgium?