Belgium Travel Journal: Gent, Bruges, Antwerp, Brussels
15-04-2011 As temperatures for the Easter weekend seem promissing and there are few raindrops and many sunshines in the forecasts, we book three nights in a hotel a week ahead, somewhere halfway between Gent and Brussels, in Aalst. We don't have a real plan for the weekend, but at least we'd like to visit some of the Belgian cities. To avoid the usual traffic around Easter and as we've been working a lot lately we decide to take the Thursday off as well and leave.
21-04-2011 While the rest of the country spends their last day before the long Easter weekend working, we drive four, five hours South. After checking in at our hotel we continue to Ghent. This happens to be a lively student city, where this sunny weather results in full terraces and young people carrying crates of Jupiler to sit down at Graslei and Korenlei.
We're impressed by the large number of beautiful sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings and the nice squares and alleys. For quite some time we stroll through the streets of Ghent and visit some of the oldfashioned shops and beautiful churches. By the end of the afternoon we site down, among local students and other people enjoying the great weather, at Korenlei, nicely in the afternoon sunshine. We end the day on the terrace of a Thai restaurant, where we eat “fly-lice” full of fresh veggies and beef.
22-04-2011 Today we drive past Ghent right after breakfast, to a city barely 50 kilometers further West: Bruges. The center of Bruges is listed as a Unesco World Heritage in it's entirety, so we're very curious. We park the car just outside the center, paying an hourly fee causing jalousy among the Dutch (50 cents an hour, with a maximum of 2,50 a day) and walk into town. First we pass the beguinage, a peaceful oasis so close to the city. Especially the beguinage square is very pretty, with its tall trees in the green grass, surrounded by white little houses at the ancient cobblestone street.
In the Wijngaardstreet we're attracted to the chocolate shops and bakeries. However, it's too hot to take something with us, without all of it melting, so we plan to go shopping before leaving Belgium, at some better time.
Bruges also has many oldfashioned stepgables and beautiful canal houses, but we miss the athmosphere of Ghent. We enjoy the Grote Markt the best. There are tulips blooming in all colors of the rainbow and most of the action takes place here.
Yet we leave just after noon, to drive to Knokke. We'd like to check out the beach, now that we're so close. Because of the unusually warm weather (we can't remember it ever being 25 degrees at Easter) it's packed on the beach, but apparently the water is too cold for swimming, because hardly anyone dares to get in.
23-04-2011 Antwerp is not far from Aalst as well and this morning we drive over there. We park our car on the other side of the Scheldt river and use the subway to get to the Groenplaats in only ten minutes. Antwerpen looks much more vivd to us than Bruges, this is yet another city and not a museum. At the Groenplaats sports games are held, people eat and drink on one of the many terraces and in the Town Hall at the Grote Markt people are getting maries and the horse tram is running to and fro.
Via the Steen castle, the banks of the Scheldt and the diamond district we walk to the beautiful Central Station and we catch a glimpse of the life in the Jewish community. Today's Pesach and large Jewish families are, dressed best, on their way to Shul, or Synagoge.
After taking pictures of the Central Station we allow ourselves som time for Belgian fries. It's crazy what they think is a medium portion here.
After this hearty lunch we get back to our car and drive to the Port of Antwerp. The oldest ports are the nearest, but those are no longer in use. “Het eilandje” (the small island) has been transformed into a modern, trendy neighbourhood and in the vicinity we see some special, oldfashioned cranes. We stop to take photos of these rusty colossus and find out that they've started renovation of these monsters. One of the cranes is already looking posh and shiny, but we prefer the ones that are still looking original.
We continue into the port area and have to detour all the time to avoid open bridges, when another ship passes through a lock. As we're discussing what to do inbetween the umptieth bridge and two detours, we meet two cyclists from Antwerp, who tell us they're on their way to Lillo, a former fortress which has now been swallowed by the Antwerp Ports. We decide to go and have a look in this village ourselves, but as soon as we get there we're a bit surprised about all the fuss about a village like this. We're impressed by the little harbor thoughm where only two boats are moored. It's low tide and the boats are looking crooked a bit forlorn. We return to Antwerp, where we have some food before driving back to Aalst.
24-04-2011 This last day of our minibreak we decide we'd like to see a bit of Brussels. We start with the symbol of the city, some distance from the center: the Atomium. Actually we don't have the idea it's a very impressive sight, but as we turn around the corner and so we're just a hundred metres away from the colossus we're both impressed. In the first place because of the dimensions of the thing, but certainly because of the beautiful, shiny globes as well. This is much better than expected. And the best of it is, that there are parking spaces right at the site of the Atomium, free of charge. So we park our car about twenty metres from the giant structure and take a look from every imaginable angle, before we decide to leave the car here to get to the city using the metro.
The trains of the Brussels metrosystem are old and ugly, but they take us to the city in no time. Just like the Atomium the Grote Markt is a positive surprise. What a gorgeous square this is, with a completely different style from the other three Belgian cities we've seen this weekend. The guildhalls have been decorated with statues and they have bell gables instead of stepped gables. After all these positive experiences from Brussels so far we hope the disappointment most people seem to face by seeing Petit Julien won't be too bad. On our way to this famous tourist attraction we enjoy a Brussels waffle, one with chocolate and one with whipped cream, but even this sweet experience can't make up for the pathetic view of the tiny statue. Unimaginable how this ugly little thing attracts thousands of tourists. We move on quickly and before we drive back home we buy some chocolate in one of the many chocolate shops. After all it's Easter weekend.
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