Brussels, Bruges, Ghent
After a dreary couple of weekends in Luxembourg, we decided to spend a long weekend in nearby Belgium. The border of Belgium is only 15 minutes drive from our place in Lux, and we regularly go there for typical Saturday errands. But this weekend we decided to venture further out and explore the Belgian trifecta of Brussels, Bruges and Ghent.
We headed to Brussels on Friday and arrived in town in about 2 hours, only to be stuck in traffic for another 90 minutes before reaching our hotel. We've been to Brussels before, and both enjoy the architecture and gritty-cool atmosphere of the town. We visited a local artist gallery and strolled around admiring the gothic and baroque architecture.
We woke up early Saturday morning and ventured an hour north to Bruges. Bruges is the capital of West Flanders; it's one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe; it was once wealthier and more populous than London; and it is known as the Venice of the north. With this background, we were excited to check out the town. We spent the first half of the day walking on concentric circles around town.
We walked over bridges, down stone streets, under ivy-covered archways, through massive squares lined with classic step-roofed Belgian row houses and along canals populated with swans. We ducked into a church where the blood of Jesus is apparently stored and also wandered past chocolate, beer and french fry museums.
Bruges is like a fairy-tale village filled with chocolate shops, Christmas displays and tchotchke shops. Locals and tourists alike walk around with steaming hot Belgian waffles and piles of crispy frites. The town is totally walkable and there are very few cars, so we spent the day and night taking in the festive scene and checking out every tiny picturesque street we could find. At night Dave enjoyed some Belgian beer and we watched a street performer blow giant bubbles to the beat of classical music. We found Bruges to be charming and would recommend it to all.
The following morning we headed to Ghent, made famous by The Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812. Ghent is a modern university town set on the Leie river with many medieval buildings still intact. The town center is the largest car-free area in all of Belgium, so it is a great place to walk around and take in the numerous churches, historical buildings and squares.
We pulled up to a parking spot along the river amidst massive wind gusts that almost caused us to abort the trip and head home. We bundled up and endured the wind on our multi-hour urban hike. We walked through town to the Gravensteen, a castle dating from the middle ages. Philip of Alsace built the castle around 1100 and based its design on others he'd seen while participating in the crusades. There were several areas dedicated as torture chambers. We saw many creative devices designed to inflict pain, such as spiked irons, the mask of shame, and the rack.
Within the castle walls, Erin read up on historical information while Dave climbed around on the castle rooftop, which featured views along the river and a bird's eye look at historic Ghent. We observed a guillotine with the original blade intact, rusted from years of blood. We walked around the grounds to check out the moat, and then headed to the St. Michel Cathedral. Compared to cathedrals it Italy, the pink brick and cement pillars in this church were spare, but coming into the church from the cold with incense burning and a choir singing was a transcendent experience. Light shone through the windows - illuminating the stained glass and disseminating a pink glow throughout the church.
Castle collected! After checking out torture chambers and religious iconography, we finished our walk around town by stopping at Albert Heijn, our favorite Euro grocery store, to pick up some snacks for the road. In just a few hours we were back in rainy Luxembourg. We jumped from place to place on this trip, but our favorite parts of Belgium are common among Brussels, Bruges and Ghent: beautiful architecture, interesting history, and of course, chocolate, waffles, fries and beer.
Check out more of our Castle collecting adventures.
Check out more adventures in Belgium.
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