Sunday, June 23, 2013

Waffles, fries and chocolates.. Belgium (Brussels & Ghent)

This summer we spent a sunny weekend in Belgium in the towns of Brussels and Ghent. Frankly, Belgium is not really a preferred destination for tourists and I would agree with that. But it's not a bad place to spend a nice relaxing weekend away from London and gathering some unwanted calories:).

Paintings of Grand Place
I stayed in Brussels for an evening, and spent some time in and around the central area. There is much to see around here, just the Grand Place, Manneken Pis and the view of the city from the Courts of Justice.

Grand Place
The Grand Place is a huge town square surrounded by huge lighted buildings all around, including the City Hall and the various guild buildings. The square is full of the usual touristic activities: street performers, caricature artists and paintings of the square.

The all around panorama of the square is pretty, especially at night when all the buildings light up in different colours.

Grand Place (day)

Grand Place (night)

Chocolate jewellery!
I spent some time walking around this area, in the bye lanes most of which were either selling chocolates, Belgian laces and other such famous Belgian wares or had restaurants with sea food displayed outside. To be honest, there was nothing special about the city except the elaborately displayed chocolate shops everywhere:).

Manneken Pis
Located near the Grand Place is the 'Manneken Pis', a small fountain emanating from the statue of a little boy. Apparently it is one of the symbols of Brussels and highly popular among tourists. I found it very unimpressive though and didn't understand what the whole hoopla was about. Moreover, the statue is so small, you can very easily miss it!

Seafood restaurants
We also walked around to the Courts of Justice, which gives a top view of the city around. It wasn't impressive again. And then we spent some time in a local street which had shops serving seafood, with the live seafood displayed outside. So, on the whole a very average place to spend even an evening.

One thing which I loved though about the evening spent in Brussels was the awesome icecreams and desserts I had. Even the Haagen Daz in Brussels had such an awesome spread of desserts; it was much better than any other Haagen Daz I have visited across the world.

Ghent town center
After the evening in Brussels, we spent the next two days in the city of Ghent. We took a train from Brussels which gets you to Ghent in an hour. The train system between cities appeared convenient and inexpensive. Trains run from Brussels train station every 15-20 minutes to Ghent. They do get crowded sometimes, so might just be a better idea to get a first class ticket.

In Ghent, we stayed at the Sandton Grand Hotel Seylof a luxury hotel right next to the city center. Would recommend that to anyone visiting the city. Its got good dining options, live music in the evening, nice garden outside to sit while soaking the sun and a great location to explore the town.

Ghent town center
We were in Ghent for two days and spent most of the time just walking around the city center. There is not much to do there, just a river which runs through the city and beautiful Flemish buildings on both sides of the river. In the summer, it gets filled with crowds and restaurants and cafes spring all along the river.

Ghent town center
The two days were completely idyllic, with bright sunshine and nothing much to do. We spent most of our time walking along the river, sitting and eating waffles and fries and chocolates at the local places next to the river. It felt nice to be out in the open (after the terrible long winter this year in London), soaking in the sun, next to a small river with crowds all around you, all trying to catch a bit of the sun!

Ghent town center

Ghent town center

One of the days we took a boat ride through the river with the boat guide telling us all about the history of the town. Apparently Ghent at one point of time was the most important city in Europe!! How times change:).

We also went inside the church and the cathedral near the town square. The Cathedral had one of the best statues I have seen in Europe, they were all beautiful and exquisite.  I am posting pictures of some of them.

Mary and Jesus

Angels with Mary

Angels with God?
Angels with cross

There is also a painting in the cathedral, supposedly as famous as Mona Lisa - Adoration of the Lamb. They charge a ticket to see the painting, so I gave it a miss but in case you land up in the town, be sure to take a look.

Ghent town center (night)
And at night, the area next to the river looked sparkling with all the lights on and the reflections on the river. Quite a romantic place it is:). We had dinner at the Allegro Moderato, a nice cosy place next to the river. The menu was mostly non-vegetarian, but within that, the sole (fish) was amazing. (Also, if you visit Ghent in the summer, its advisable to book early as restaurants get very busy during that time of the year).

The hotel we were staying in was celebrating its one year anniversary and so had a grand live music event in the evening. It was fun listening to French live music with all oldies around dancing:).

The next day, we bought chocolates from Neuhaus for our trip back to London and would recommend them to anyone visiting Belgium. They are freshly made, yummy and melt like butter in your mouth!! yummmm.. One of the best chocolates have ever had. Anyways after this idyllic weekend, we took the train to Brussels, and then off to London.

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