Category: Belgium

One day in Brussels, Belgium

Brussels is the capital not only of Belgium but also of the European Union. In my opinion almost all capitals don’t show the real lifestyle of the country, as for example small Ghent or tiny Bruges. Brussels is Belgium’s main economic and educational spot, what let to define it as a cosmopolitan city full of contrasts. Nevertheless it attracts tourists with it’s historical monuments and various world-class museums. Interesting to mention is that the city is bilingual, all signs and the name of the streets are written in French and Dutch. The majority speaks French though, so they don’t even understand Dutch. Curious and sad at the same time, the country is divided into two parts, so many of it’s citizens can’t communicate with each other. But let’s talk about beautiful parts of Brussels because there are plenty of them!

Typical tourist for a moment 

The main touristic spot is the city’s main plaza Grand Place and it’s right in the heart of Brussels’ Old Town. The square is full with magnificent architecture in barock style. Moreover it’s considered as one of the most beautiful places in the world. No wonder, the square is surrounded by outstanding buildings decorated with rich gold ornates and gables. The most recongizible architectural masterpiece is the Town Hall, built in the 15th century. The architecture of the beautiful Grand Place reflects the diverse culture and society of Belgium, presenting the influences of different artistic styles. Here you also have a possibility to visit various museums, the prices for the tickets are mostly around 7-9€. If you need a map of the city, don’t buy it in the Info Hall, just go to the little chocolate museum and take one for free.

Manneken Pis

You’ve probably heard a lot about the famous urinating little boy of Brussels: “Manneken Pis”. I did it too. My expectations to see the symbol of the rebellious spirit of the City of Brussels were not so high, because what other country would actually use a pissing little boy as a symbol of the city? Moreover my hope to understand the meaning of Belgium’s most famous statue were immediately gone when I saw the microscopic bronze sculpture: 61cm.

Belgian pride: beer and waffles 

Next to the marvelous “monument” is a street full of delicious Belgian waffles. The tempting aroma will lead you to the right direction, where you can find a huge variety of these sugary baked goods from 1 to 10 Euros. The price doesn’t play a main role, all Belgian waffles taste delightful. It’s like Belgian chocolate, the taste will never disappoint you. You can get waffles either hot or cold and even with different toppings like fruits, chocolate, caramel, nuts and more and more of other exquisite extras.

Delirium Cafe Brussels

Belgium is famous all over the world for it’s tremendous beer culture. Since the Middle Ages Belgian folk take it’s reputation so seriously, they even designed customized shapes of the glasses for each beer to enhance most of the flavor. Belgians brew with love and passion numerous variety of beer tastes and in 2002 the world discovered Westvleteren, the best beer in the whole world. It’s a very exclusive beer, made by monks. They brew only enough to support themselves, they don’t see it as a business. Probably that’s why it tastes so good. Nevertheless if you have affinity for beers, you should definitely visit Delirium Café in Brussels. It’s popular for having over 3.000 different brands of beer from over 60 countries. This unbelievable record found it’s place even in The Guinness Book of Records. The bar with the pink elephant symbol seems to be unimposing from the outside, but inside you can get lost: The bar splits into three gigantic levels. Even if you don’t like beer, it’s interesting to go there. I’m not much of a beer drinker and I could still enjoy one of the Belgian beverages, namely a grapefruit beer. It’s always about learning a new culture and be a part of it for a moment.

Must see before you leave

Brussels is hiding a diverse amount of historical treasures, I could write an infinite number of pages describing it’s breathtaking beauty. I will introduce you to a few, that left impression on me. The Mont des Artes is an architecturally imposing complex of monuments with a wide gorgeous garden. From there you can enjoy a great view on the Grand Place and the historic City of Brussels. Close to this magical  garden you can find the influential achievements of the great Belgian architect Victor Horta. His unique design now regarded as iconic examples of the Art Nouveau style. Horta’s architectural masterpieces with borrowed motifs from nature are even featured on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. You can also visit the Horta museum, which remains a magnificent scene of a fairytale.

I’ve spent only one day in Brussels, that showed me both of it’s sides: a rough, grey city and a marvelous historical pearl. To enjoy the city to it’s fullest you would need at least a weekend for it. The best decision is to combine it with a trip to Belgium, so you can see most of the Belgian culture and it’s meaningful sights.

 

 

 

Diamonds of Antwerp

Have you ever heard about Antwerp? No? Don’t worry, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, we are learning something new every single day! Nevertheless Antwerp has a plenty of things to be proud of. No wonder it’s also one of the commonly visited cities in Belgium. It’s also the second largest city in the Kingdom of waffles, but don’t expect to land in a metropolis: Antwerp is a compact, but cozy city. In one weekend you will see most of it and you will be astonished what treasures it keeps.

Antwerp by the way means “throw the hand” and it’s name comes from an interesting Belgian myth. Once upon a time a giant Antigoon was terrifying the city. A young brave man Brabo defeated the villain by cutting his hand off and throwing it into the river. The imposing statue which captures the moment of glory is standing proudly in front of the Town Hall at the Grote Markt square.

Grote Markt

It’s better to come to Antwerp by train and not only because of the costs but also because you will arrive in one of the most beautiful train station worldwide. I promise you, you will be magnified by the extraordinary architecture of the 19th century.

All I see is diamonds!

Another curious fact about Antwerp is that it’s “The World’s Capital of Diamonds” and it has a decent district with diamond dealers, merchants and brokers, who are by the way mostly Jewish. Since a long time diamond trading is ruled by jewish people. After all if you found the love of your life and you feel that your relationship is going to another level, don’t hesitate to go to the city of diamonds. Undoubtedly you will find the perfect ring and she won’t even think to say “no” to you! We all know, diamonds are a girl’s best friends! My advice before you walk around, go to Diamond Land and get closer information about the gems there, but be aware, the prices outside of that store are lower, much lower.

Ice Caramel Latte at Pelican Rouge, Antwerp

You were probably asking yourself why Antwerp is a city of diamonds? What is so special about it that is almost 80% of all diamonds all over the world are shipped to Belgium? So, here is the answer: Antwerp just got lucky! It has second biggest harbor in Europe and furthermore the position of the port is ideal: it’s in the heart of Europe. Since 15th century all trading including the diamond trading were happening here. Therefore you need to see the Antwerp’s harbor with your own eyes. There you will find various cafés, restaurants and even a museum. If you need to get some energy, my recommendation is Pelican Rouge: great coffee, amazing service and friendly prices, definitely cheaper than at Starbucks. And please do me a favor, don’t go to Starbucks. After the coffein energy boost time to visit the MAS museum: tremendous modern architecture of red brick decorated with little hands. Honestly I’m not fascinated by that building, my personal opinion is it doesn’t fit to the lovely historic harbor of Antwerp. Although inside of the museum you can discover different exhibitions on 9 levels. On the top of the MAS you can experience the panoramic view of the city, which is breathtaking.

The modest Antwerp is additionally famous for being an international fashion capital. The fashion department at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts laid down the foundation for many talented and creative designers. Belgium is very quiet about communicating the achievements of it’s artists though. At the shopping street Meir you can find numerous amounts of stores and whatever your personal taste or style is, in this city you can always shop till you drop. If you are not interesting in spending money on the designer clothes, you can learn something about fashion: visit MoMu, the museum of fashion.

The medieval city impresses with it’s beautiful architecture and splendid art. Great artists like Rubens, who is famous for his affinity for voluptuous nudes, and other renowned painters include Weyden and Van Eyck were born in this inspiring city. A typical touristic place is Rubens House, built in 17th century architectural style containing a modest collection of his work. Worth to see it. My advice, if you don’t want to waste all your money on museums, then visit Antwerp in the last week of the month. On the last Wednesday all museum are gratis, so you will have more money too enjoy Belgian beer. Before I will tell you where you can enjoy your cold drink with locals, here is one more important monument of Antwerp: seven-aisled gothic Cathedral of our Lady. The background story of that cathedral is very dramatic: it took over two centuries to build the magnificent monument and some tragic accidents happened during the constructions. It was damaged a couple of times through the fire and different wars, so a high amount of artistic treasures were destroyed. Only by the end of the 19th century the church was finally completely restored. Nowadays the cathedral possesses some meaningful masterpieces of Rubens.

Beer of Antwerp – Belgian pride

Pink Graffiti Street, Antwerp

Graffiti Street, Antwerp

After gathering historical knowledge time to get to know Belgian beer culture. Moreover the best way to consume some delicious gold drink at the places where you can find only locals. One of them is charming Zeezicht: it’s located a bit further from the city center in Zurenborg area on the square surrounded by splendid old buildings. Pay attention to the name of the streets, they are definitely amusing. Close to the cafe you can also discover a long serpentine of colorful graffitis. It’s perfect location for a new profile picture!

Beer at Zeezicht, Antwerp

These are three beers of Antwerp, that you definitely need to try:

  • De Koninck 5,2%, it’s Antwerp in the bottle! It has been launched in 1913 and has quite bitter taste with complex and delicious aroma of toffee, chestnut and caramel.
  • Duvel 6,8%, special golden blond beer. It’s smooth and refreshing transparent beer with the citrus notes.
  • Kriek 4-6%, cherry cooling beer, perfect for girls.

Another attractive and currently hipster area of Antwerp is the South, Zuid. In that young and vivid district you will be always entertained: numerous markets, exhibitions and delightful cafés and restaurants. Great place to visit and to enjoy good weather and fascinating view of the stone monument with the God of the sea, Neptune on the top of it, is Marnix Square. Go there to the bar Neptune, it’s very cozy pub with a friendly and sociable young service. In the evening the square is crowded with sympathetic and chatty people, occasionally you can even meet Belgian celebrities. Last but not least it’s an amazing spot to get to know new people and have nice conversations.

 

 

Ghent, a sparkling city of culture

Sundays are made for relaxation and taking a breather. It’s also a day when you should take it slow and end up doing something you enjoy the most, something for your soul. So at one of the Sunday mornings I decided spontaneously to spoil my soul and to go visit one of the four largest cities in Belgium: Ghent!

I’ve heard a lot about this city, how beautiful and impressive the medieval architecture is and that many people in Belgium move to Ghent to study. But I didn’t expect to see something so breathtaking as the cathedrals and castles of Ghent! I was overwhelmed how two contrasting times like modern – time of smart phones  and medieval – time of witches and brave knights ( or just Game of Thrones time ) can be presented in peaceful harmony.

On the one hand it felt like I’m a princess walking through the gorgeous historical streets, while the horse carriages are passing by. On the other hand, when you go in one of the alleys, it feels like you are back into the modern world, with good dressed people sipping their lattes in one of the charming cafés.

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City Central Ghent

We were traveling by train and arrived on the railway station “Gent Sint-Pieters”. The station is not directly in the center, so from there we took a tram direction “Korenmarkt”. The tram 1 or 22 stopped just in front of the main entrance of the station and it took only 5-6 minutes to get to our destination. The breathtaking part when you arrive in the centre city of Ghent is the architectural attraction: It doesn’t matter where you turn your head, you will be surrounded by majestic buildings of medieval times. One of them is the high gothic Cathedral of St. Bavo. It was built between 13th and 16th centuries and has famous unique artworks of Rubens “The Conversion of St. Baaf” and Van Eyck brothers “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”. One of the panels of the Van Eyck’s paintings was stolen in 1934 though, so it was replaced by a reproduction. The curious travelers should definitely enter the the cathedral, because underneath the main church are numerous tombs and treasures.

It’s important to mention that Ghent’s historical city central is car-free and very pedestrian-friendly. Ideal to explore the surroundings by feet. But first take a closer look at the city center, there are so many splendid buildings to admire! One of them is The Belfry: 91-meter-high tower, the symbol of the city’s independence. Town Hall ( Stadhuis ) is another magnificent architectural masterpiece, that contains a variety of architectonic styles.

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Historical City Ghent

The city is full of canal arteries and attractive bridges, where you can take variety of amazing pictures. One of the main bridges will lead to the The Old Market (Groentenmarkt). That place is full of life and joy, on every side you can discover variant restaurants, cafés, on the river you can see boats and kayaks. In that delightful area is a great place to have lunch and enjoy energizing drink: “Three monkeys” . It’s a relative new café and all the waiters are very young, but welcoming and sociable. The most important thing is that the food is divine! We ordered the tuna burger and for a small amount of money it was served with a descent portion of chips, salad with tuna steak on top, lemon mayo and a juicy burger! We felt like being in a gastronomic paradise. You can read more about that place in my other blog.

This is by the way also an interesting fact about Ghent: the city boasts with the full architectural load of history, but a modern influx of young people makes it hip and vivid. Maybe this is also a reason why the streets are not crowded by many visitors as any other touristic places in Belgium, seems like the country of waffles and beer wants to keep it’s vivacious city in a secret.

After charging the battery and being ready for the forthcoming positive impressions, time to explore the hidden streets of a Belgian’s pearl Ghent. If you pay attention to the little alleys, you may discover a narrow graffiti street (Werregarenstraat, 9000 Gent). My advice, prepare your camera, because the serpentine of colorful graffitis seem to have no end! The end of that street will bring you to the shopping area, where you can decide if you would like to spoil yourself and make your wallet a bit thinner. Be careful, for shopaholics Ghent can be a dangerous oasis: various shops with the stylish closing.

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Graffiti Street, Ghent

Another important place to see in Ghent is Castle of the Counts – Gravensteen. The pompous and imposing fortress stands in the city centre and provides the whole city with the shattering medieval charm. The castle was built in the late 12th century and was used during all this time for several purposes: a mint, a prison and even a cotton plant. Nowadays it’s open to visitors as a museum, showing different torture methods that were once used at that castle. If you’re keen to visit this breathtaking monument then keep in mind the opening hours: daily from 09.00 to 17.00.

Ghent is also famous with the rich amount of cute little parks, but no wonder it’s a student city and as we all know, students favorite places to catch up and to relax are parks. Whenever you will go, you will come across little green grass islands, where a group of people are enjoying the sun. One of the places that I discovered was Appelbrugparkje. Very intimate, small and an appealing location. And another famous thing in general in Belgium is beer. Not only the taste of the beer plays a significant role but also the place and atmosphere of the surroundings. That’s why follow my recommendation and visit “Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant”, this literarily translates to the “Water house on the beer side”. The location of that place is ideal: next to the canal, under the sun and not far from the imposing fortress.

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Next to “Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant”, Ghent

By the end of the day you will be infatuated with that unexpectedly culturally rich city Ghent. There are so many things to discover and see. One day is definitely not enough, to get to know all charming facades and corners, buildings and museums, parks and cafés of that unique Belgian beauty.  I will absolutely go there soon again and narrate about my new sighting!

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