For a three-month trip which was loosely planned and mostly on the fly, I still had in mind a few places I wanted to get to where I would stop off for a more reasonable amount of time. This also meant I had a few stopovers where the main intention was to break up a longer journey or simply to see something I felt I should see. Case in point: Brussels.
I was leaving Bruges to head to the capital city knowing that there were many, many other areas of Belgium to come back to visit in the future. A leisurely few months going from city to city and village to village would be great but I had to be realistic. With that in mind, I had planned for one night in Brussels before moving on but since the train passes through Ghent, I thought it would be ideal for a short day trip.
It already sounds like cramming. A day trip here, an evening there. But while in Bruges I had read a comment which suggested Ghent was the self-proclaimed “most beautiful city in Belgium”. That’s quite a statement and I had to stop off, if only to explore the city centre for a few hours. What’s more, several people had mentioned how disappointing Brussels was to such an extent that I figured a night there may be fine.
Despite occupation during the war, the city of Ghent was left largely intact making it one of the best preserved examples of medieval architecture you’ll find in this part of Europe. Sticking close to the river on the walk from the train station to the centre of town shows off the best of Ghent, with some of the architecture along the Leie being a real stand out. The highlight of this is Gravensteen, a castle dating from the 12th century.
Another favourite of mine from my solo tour was Onze-Lieve-Vrouw Sint-Pieterskerk, which I only saw because I took a wrong turn on the way back to the train station, but which is a stunning church on what was a quiet pedestrianised square. Despite not being at all religious, I do like visiting churches and cathedrals and find a lot of the architecture, history and religious imagery fascinating.
My stop off in Ghent was a short one including lunch, coffee, covering a few miles wandering around the city. It’s a stunning city. I disagree with the statement I had found online regarding it being the most beautiful in Belgium, based purely on a comparison with Bruges, but that can’t take away from what it has.
Onward to Brussels, my plan was to visit the Grand Place, a bit of the surrounding area then grab some dinner. Rain tempered this to an extent and I didn’t see a great deal of the city. Getting lost is a great way to see a bit more and it’s amazing how a straightforward “go out the station and turn left, then left again” can result in ending up so far from where the map said I should be.
Of the places I’ve visited I can’t say that Brussels stands out in any way. However, I can’t honestly say that I gave it much of a chance either. One evening isn’t enough to get a feel for anywhere and there are many places I’ve been to which have only grown on me after spending a bit of time there. Brussels has Grand Place and the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert right in the centre as obvious starting points, easy to find due to the masses of tourists, and they are certainly worth visiting. It also seems to have a wealth of choice for restaurants. That aside, it seems a bit of travel further afield is needed to see much of what may appeal but I stress that this is based on a short time there.
So a wander, dinner and a beer it was before moving on the next morning and saying farewell to Belgium.