Sunday, 10 June 2018

Trip to Belgium & The Netherlands (Part 1: Or the Land of the Waffles)

For this year's trip the boyfriend and I decided to do a combo in a week: Belgium and the Netherlands. We chose May because the weather is usually nice without it being too hot (sweet summer children) and it's not crowded with tourists yet. So we booked our flights (to Brussels and from Amsterdam), our hotels, packed our bags and spent a week doing the Benelux thing without Luxembourg because honestly, it didn't even occur to me we could also add Luxembourg until we had everything planned.

Our flight from Lisbon to Brussels was supposed to take off at 11h but by that time we hadn't even begun boarding and were later informed the plane had arrived late and we were waiting for a crew member to show up. Needless to say, we actually took off one hour after the scheduled time and instead of landing at 14h45, we landed at 15h30. We caught the train heading to Knokke and climbed off in Gare du Nord where we caught the metro (line 3) to Bourse and checked in at Hotel Atlas. The hotel has an amazing location, very central, you can easily walk to most of the sights in the center of Brussels and, as it is located between two metro stations, it's possible to reach the more remote places very quickly. It has a LIDL on the back street and the Carrefour Express is relatively close too (can you guess where we had our meals while there?). We then proceeded to use the rest of the afternoon to visit the Zinneke Pis, Grand Place, Manneken Pis and Jeanneke-Pis (which ended up being a disappointment because it's behind bars), St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, Parc de Bruxelles, Palais de Bruxelles and the Triumphal Arch. We did most of them walking from the hotel except the last one, where we caught the metro.

We went to G(h)ent on the second day in Belgium by train from Bruxelles Central. The trains are very reliable in Belgium and it costs around 6€ (<25 years old) to travel anywhere. The trip took us about 30 minutes and when we got there we realised their metro only accepts coins and it doesn't even give you the change. After buying something to eat so we could change our notes to get coins, we caught the metro towards Saint Bavo's Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal) and from there roamed around and walked to the Belfort, Saint Nicholas' Church (Sint-Niklaaskerk), Sint-Michielsbrug, Sint Veerleplein and Gravensteen. Gent is a very picturesque little town and I would totally recommend you to visit for half a day if you have the time.

On our third day we caught the train again, this time past Gent towards Bruges where I met a friend who's studying there. We didn't have a lot planned for this day because she took charge of our itinerary, and who's better than a local? We walked from the station to the main square (it's about 1.5km) where we met her and she began her tour. So, from the Grote Markt you can see the Historium and the Belfort, which we didn't go into. We then headed to the Basilica of the Holy Blood, the pretty City Hall. We also visited two abbeys, one hospital and the lake Minnewater but mostly we roamed around in the pretty streets, bridges and canals and she knew where the best spots were, so it was very nice! We almost took a boat tour (and they're supposed to be worth it) but the weather was absolutely DISGUSTING that day, with a terribly icy wind so we decided not to. Bruges was, without any doubt, the prettiest city I visited in Belgium and it's an absolute must if you go there.

Our stay in Brussels wouldn't be complete if we didn't try their waffles, which was exactly what we did on the fourth day. Before that, we went to Place Sainte Catherine and took the metro to the Atomium. Back to the center, we chose a little place near the Manneken Pis called Le Funambule to eat our chocolate waffles (which are amazing and I can't recommend enough). We then headed to check out in our hotel and catch a train towards Antwerp, the land of the diamonds and with the prettiest central train station I've ever set my feet in, where we stayed in the Astoria Hotel. The location is very good, you can easily walk from the central train station, and the rooms are large and spacious with very good variety at breakfast time, despite being sort of an old hotel. Since we arrived before the check in time we decided to leave our luggage in the store room and explore the city. We walked to Saint Carolus Borromeus Church (Sint-Carolus Borromeuskerk), Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp, the City Hall (which was being renovated, unfortunately) in the Grote Markt with Brabo's Monument and descended into St. Anna's Tunnel to walk 500m to the other side of the river. This tunnel was opened in 1933 and you can still access it using the authentic wooden escalators which were unique at the opening. Honestly, I didn't find Antwerp as pretty as Bruges or Gent but the main square is worth a visit. You can easily do Antwerp in one morning and then head to the Netherlands instead of spending the night there like we did, in my opinion.

Overall, I enjoyed Belgium but, in my opinion (and I believe the boyfriend shares it), the food is too expensive and they have a weather problem (so do pack accordingly). One never knows what they should wear when leaving the house because they manage to have the four different seasons in one day: it's winter in the morning, spring starts around the middle of the morning peaking at summer around lunch time and then we have autumn with rain and sometimes we go back to the winter during the afternoon as well. One never knows...

As always, the pictures here are a small sample of the hundreds I took while there so if you're curious about the places I've mentioned you can check my instagram. Now, since we went to two countries and this post is already long enough, I decided to split into two parts. So don't miss part 2 of our trip: the land of the windmills!

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