After a beautiful spring week in Paris we hopped on a bus and headed into Belgium. We arrived in Brussels to weather that was much colder and grayer than what we had in Paris and London, but even with overcast skies it didn’t take too long to see what a beautiful city Brussels is, with lots of beautiful old buildings and little cobblestone streets.
It was a pretty amazing feeling to round a corner while wandering aimlessly on our first full day there and to stumble upon the Grand Place, which is well deserving of its label as the “most beautiful square in Europe.
I’d say the best part about Brussels was just exploring the old part of town, finding its beautiful sights. I’ll be honest, after 9 months on the road, our enthusiasm for museums and the like is seriously waning, anyway. I mean, one of the most popular sights in Brussels is Manneken Pis, a fountain of a little boy peeing, so what does that tell you? The fountain was actually very small and I really don’t see the attraction, but there was a huge crowd of tourists swarming it. Also, you will not have any trouble finding Manneken Pis t-shirts, statuettes, bottle openers, chocolates, or keychains, should that be something that interests you (by the way, I know what everyone on my list is getting for Christmas!).
Brussels is also the home of many famous comics, including Tintin and the Smurfs, and there are comic murals around the city, which is quite fun.
Between Paris and Brussels I had lots of opportunities to practice my French, which was nice, but as we took the short train ride North to the little city of Ghent the French quickly disappeared and soon everything was in Flemmish.
Ghent is absolutely gorgeous, though. We found ourselves saying “wow” multiple times a day. It was all the things that were beautiful in Brussels, only in greater concentration and with lovely canals thrown in. We’ve rated it as one of the most beautiful cities we’re ever been in.
The town also has a 12th century castle called Gravensteen, which is pretty cool, although it apparently spent the 19th century being used as a factory. The entrance fee to the castle included a free use of their iPods with an informational movie (not a documentary, but a narrative feature) on it set in the castle itself. It was, well, about what you’d expect; we made it about 5 minutes in before giving up on it (incidentally, that didn’t even get us through the first of the 13 movie segments).
Of course, Belgium is known for chocolate, waffles, frites (with mayo on them), and amazing beer. You will be happy to know that we have diligently made sure to sample all of these things (particularly the last one – purely for the sake of research, of course) and can report that they are everything they’re made out to be.