I love trains! I confidently know that trains are my favorite form of travel. (Refer to the earlier blog post where I confessed my fear and dislike of flying). I woke up around 8:30 in the morning in Brussels and headed to the train station, Brussels Midi, to catch my first train of the day. I wanted to see Brugge, a popular tourist destination for its canals lined with adorable fairy-tale-esque brick buildings and quaint restaurants serving fish soup. I arrived around noon, excited to see what all the hype was about. In the end, I found Brugge was enjoyable mostly for its aesthetic as it feels like tourism has overtaken the Venice of Belgium. I only spent about an hour and a half in total walking through the entire town, which is not very big, seeing most if not all of the landmarks.
Prices for meals were dramatically over inflated to take advantage of the constant stream of tourists. Lunch plates of stew for 30 Euros?! Luckily, I found a waffle stand that offered a fluffy snack with sugar in the batter and powdered sugar on top for a cheap price. I figured I could snack more later. Many faux-museums lined the streets, like a torture museum. These sort of things seem like tourist traps to me, not offering anything worth the cost, but hey, if you like seeing how medieval criminals were disemboweled, then go for it! Just not for me. So I continued to stroll through the ancient streets, appreciating the architecture while locals on bicycles angrily rang their bells to get photo happy tourists acting like road blocks to move out of the way. I'm very glad I decided against spending a few nights here. Great spot for a beautiful walk while the weather was gorgeous, maybe not the best place to stay in a hostel. A sunny February day in Belgium is a rare thing I thoroughly enjoyed. On to the next stop!
I made it back to the train station in Brugge around 1:30 and made it to my next destination only thirty minutes later with plenty daylight left to see all that I came for. The energy of Ghent was noticeably and immediately different. It felt like a trendy college town, with young people heading in every direction and plenty of locals not outnumbered by visitors. I soaked it all in and boarded a tram, I was on a mission to see the famous Ghent Altarpiece (a.k.a Adoration of the Mystic Lamb) painted by Jan Van Eyck and housed in the Sint-Baafskathedraal. Because Art History was my favorite subject high school (thanks Mr. Nascimento!) I have made a few journeys during my travels in Europe seeking out some notable works of art. I was not disappointed with seeing the Ghent Altarpiece!
The feeling I had in Ghent was light, the atmosphere was electric and exciting. There were also canals! (Take that Brugge!) This place was dynamic, it had medieval castles near modern and older shopping centers. There are strange coffee shops like Mokabon and passageways devoted to graffiti. The contrast between old and new is something I thrive off of and Ghent made me so happy, with the balance between the two.
The Korenmarkt was a bustling square with bikes darting in front of trams as a spectacle for the people sitting out on restaurant terraces having beers. It felt like everyone collectively was embracing Friday evening, welcoming the weekend, and enjoying themselves with food and drink. I giggled at the man producing a flurry of bubbles from ropes soaked in soapy water, entertaining the tourists. Can you imagine a life as someone that makes bubbles in a public square for a living? A mythic existence. After a cappuccino at Mokabon, I wandered down the graffiti street before I found a cozy Bierhuis (I highly recommend) to grab some beers. It was on the main canal that cradled the center of Ghent and had the perfect interior, called Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant.
There, I overheard conversations of German visitors mingling with a boisterous group of British blokes. Trump and Brexit were the topics of conversation. I sipped my Kriek Boon (cherry beer) and smiled to myself, content not to get involved. They described and all agreed to a perceived disaster in America while the British asserted their recent vote as an act of independence. Once finished with my beers, I decided to head back to Brussels but not before a quick detour on my way to the tram. Darkness revealed a different beauty, lights reflecting off the water to make the landscape sparkle. I resisted my temptation to get yet another waffle or some frites. Made it back to Brussels in about a half an hour, meeting my hosts around 8 in the evening, just in time for dinner. If I could do it over again, I would skip Brugge and spend the entire day in Ghent. I am craving to return to have another taste of all that Ghent showed me during such a brief visit.