Belgium: Final Thoughts
by: Mark Comeau

This is a beautiful country with a rich history.  Many of the sites we visited were as old as 900AD, with lots of medieval history it was a land of kings and queens, knights and paupers.  The country played key roles in the Napoleonic wars, world war one, and two and many others.  The landscape as well as the cities of Bruges and Brussels devistated by battle but recovered beautifully just like the people here.

Brussles is the center of poliitcs for europe, the parliment for the European Union is here, which makes the city very cosmopolitan, with modern buildings and services surrounding buildings from the 1400's.  

We noted on more than one occassion the number of people who smoke here, probably more than any other large center in Europe.  They allow for outdoor smoking at cafe's and bars, but not in the buildings.

Getting around the country is easy, the train system is efficient and the trains are clean.  The three cities / towns we visited, Bruges, Brussels and Gent are easy to walk, very flat so no big hills to climb even the difference between what they consider a upper town to lower town is not that much of an up hill walk.

Belgium is proud of the food that they are famous for, and in general its all good.  The french fries (invented here), the waffles, the beer and the chocolate are all great and can be found everwhere.  There are as many chocolate shops here as we have Tim Hortons, actually there may be more chocolate shops.  French fries are served with everything, our first night in Bruges we had mussels served with french fries of course??

The temperatures ran from 8 degrees C in the morning to about 22 degrees in the afternoon, we had mainly cloudy days, with a few rainy days and a few sunny days intermixed.  I would say that the weather here is very much like our weather at home in mid fall.

Published: 2023-09-24 19:11:57

Belgium: Day 7: Gent (Ghent)
by: Mark Comeau

Today we decided to go to Gent a small town about 30 minutes away from Brussels via train.  So we picked up some breakfast at a cafe in the Royal Galarie St. Hubert.  We followed breakfast with one more visit to the Menneken Pis, this time the little guy was dressed up to celebrate Canada, he had a touque on, and held a hockey stick - oh so Canada.

Next on the list was the train ride to Gent, the trip only took 30 minutes with one stop on the way.  Once in Gent; from the train station we took the tram from the train station to the center of town. 

Side note: we've taken trains from Brussels to Bruges and from Bruge to Briussels, from Brussels to Gent and Gent to Brussels, in Gent we took the tram from the train station to the center of town and back and not once did anyone ever ask for our tickets,  if we really wanted to chance it we could have just got on any of these trains or trams and not paid a penny in tickets.  They are incredibly trusting with their public transit system here.

We followed the walking tour of Gent in the Rick Steeves guide, which takes us from city center, through a number of really interesting town squares and points out some of its more interesting buildings like the old markets, post office and churches.  Interesting thing about the town squars in Gent is they are all quite large compared to other towns, the reason for this is because each square was dedicated to selling specific goods.  There would be one square for selling nothing but vegetables, another for meat and another for wool and linens.  Gent back in the 1400's and 1500's was an economic power house, caught between the English and the French.  This is why they needed all of this space for trading and selling goods.

The one thing that Krista was really looking forward to seeing was the Gent alter piece at the Cathederal, it was part of a book that she recently read.  Its also the most stolen piece of art work, nothing has been more coveted.  The alter piece is made up of a number of different painted panels, all but one have been brought back together.  The missing piece was stolen in the early 1900's and has never been recovered, its still an open case with the police here.  Well we went to get in line to see it but we couldn't even get in line, the entire day was booked, not a single opening was open all day.  The FBI, yeah the US FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) booked all 400 openings to view the alter piece today, which means that anyone else that wanted to see it, couldn't.  How rude, how american.   So we didn't even get a chance to get a glimps of it.

We finished the tour of the town, one very cool part that we saw was Graffiti alley.  The town had dedicated a single alley where artists could paint whatever they wanted on the walls.  This is a great outlet for these artists, and keeps the majority of the graffiti in one place rather than defiling private property all over town.

The series of canals though the town are really nice, lined with building constructed anywhere between the 1400's to the 1900's (perhaps with a few modern buildings, but not too many).  Slow moving boats filled with tourists taking water tours of the town filled the canals, not like it was back the day.

The end of the tour took us to a medieval castle in the middle of the town.  Built not to protect the town but rather to keep the citizens in line, the ports for the guns were pointed to the homes of prominent citizens rather than to defensive positions.  The king wanted to make sure that this lucrative town stayed in line.

We then took the tram back to the train station, and the train back to Brussels.  

After lunch we tried over and over to check into our flights, we have seats booked from Brussels to Frankfurt but not from Frankfurt back to Halifax.  Problem is the system that allows us to check-in is not working. So now we need to wait to see if we can get decent seats, or even seats together.

When back to Brussels we kept it simple, we went for a simple and early dinner then back to the hotel to pack and get ready for the trip back home tomorrow.  The taxi picks us up at 8:30, our flight from BRU (Brussels) to FRA (Frankfurt) leaves at 11:20am

Published: 2023-09-24 19:22:39

Belgium: Day 6: Brussels
by: Mark Comeau

Today is a bit of a slower day.  

We started the day with a walk through a nearby neighbourhood to the Waffle Factory for breakfast, with a quick stop to see the Manneken Pis, today he is dressed in a red shirt, not sure what he is supporting today.  He is still pissing, non stop, the eternal piss.

The waffles were good, filling and we then set off to see a few more of the sites, not following any guide, just picking some sites that we had not seen yet and wandering around the city.  We first set our sites on the local fish market and the market at Ste. Gery but we could not go in as we were there before opening.  Thinks open a little later here on a Saturday.

We then headed through the streets to Cathederal, this is where all the royal weddings and funerals are held.  Its the center of the catholic church here in Belgium.  The cathederal takes its looks from Notre Dame in Paris, with two towers on either side of the main entrance to the church.  The church is build in the standard cross shape with a pulpit half way up the main section of the church.  The thing I found very impressive here is all the stained glass, really well done, and very bright it really lit up the cathederal.

After a quick visit there we made our way over to the comic book museum.  Belgium is well known for their comics, some that we knew and grew up with are TinTIn, Lucky Luke and of course the Smurfs, all created right here in Belgium.  The museum took us not only through the artists of Belgium but also a history of the comic starting back with the Egyptians, and right through to how comics are produced digitally these days.  There were also large sections dedicated to the new and old artists and their comics.  I had to buy one of the TinTin comic books that we used to read when we were kids.

Time for lunch, we always check out the McDonalds because in many countries they have their own specialities on the menu, not so much here.  So we headed across the street to Five Guys, another American chain, and got a burger and fries.  Belgium doesn't really have a cuisine of their own, they borrow from other countries. They are best known for four items, Chocolate, Beer, Waffles and French Fries (French Fries / Frites / Chips) how every you order them they were invented here in Belgium.  

Today we set some time aside to do a little shopping.  There is a huge mall here, not far from the hotel and so we wandered around looking for a few items but really nothing jumped out as being unique except for a bit of Lego and one electronic piece that I wanted to replace, lost my power converter in Bruges, and wanted to replace it before heading home, they are just easier to find here in Europe.

We did stop for a bit of a snack and a drink mid way in our shopping excursion, nothing fancy just cheese, a beer and a coke.  We just had to sit and rest our feet and my injury.

Back to the hotel to rest and figure out what we want for dinner, we're thinking sea food.  We would both kill for a carrot, but we can't seem to find any real amount of vegetables on any of the menus here, except french fries, which really doesn't count.

Tomorrow we are planning a trip to Gent, which is about a 30 minute train ride from the city.

Published: 2023-09-23 16:07:51

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