In Photos – Highlights Of Beautiful Belgium

Belgium was never on my travel wish list. My visit last month, hastily put together for my sister’s benefit initially, and then rescheduled due to a family crisis, had me wondering why. Its appeal went far beyond the beer, chocolates, waffles and frite. Although they helped. A lot. The beer especially, not the waffles so much.

I know many people who have ‘done’ Belgium in under a week. Eight proved far too little for me. On hindsight, and with time for my usual pre-trip research, I would not have wasted the extra two nights we did have, on a side trip to Maastricht. Although we – my friend Rashmi (my sister didn’t make it after all) and I – loved Maastricht as much.

The reason Belgium was picked for such a short holiday in the first place, is the ease of train travel within the country. Our first of several train rides was from the airport to the Gare Central, the site of an explosion just the day before our arrival. We had been clueless until I opened a dozen or so frantic WhatsApp messages from my new Dutch friend (who I met on the streets of Chiang Mai earlier this year) to ‘please, please message back’. We learned later, that there had been no casualties and that the amateur ‘terrorist’ was shot dead by troops on station duty.

Prominent police presence at the Grand Place (Grote Markt in Dutch) as well as the heavily armed patrols at all train stations were disconcerting and comforting at the same time. We marvelled at the large number of seemingly unconcerned people on the square that evening. Do too many such incidents make us defiant or just plain blasé?

Grote Markt, brussels by night
I am yet to see a grander ‘place’!

Brussels was beautiful, but hot – humid HOT like Chennai, on our first day! – and crowded. We caught a Steve Mc Curry exhibition at the Bourse one afternoon, a definite highlight, albeit a non-Belgian one. And in the limited time we had in the capital between train journeys, I hunted down a few Art Nouveau gems. But that’s a story for another day.

The Stock Exchange building in Brussels, Belgium

Bruges, or Brugge, was as charming as I had imagined, and our B&B even more lovely. Walking along those gorgeously picturesque canals was a highlight in itself.

Swans on Minnewater Lake - bruges, belgium
Swans near the entrance to the Bruges Beguinage
Bruges - Belgium
Bruges reflections

As was fairytale like Ghent, that we explored on a day-trip (from Bruges) and that merits at least an overnight stay. We still managed to feast our eyes on the remarkable Ghent Altarpiece (Jan and Hubert van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb) and climb (read ‘ride up on the lift’) the belfort, the tallest in Belgium.

Ghent street, Belgium
The medieval heart of Ghent
View from the Ghent belfry
View from the Ghent tower

We were both surprised by how much we enjoyed Antwerp, even though it wasn’t half as grand as Brussels, nor as romantic as the two smaller towns. The location of our B&B right on Vrijdagmarkt probably played a part. Also, an evening with our daughter’s friend Payal, who was born and brought up in Antwerp and now lives in Bangalore. Payal walked us around the old town and insisted on showing us an exquisite Jain temple near her parent’s home the next morning.

A walk through St.Anna’s pedestrian tunnel (beneath the river Scheldt) to the left bank is an experience in itself. The impressive view of the city from across, an added bonus. We loved the more intimate Grote Mrkt with its guild houses, and most of all, the marvellous Plantin-Moretus museum, the only (?) museum to be ascribed UNESCO heritage status. It is home to the 36 line Gutenberg bible, two of the oldest surviving printing presses and a sublime collection of antique books, bibles and atlases. We ended up delaying our departure until the afternoon, and did not regret eating into our already limited time in Brussels.

View of Antwerp from across the riverScheldt
Antwerp from across the Scheldt
Printing museum, Antwerp
Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius’s portrait (by Rubens) dominates a room full of exquisite old maps and atlases at the Plantin – Moretus museum.
Printing Museum, Antwerp
The antique map of the world by Ptolomaeus – the most reproduced image of the world until the 16th century.
Gorgeous guild houses in the Grote Mrkt, Antwerp

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Hi, I'm Madhu. Wanderer. Travel blogger. Story teller. Bitten late and hard by the travel bug, I am on a mission to make up for lost time.

68 thoughts on “In Photos – Highlights Of Beautiful Belgium

  1. Madhu, I loved this joyful romp through Belgium. My own experience of the country was limited to a long weekend in Brussels to see a friend… I fondly remember walking past the Bourse (no Steve McCurry exhibition though) and Brussels being the place that showed me the pleasure of drinking coffee. The clincher was a heavenly “lait russe” paired with a fabulous pain au chocolat, not to mention a Speculaas biscuit to dip into the milky brew. My friend taught me to leave the biscuit in for about 10-15 seconds so it was soft on the outside but still crispy at its core! Brugge and Antwerp are on my wish list, and Ghent too. Will have to bookmark those three for a future trip to the Low Countries…

    1. I hope you return for a longer visit James. The prettier towns like Brugge and Ghent were, well, a bit too pretty for me though. Have a feeling they might be for you as well 🙂 I brought back several packets of those Speculaas biscuits and polished them off in a few days…..hugely addictive!

      When do you get back? Can’t wait to read about your Australian adventures.

      1. Ah yes, we do like our cities a bit gritty and rough around the edges! 🙂

        Bama and I returned last weekend (in fact the very day you replied to my comment) but I had to jet off to Singapore first thing Monday morning for a three-day work trip. Guess I am still recovering as I seem to be more tired than usual and my body clock hasn’t been reset to Jakarta time. With any luck the first post from Australia will be published tomorrow!

  2. It seems that some of the travels taken without much of a plan can bring some of the more special experiences ~ your photos and writing make me want to see this place for myself, especially Bruges and Ghent. Wishing you safe travels and happy adventures!

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