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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
68 thoughts on “In Photos – Highlights Of Beautiful Belgium”
Once in a while, whistle stop with no prep is justified. Some people travel like that all the time! You did a grand job with what you had. I’ve heard lovely things about the arcades in Brussels, and how pretty is that Grand Place by night? I feel a terrible slouch because it’s only across the channel from us. 🙂 The one venture we did make was to Ostend and Bruges, in freezing fog for a long ago November birthday. I could scarecly see the canals! 🙂
Brussels is truly grand Jo, its a pity we never had a full free day there. I am already plotting a return for a more leisurely visit with my daughter and her friend. Pity you saw Bruges in bad light. You must go back, but avoid June if you can 🙂
Lovely time you had!
Yes! A bit rushed, but lovely all the same 🙂
Oh yes reminded me of my trip last year to Belgium.. we drove and as you have mentioned it is a beautiful place.
Glad this stirred fond memories Bikram. Unlike France and Spain we didn’t feel the need for a car here at, trains worked superbly for us.
Oh yeah that is true we also did the city runs in trains or local buses.. the drive part was from UK to Belgium…
How beautiful, Madhu!
Isn’t it? Thanks for stopping by Ashu.
I have not given Belgium enough of my time. I’ve been to a few major cities and driven through the countryside, but there is so much more to see. I think I could look at those old maps alone for a day!
Indeed. And the food was uniformly great and the people proactively friendly.That museum was a true gem Lex. We would have stayed there all day too, if we didn’t have a train to catch.
Your narrative and gorgeous photos bring the place alive. I too would not have thought to go to Brussels, but it looks charming.
Thank you very much Alison. I normally prefer rustic Mediterranean to over the top charming, but it was perfect for a hurried getaway.
Madhu Shetty! Traversing thro’ Belgium with you made me linger in spots right after my heart. We did regular touristy stuff together with loads of quiet wanderings. I particularly enjoyed the delicious food, amazing variety of beer, friendly people, chocolates, freshly made waffles, beautiful lace, shops & boutiques. Pierre Marcolini won my heart with ice cream sticks. Madhu akka, love your spirit for hunting down the best of the best everytime. Such a pleasure being your travelmate.
Like wise my dear Rashmi! Your impulsive decision salvaged the trip for me. So thank YOU! 🙂
PS: I ought to have included those Pierre Marcolini ice cream sticks in this list of highlights!
I’ve not been to Belgium yet, but through your images I feel like I went with you. Thank you for sharing Madhu
Thank you for reading and for your lovely comment Cornelia. Much appreciated.
We flew in to Brussels for our honeymoon with absolutely nothing planned. We ended up going to Bruges for a few days and loved it.
Glad you did. It’s size and ease of travel does make it perfect for an unplanned getaway.
I remember watching one of their national day parades and being amazed at the presence of so many Druids in the crowd. There is much tourist stuff to see there and your blog caused me to review some of my photos. However getting out into the country into some of the small rural villages away from the tourist traps is worth a look too.
I am sure, I did intend to include Dinant, but we dawdled in Antwerp and so had to ditch that plan. I do hope I can return someday with enough time to explore the smaller towns.
Thank you Niranjan. Everywhere in Belgium was over the top beautiful 🙂
It may be small but there’s a lot to see there. Only made it to Ypres and I would jump at the opportunity to go again. There’s so much fascinating history there
Me too! So much for world war history buffs as well.
The pictures are gorgeous and breath taking. A very well narrated tale of cities and countries where one can sense the distinct appeal offered. It’s sad how much hatred that instils fear in people of attacks but like in India, we become resilient because nothing lies in our hands. Such a beautiful post to read, Madhu.
Thank you very much Vishal. I don’t think terror threats are as much an issue in India as in Europe at the moment. At least not yet, although if the present scenario continues, it won’t be long before it happens. I would worry more about rape in India than terror actually…and that fear certainly keeps me off our streets after dark 😦
Agree to that. The lack of enforcement is very worrying in India with rise in rape crime. Agree. we need to be on our gape be it women security or terrorism. I can understand, Madhu.
Madhu, I didn’t realize that the bomb exploded one day before your arrival. Well, for the time being sadly it seems to be the new normal, doesn’t it? It’s been 10 years now since I went to Belgium for my cousin’s wedding. Unfortunately my uncle, aunt and I only had enough time to explore Brussels. I remember one night I felt tipsy for the first time after my cousin’s friend swapped his beer with mine, and at that time I was still a novice when it came into booze. Oh well, the younger me. 🙂
Really glad to see how much you enjoyed Belgium (and Maastricht), after everything you’ve been through. Here’s to more travels ahead!
Haha, glad I stirred happy memories Bama 🙂 This trip was so jinxed from the beginning, I am surprised we ended up going at all. Will hopefully get to travel with my sister next spring. Godwilling, with both sisters.
Would have loved to see the Steve McCurry exhibition.
It was a special treat Mallee. There were audio guides with commentaries in his own voice describing selected photographs. So many from India. Also a fascinating video about the search for his famous Nat Geo girl.
Beautiful photos — the reflections, especially. So thankful to hear you avoided the explosion by a day. And I can’t believe I’m even typing that sentence! What sad dangers of traveling the world these days.
Thank you Kelly. We felt guilty about feeling relief as well. Guess terror is the new normal.
Great to read. Awesome pics.
Thank you very much Rupam.
Great pictures. Loved the write-up!
Much belated thanks Anchal 🙂
Makres me want to go.
Aah, you should. It is a beautiful country.
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…
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.
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!
Look forward to it with anticipation James.
Wow! These are such stunning pictures! I feel like taking a vacation all of a sudden haha
Thank you very much 🙂
Those are gorgeous 🙂
Many thanks Joshi 🙂
Looks like such a lovely vacation Madhu! I haven’t been to Bellgium in a very long time. Would love to revisit it.
It was Nicole, although I missed my sister lots. Hope you do get to return soon.
Where does your sister live Madhu?
In New Hampshire!
Wow, that would be a great place to visit!
I love Brussels. And Ghent. I love Belgium! I’ve been there many times and am always excited when I get the chance to go again.
Lucky you! I think I preferred Ghent to Brugge as well.
Excellent collection. These photos represent the beauty of Belgium, one of my favorite place in the world.
Thank you Jennifer. More photo stories coming up 🙂
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!
Thank you very much Randall. Much happy travels to you too.
Such a beautiful pictures. On seeing these pictures surely every one has an inspiration to visit belgium.
Thank you very much Ashish.
It isn’t somewhere I’ve ever thought of, but it looks like I’d enjoy the architecture!
I’m sure you would Gilly. The contrasts in building design in Brussels was especially fascinating.
Beautiful blog post! Hope you had a great time in my country of birth :). PS: It’s Schelde instead of Scheldt 😉
Thank you Jibbe. I checked online and see Scheldt. Could it be a difference between French and Dutch dialects?