October 23 2016
At first I wasn’t sure I needed a day trip out of Brussels. There seemed plenty to keep me entertained without leaving the city. But I’m so glad we ended up going because Bruges and Ghent are beautiful cities.
The historical geek in me also enjoyed learning about these cities. Both were major trade and port cities in the early 13th-14th century, that is until disaster struck both. Ghent from civil unrest and war that eventually led to it’s decline. Bruges because their major trading port slowly filled with silt until it was impassable.
Both cities were once great trade hubs and very important to the cloth industry. This led to wealth and beautiful churches/structures in each city.
In Ghent we went on a walking tour, viewing the medieval architecture, the Saint Bovo Cathedral, and Gravensteen castle. We only had about an hour of free time there so sadly we weren’t able to view the castle from the inside, but I was pretty excited to see it from the street. It’s the first castle I’ve come close to since moving over here.
At the Bovo Cathedral we were able to view the Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck (for free because the cathedral was under construction.) It was an amazing piece of Renaissance artwork and very cool to learn a little bit about.
We then hopped back on the bus to visit Bruges, which I fell in love with. Bruges is very much a preserved medieval city, partially because of its decline in the 15th century. Because of this, the city is very much unchanged from that time period. Cobbled streets, quaint shops along an interlocking of canals, and horse-drawn carriages (at 50 euro a head, madre mia). Some refer to is as the northern Venice, and in a way it very much is reminiscent of the Italian city. There are street markets along the river, a huge central square where they were setting up for a race, and tucked away a line of restaurants with musicians playing an Irish tune. I could have spent all day wandering the streets and exploring the many historic buildings.
I visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood which is home to a relic that in myth contains the blood of Jesus Christ. We were able to view the relic from a short distance and if you wanted you could pay to touch it. The church itself was very beautiful, as are almost all churches here in Europe. There is a kind of detail that goes into everything, even the candlestick holders.
Belgium is famous for its legends, and as we toured the city our guide told us the legend of the swans of Bruges:
At the end of the 15th century, the oppressed people of Bruges rose in revolt against the unpopular Emperor Maximilian of Austria. Pieter Lanchals, a name which means ‘long neck’, was one of the town administrators belonging to the court of Maximilian of Austria. The people in Bruge executed him in the Bruges market square. Legend has it that Maximilian punished Bruges for the execution of Lanchals by obliging the population to keep ‘long necks’, or swans, on their lakes and canals till eternity. To this day, proud swans guard the Bruges canals.
We found amazing chocolate shops and a few Christmas shops that were absolutely adorable to wander through. We took a tour of the city by boat, which was so much fun and such a blessing on the feet. I also was excited because when I was in Venice the water taxis were on strike so I never got to cruise the rivers. Different country, same idea. Check.
At the end of the day we headed back to Brussels via bus. Shout out to our bus driver as well who navigated the terribly small streets with sometimes frightening close calls.
We arrived back around seven at night, and as the sun set the main square in Brussels lit up, filling with people, and the most beautiful full moon rose. We wandered around, ate more frites, drank beer while walking in the streets, and met some really cool people from all around the world. Including a couple from Washington D.C.! That is one of the great parts of traveling- meeting people and being able to bond quickly by sharing amazing experiences.
Recommendation: Do Brussels for one day, then spend the remainder of your time in Bruges. It feels so authentic and traditional compared to Brussels which feels a bit more modern. And eat all the waffles you can. And chocolate.
P.S. You can read more about Belgium here!
The Castle, Ghent!!!
King Triton and the two rivers symbolically represented. This was at the fish market.
A kind of candy that is filled with a fruit syrup. High end gushers essentially. And they were good.
The architecture and buildings each seemed to have a story. Such a vibrant, ancient city.
By the time we got to Bruges, the sun was out and the market alive.