From Normandy we headed up north to the Belgian city of Brugge. Immediately Belgium strikes you as a different place from France: more expensive cars, northern architecture, colder climate and linguistic diversity. Brugge was the jumping off place for visiting Ghent, Antwerpen and Brussels. All four cities offered up very different experiences, from crazy driving on rails between two trolleys to a belgian beer tasting festival. ( follow the “read more” below or VIEW PHOTOS HERE )
Bruges (Dutch: Brugge) is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is located in the northwest of the country. It used to be a major port superpower rivaling the Venetians, but by the 19th century its power had dwindled to a tourist destination. Only recently has its port been rebuilt and regained importance as one of Europe’s most modern ports. International tourism has boomed and Bruges was designated ‘European Capital of Culture’ in 2002.
Ghent is a pleasant city, with a historic center and a good mix of tourists, locals, and students. The experience in the center was somewhat marred by construction/conservation of literally every city square and church facade. Driving in the city was a crazy experience on par with some mediteranean cities. The narrow cobble stone streets converge at sharp angles and are used at the same time by trolleys, motorcycles, cars forced to drive on rails and thousands of local students on bicycles.
There are only two pictures from this city. There was only one landmark – the Grand Central station – and it wasnt worth taking the camera out. The city center is beyond gritty, there was nothing there of interest to visitors. Filled with loitering immigrants, dingy falafel shops, dark bars behind closed curtains, and signs at appartment entrances warning against prostitution, you are left wondering why the travel book has this city listed at all.
Half a day in Brussels does not do it justice. An important European center for centuries and the location of the main EU and NATO insitutions, Brussels is multi-dimensional culturally and beautiful architecturally. Brussels and its suburbs evolved from a Dutch-dialect–speaking town to a mainly French-speaking town. Both languages are official languages, but you are just as likely to hear perfect English or German from a waiter. Driving into the city center you pass through areas of the city that are almost 100% muslim, moroccan or french african. Whole streets look like you found yourself in Tangiers or Casablanca. The city center with its Grand Palace built by the Habsburgs in the 16th century, townhall, and other gothic buildings, is the main attraction. It greeted us with a thousands of drunken people and white tents. What luck! Just happened to be the opening night of a Belgian beer tasting festival weekend. Thirty or so breweries brought out their reserves and brew masters presented their selection. What a variety: dark, bitter, sweet, fruity, 18% strong, beer out of a coconut…Make note of the two 10-11 year old boys, helping their family serve beer in one of the photos below.
Roma and Natalia are world travelers, photographers, and an all around fun couple. When they are not travelling far away continents or driving around USA in their trusted Highlander, they can be found in San Francisco, California.