After finding out he had to use or lose his holiday entitlement for 2007, Tall was feeling pretty morose at the thought of spending 10 wintery days stuck in our flat, twiddling his thumbs while I had to work.
When I let him know that my manager had agreed to some impromptu time off, he called an hour later to say we were off to Belgium for New Years Eve!
A not-entirely-pleasant eight hours on a packed bus ensued (with a couple of hours on the ferry from Dover to Calais thrown in for good measure), but we finally arrived in Brussels, found our hotel by some fluke (someone-who-shall-remain-nameless forgot to get directions to our accommodation…), and headed out for a beautiful steak meal at a restaurant called Tara’s. We stumbled upon this place by chance, and it was one of those fantastic dinners that leave you feeling quietly pleased about finding somewhere amazing that is not mentioned in any guide books.
The following day, we took the train north to Ghent. Ghent is incredibly pretty and was my favourite place in Belgium. We toured the gorgeous castle and a number of beautiful churches, strolled the streets and the canals, drank delicious Belgian beer and ate our body weights in waffles. We stayed in an amazing budget hotel that was a converted monastery, close to the city centre, hidden amongst the cobbled streets. It was quiet and peaceful, intriguing and a little bit spooky.
The next day – New Years Eve – we took the train to Bruges. This little city had a lot to live up to – we’d heard so much about its postcard prettiness. It is very pretty, but reminded me of a more touristy version of Ghent. More beer was drunk, chocolate and waffles were eaten. We climbed the belfry and wandered through the Basilica of the Holy Blood. We took a silent stroll in the Beguine Gardens which is eerily quiet – it’s a walled-in garden that belongs to the Beguinage, the houses ringing the outside; the expectation is that anyone who enters the garden will respect the silence, and simply wander the path in quiet reflection. Each year the nuns would take in five women who were experiencing “trouble” in their lives; no men were ever allowed into the houses while they were still home to the nuns.
We spent the evening drinking assorted beers in cute little bars, followed by mulled wine in the town square with the rest of the city. There was a live band, and Tall joined in the singing of songs in Flemish, a language he most certainly does not speak!
Then we headed back to Brussels for fresh market fish and moules-frites, street art and dirty gutters. We followed the crowds to the Manneken-Pis, which was tiny and unimpressive. – but we were some of the lucky few who saw him in all his splendour, rather than in one of the many, many outfits he is usually clothed in. Due to it being the holidays, most of the museums, churches and palaces were closed, so we spent a lot of time walking to try and warm ourselves up. We weren’t big fans of the capital, but perhaps visiting when the weather wasn’t so dismal, and when the attractions were open for business, would change our opinions.
Belgium is definitely an interesting country to visit, and it is easy to travel around – nothing seems very far when you’re relaxing on a train.
The chocolate really is as amazing as reported, the beers are delicious and so varied (raspberry flavoured beer? Yes please!), and the food in general is very tasty….unless you don’t like fries.