Written by garymarsh6 on 05 Oct, 2013
Food glorious food!I rather think that despite Belgium being on the slightly boring side what it lacks in excitement it certainly makes up for food wise. There are many eateries around Brussels which are really reasonably priced and will give a few examples of the…Read More
Food glorious food!I rather think that despite Belgium being on the slightly boring side what it lacks in excitement it certainly makes up for food wise. There are many eateries around Brussels which are really reasonably priced and will give a few examples of the delights.What is Belgium famous for?ChipsChocolateWafflesBeer.Moules Marinier! Chips.No trip would ever be complete without having a small portion of Belgium chips which are fried twice so that they are nice and crispy on the outside but nice and fluffy on the inside. There are small kiosks dotted around and the wonderful smell of hot chips being cooked. The chips are sold in cones and the chips come pre-salted. On top of the chips you can choose a variety of dressings including Mayonnaise which is the traditional way of eating your chips or with ketchup or Marie Rose sauce as we found in one Chip shop. The chip shops are usually busy and queues are dealt with very quickly. Along side the chips they may sell hot dogs and burgers which are also very nice indeed. They sell hamburgers and the best hamburger I have ever tasted was in Brussels.ChocolateBelgium chocolate is absolutely gorgeous but it comes at a price. I much prefer Dark chocolate and detest white chocolate. The selections of chocolate are limitless with so many different varieties and flavours. There are so many little shops and chocoletaries around the town and you can stand in front of the shop drooling at the sight inside the shop. You can pick and choose which chocolates you want to take home with you. They are sold in 250g, 500g and 1kg boxes. There are also truffle like chocolates which are mass produced and although they are quite tasty nothing can imitate the handmade chocolates made by some of the best chocolatiers in the world. Waffles.You can smell the sweet smell of the waffles being cooked on the hot plates which can be bought from little shops or kiosks for around 1 Euro alternatively if you eat in a restaurant they are likely to set you back 8-9 euros. They can be served plain, with chocolate sauce, strawberry sauce, strawberries and other fresh fruit of the season and accompanied by whipped cream which is sprayed over them. They look so pretty and very tempting as you walk past the shops. We chose two different ones and halved them so we could at least try a variety. I was actually underwhelmed by it as it was not sweet enough for me and found it rather bland which was probably not a bad thing at the end of the day but they do look very tempting and smell delicious when being cooked.Beer.There are hundreds of varieties of beers available in Belgium from dark malty and herbed beers made by Trappist monks to small microbreweries who produce their own versions many of which you will find on the shelves of any supermarket. Belgium is also famous for its cherry beer. I was looking forward to trying this and on a very hot day it was very tasty and refreshing. Full of cherry flavour of which 25% of cherries are used in a bottle of cherry beer. Although I loved it at the time I did not appreciate the after taste of beer in my mouth which somewhat bothered me as I am not normally a beer drinker. It was certainly worth a taste though.Moules Marinier.This is for all those who love sea food and comes in a large pot with a deep lid. The Moules are cooked in either white wine or a creamy garlic sauce and served at the table in the pot. The Moules prior to being cooked are shut firmly however once cooked and heated they open up automatically giving you free access to the Moules. There is a variety of ways to eat this ether one at a time and then discarding the empty shell in the lid of the pot or scooping out the flesh from each and every moule and letting it drop back into whatever sauce you have decided on so that you can feast on all the Moules in one fair swoop. There is no right way or wrong way it comes down to personal choice. IF the shell remains closed they it is a good idea to not attempt to open it as a fresh Moule will open on its own without any need to prise it open.The many restaurants that surround the Grand Place are absolutely fantastic and you can be sure of a decent meal for a reasonable price. There are so many little restaurants and they are all vying for your custom. Waiters will try and lure you into their restaurant as you are walking past. We dined in a lovely restaurant with a roaring log fire even though it was the end of September once the sun had gone down the temperature dropped quite significantly and the wind had got up so it was nice to be sheltered from the wind and chill of the late September evening. One thing is for certain though and that is you certainly won't go hungry in Brussels. Close
Written by proxam2 on 04 Aug, 2012
Some say that Brussels is not the most exciting city in the world, in fact many would say it was downright boring. I say....NON! NON! NON!. While it may not quite compare with say, Paris, New York or Rio, It has a lot going for…Read More
Some say that Brussels is not the most exciting city in the world, in fact many would say it was downright boring. I say....NON! NON! NON!. While it may not quite compare with say, Paris, New York or Rio, It has a lot going for it.To try and cover all of the sights and attractions of Brussels in one review is impossible. Therefore, I have concentrated on my favourite places in this diverse European capital.The first written evidence of the existence of Brussels is from the year 977, when the German emperor Otto 2nd gave Low-Lorraine to Carl of France, who built a fortress there. In the middle of the 11th century the first city walls were built. The city thrived although it was controlled by Burgundy, then the Hapsburgian Empire.In 1695 Brussels was attacked by the French king Louis XIV. The result was disastrous: more than 4000 houses and the Grand Place were completely destroyed.The last foreign emperor to rule over Brussels and the present Belgian kingdom was the Dutch emperor William I. He was forced out of Belgium in 1830, when a successful struggle for independence began in Brussels.In 1831 the first Belgian king, Leopold I, ascended the throne and Brussels became the capital of the new kingdom. There then followed a long period of rebuilding, new and grand buildings were erected, the city walls were demolished, and the city expanded in size and importance.After WWII Belgium was divided in two semi-independent regions, Flanders and the Walloon Province. Brussels became a district with its own government (with limited powers).Brussels also became the capital of the European Union and the NATO headquarters are nearby. These institutions have given Brussels an enormous economic boost.On arrival in Brussels, head for the tourist office where narrow, cobbled streets open suddenly into the breathtaking Grand-Place. With it's ornate guildhouses, impressive Town Hall and buzzing atmosphere, it would be difficult to find a more beautiful square in the whole of Europe.Bars, restaurants and museums are clustered together in the compact city centre, enclosed within the inner ring road, which follows the path of the fourteenth-century city walls.This is the main tourist attraction of Brussels. It is visited by thousands daily, whether to wander around admiring the impressive buildings, or to sit at one of the many cafe-bar terraces enjoying the excellent beer.The facades of gothic buildings are dominated by the Hotel de Ville, built in the fifteenth century. Its 96m spire is topped with a gilded copper statue of St-Michael. Opposite the Town Hall, and almost as grand, is the Maison du Roi, commissioned in 1515 and faithfully rebuilt in the 1890s. It now houses the city museum. A series of lavish Guildhouses complete the rectangle of the Grand Place.Heysel Exhibition ParkIn the 1930's Belgium wanted to organize a world exhibition to show its prosperity after the disasters of World War I and also to celebrate the centenary of its independence, and so the Heysel park was born.Next to the football stadium (completely rebuilt after the disaster at the Liverpool v Juventus game), is Kinepolis, a major movie complex with 28 cinemas and a giant IMAX screen. Another main attraction is the Mini-Europe park, which contains miniature models (scale 1:25) of major monuments from all the member states of the European Union.BruparkSituated at the Heysel. Here you will find a reconstructed Belgian village complete with cafes and restaurants. You can also have a tropical beach experience at the indoor Oceade swimming complex.The AtomiumThis monument from 1958 is the Eiffel Tower of Brussels. The Atomium is a representation of an 'atom'. It symbolizes an elementary iron crystal with its 9 atoms magnified 150 billion times. The monument is coated with aluminum, weighs 2,400 tons and is 102m high. Each sphere has a diameter of 18 meters. An elevator takes visitors to the upper sphere where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Heysel area and (weather permitting) the city of Brussels. There is also quite a good buffet-restaurant in the upper sphere. In the other spheres, exhibitions are organized and they can be visited by a series of escalators.In my opinion, Belgium is the country with the best beer in the world. Therefore, a stay in Brussels cannot be complete without a visit (or three), to one of the many typical cafes and pubs that you will find there. Try the local beers of Brussels - Gueuze or fruit beer or a wonderful Trappist beer, made in one of the Abbeys of Belgium. Be careful when drinking a Trappist beer, these beers tend to be very strong (between 8 and 11.5 ABV).The Gueuze Museum (in the Anderlecht district), is situated in the still operational Cantillon brewery and is famous for its authentic Lambic beers. Before you enter this brewery and museum, forget all you know about the taste of beer, and then try a Cantillon Gueuze or Kriek (cherry beer). You're in for a surprise !!!The Brewery Museum is on the Grand Place and is open every day.Mannekin PisThe world famous peeing boy can be seen every day and night at the corner of Eikstraat/Stoofstraat near the Grand Place. The Mannekin changes costumes regularly and on special occasions he 'pises' beer instead of water!The Belgian comic Strip CentreThis tribute to the famous Belgian art form is housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau setting. Here you can discover the history of Belgium's comic strip heroes (especially Tintin). This is a beautiful museum - the building was designed by the most famous Belgian Art Nouveau architect, Victor Horta. It illustrates this art form perfectly, with sets of enlarged drawings, three-dimensional recreations, etc. The museum also has a very good shop.The City museumThe museum is devoted to all aspects of the city's history. On the ground level is a collection of art objects showing the decorative arts of Brussels : wall tapestries, paintings and goldsmith's work.On the second floor there is a collection of documents and miniature scale models which outline the development and growth of the city. The third floor shows the cultural, economic and social development of Brussels with historic documents, paintings, engravings and manuscripts. Also on this floor is the wardrobe of Mannekin Pis. He possesses a collection of more than 600 costumes!ShoppingBrussels' classic souvenier is chocolate and Neuhaus in the Grand Place is probably the most famous chocolate shop. Belgian biscuits are also very tasty with the local speciality, speculoos - a gingerbread biscuit with a crunch, well worth hunting down. Beer is best bought at Bière Artisanale, which stocks over 400 types of beer and glasses to match.Designer clothes are clustered around the smart Avenue Louise and Avenue de la Toison d'Or.Children's and big kids' tastes are catered for at Brussels' many comic book shops.Brussels lace is a good buy but beware, most of the lace on sale in the souvenier shops around Grand-Place is made in the far-east. Close
Written by MikeInTown on 15 Jan, 2011
Behind our hotel (Royal Windsor Hotel) was perhaps Brussels' most famous attraction - the Grand Place. This cobblestone square contains buildings that date back to the 17th century. It attracts tourists because of its restaurants, shops, and markets in addition to its stunning architecture. During…Read More
Behind our hotel (Royal Windsor Hotel) was perhaps Brussels' most famous attraction - the Grand Place. This cobblestone square contains buildings that date back to the 17th century. It attracts tourists because of its restaurants, shops, and markets in addition to its stunning architecture. During our visit, the Grand Place was decorated for Christmas. The shop windows had holiday displays and the outdoor Christmas Bazaar was in full swing. The brisk temperature added to the holiday atmosphere.We found ourselves wandering the Grand Place on more than one occasion during our weekend in Brussels. Often the reason was for food but other times it was for souvenir shopping or for taking in one of the outdoor Christmas programs that were happening that weekend.Belgium is known for quite a few delicacies despite being a relatively small country. The Belgian waffle is a popular association but the country is also known for chocolate, French fries (pommes frites), beer, and mussels (moules). Chocolate shops are plentiful in the tourist areas of Belgium. To attract customers, some of these shops have large sculptures made of chocolate at their storefront. Often, these places provide samples of their products. Most of the souvenirs we bought for family and friends were boxes of chocolate. We also ate our share of pommes frites during our visit. They are served in paper rolled up like a cone. You eat them with tiny plastic forks and are given a choice of ketchup or mayonnaise. My wife and I shared an order with ketchup everyday as a snack. The pommes frites were delicious but not unlike good fries I've had at other places.A few blocks from the Grand Place is one of the Brussels’ other popular attractions - Mannequin Pis. This odd attraction is a small statue of a little boy urinating into a fountain. There is always a crowd of people in the area photographing this spectacle. My wife and I waited our turn to snap a picture as well.During our final night in Brussels, there was a Christmas show going on in the Grand Place that included singing and laser lights. My wife and I were all bundled-up on this brutally cold evening as we joined the crowd in witnessing this event. It was spectacular. It was a great way to spend our final evening in Belgium but I could think of no better way to end it than with a Belgian waffle and hot chocolate. My wife and I found a waffle shop called Gaufres de Bruxelles and did just this. I learned there are different varieties of waffles. My wife had the Liege waffle that contained crunchy sugar crystals inside. I had the Brussels waffle whose interior does not have crunchy sugar crystals. Of course, I dressed it up with whipped cream, ice cream, and caramel sauce - heavenly! Close
Written by sararevell on 28 Dec, 2010
Late on a Friday night and after a substantial meal at Au Lotus, we were persuaded to go out one more time to try a variety of one of Belgium’s finest exports – beer. At two very lively bars we worked our way through a…Read More
Late on a Friday night and after a substantial meal at Au Lotus, we were persuaded to go out one more time to try a variety of one of Belgium’s finest exports – beer. At two very lively bars we worked our way through a selection of five different brews before finally calling it a night.We stopped in first at Monk on Rue Sainte-Catherine. In the middle of this large, smoky, sweaty bar we perched beside a piano but were soon fortunate to find an empty table. En route to the toilets was another sizable room occupied by a private party. The large glass doors allowed non-invitees to peer through and know that they weren’t missing out on much.We got a round of Jupiler, the same beer we had tried at Au Lotus Thai and probably my favourite of the trip. It is a smooth beer and obviously popular in its homeland. While I imagine Jupiler is a great beer to drink outside on a hot summer’s day, it went down equally well on a cold, drizzly November night.Our second and final bar for the night was Café Kafka on Rue de la Vierge Noire, or Zwarte Lieverouwstraat depending on which road sign you’re reading. Here we sampled Duvel, Brugs, Chimay and Cristal (the beer – not, sadly, the champagne). My favourite of these was probably the Cristal, which was light like the Jupiler but not quite as smooth. The Brugs I found to be a lot like Hoegaarden. They are both white beers and have a similar fruity taste and are probably better enjoyed during the warmer months. The Duvel wasn’t bad but a bit too bubbly for me. The Chimay was ok but lacked the flavour and smoothness that I enjoyed from the Jupiler.Both Kafka and Monk bars are great for an evening beer or three and both stayed busy well into the night. The crowds very much reminded me of a student union bar, although a little more sedate and older in Kafka at least where one group had brought their whippet dog swith them. There seemed to be plenty of good bars and restaurants around the Saint-Catherine area so if you’re interested in trying Belgian beers, it’s a fun area to bar, and beer, hop.Café KafkaRue de la Vierge Noire 6,1000 Bruxelles 02/513.54.89MonkRue Sainte-Catherine 421000 Brussel, Belgium02 503 08 80 Close
Brussels is very walkable. The centre is compact, mostly flat and there is plenty to see. Unfortunately our Saturday tour was rain-filled but that didn’t stop us and indeed many others from rambling around Brussels’ stylish shops and charming streets.One of the most entertaining aspects…Read More
Brussels is very walkable. The centre is compact, mostly flat and there is plenty to see. Unfortunately our Saturday tour was rain-filled but that didn’t stop us and indeed many others from rambling around Brussels’ stylish shops and charming streets.One of the most entertaining aspects of walking around Brussels is the variety of ‘bande dessinee’ (cartoon strips) that can be seen on city buildings, the scale and quality of which puts a lot of other street art to shame. A few pieces that we saw covered three or more storeys but even so, they’re easy to miss if you don’t make the effort to look up or even behind you every once in a while. We spotted a few along the way but if I go back I may consider paying a visit to the Centre Belge De La Bande Dessinée (Belgian Comic Strip Centre) as it is much more of a considered art form here, and deservedly so. Tourist must-sees include the dramatically beautiful Grand Place, well deserving of its Unesco World Heritage status and the diminutive Manneken-Pis. Despite the fact that it was devoid of any fancy dress, it didn’t fail to draw the crowds and tourists elbowed their way in to get their picture taken beside the incontinent statue. We headed south-east of the Manneken-Pis, towards Place du Grand Sablon, stopping off at some interesting photographic art and film bookshops along the way. I found Brussels to be a fun place for window shopping and walking around we discovered that there is a good spread of boutique furniture, gift and clothes shops. For anyone looking for older items, Place du Grand Sablon is the place to come for antiques shopping. Every Saturday an outdoor market is set up although close by there are plenty of other permanent antiques dealers to visit. Even the rain didn’t deter the market traders although customers were in short supply that afternoon. Needing a break from the cold and the rain, we ducked into The Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium. The main hall is free to visitors but special exhibitions off to the side require an entry ticket. We hung around for ten minutes marveling at Jan Fabre’s ‘Globe of Beetles’, which is as the titles implies, a giant globe studded with dead armoured insects. It is an impressive collection and even though the bugs are getting a little dusty, the colours are something to marvel at. We then walked down to the long shopping arcade that is the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. This appears to be the place to come if you’re looking for fine chocolates, shoes, jewelry and fashions. The shops line the appropriately named King’s, Queen’s and Prince’s galleries as the place does have a regal air about it. On a Saturday afternoon shoppers have to duck and weave their way through from one end to the other, as it’s a popular thoroughfare. Rue des Bouchers cuts through the middle and provides an escape route if needed. After resurfacing on Grasmarkt, we treated ourselves to a well-earned waffle at the Funambule waffle shop at 7 Rue de Taborat. I went all out and got one with strawberries, cream and melted chocolate. We had to eat our thick waffles with the world’s tiniest plastic fork but I didn’t see anyone let even a crumb drop to the ground. Close
We drove from London to Brussels and although the journey takes about six hours, it was quite an easy and cheap way to get there and back. From the north of London it is about a two hour drive to Dover. For those living in…Read More
We drove from London to Brussels and although the journey takes about six hours, it was quite an easy and cheap way to get there and back. From the north of London it is about a two hour drive to Dover. For those living in South London it is about half that.Norfolkline ferries depart from Dover and make a two-hour crossing to Dunkerque, which is about fifteen minutes from the France-Belgium border and two hours from Brussels itself. Ferry tickets are extremely cheap and start at £19 for a one-way ticket, which includes the car, four people and just about as much luggage as your vehicle can hold. Checking in and negotiating customs and immigration is far easier than at any airport as you never have to leave your car. The most any official will probably ask you to do is to wind down the window so they can take a look at the passengers in the back seat. You do need to take your passport and although we were never asked to show the ferry ticket confirmation it is probably wise to bring that as well.Boarding opens 45 minutes before sailing but given that you have to clear immigration and customs, arriving an hour or more before departure is a good idea. The boarding system is very well organized, with large trucks and lorries having a completely separate holding area and loading ramp to cars. Once the cars are parked, the deck doors at those levels are locked and vehicles are not accessible during the crossing. Facilities on board are adequate given the short sailing time with a duty free shop, children’s play area, bar, restaurant and access to outside decks. There is ample seating and we saw some people take over a few seats with pillows and blankets, making them into a temporary bed. Disembarking couldn’t be any easier in Dunkerque as we simply drove off and right onto the A16 towards Belgium. On the return journey through Dover a short queue formed as border agents stopped random cars for questioning but otherwise the whole process is very smooth and a whole lot less painless than checking in for a flight. Also there is never the worry for being charged for excess baggage. Close
Written by frangliz on 03 Jul, 2010
Having booked a weekend in Brussels during which I would be walking around the city, I needed a guidebook that would be light to carry. I wasn't concerned about having a great amount of detailed information which I was unlikely to find time to read.…Read More
Having booked a weekend in Brussels during which I would be walking around the city, I needed a guidebook that would be light to carry. I wasn't concerned about having a great amount of detailed information which I was unlikely to find time to read. The Brussels Berlitz Pocket Guide seemed to be the best choice. This tiny Berlitz Pocket Guide to Brussels begins with a double-page spread of the top ten attractions, with a colour photograph and brief caption for each one. Included are the Grand-Place, Manneken-Pis and the Atonium, but Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp also feature here, so the attractions are not restricted to those of the capital of Belgium, Brussels.The book has a six-page introduction followed by a chapter on the history of Brussels. After this comes the main section of the guide, entitled 'Where to Go', which has subsections for the different areas of the city. Also covered at the end of the section are excursions to Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent. The next chapter, 'What to Do', includes information on shopping, entertainment, festivals, sports and Brussels for children. The last three sections of the guide are dedicated to 'Eating Out', 'Handy Travel Tips' and 'Hotels and Restaurants'. As expected, there is an index at the end. Dotted throughout the book are various short texts known as 'Features'; these cover a variety of subjects from the Battle of Waterloo to the Lace Society or a Calendar of Events.It is very easy to find information in this guide, thanks partly to the colour-coded strips at the top of each page, every chapter having a different colour. The 'Where to Go' section is almost thirty pages long, but the name of each attraction is printed in bold so it stands out clearly. Added to this, the twenty-one most recommended sites are signalled by an arrow in the margin where their name appears. These top sites include museums, a park and the cathedral as well as the Grand-Place and Mannekin Pis. I particularly enjoyed reading about the various different buildings in the Grand-Place; the amount of information was just right for a short visit. The edition I have makes no mention of the Magritte Museum, which opened about a year ago and is connected to the Museum of Modern Art. I'm sure however that future editions of the guide will include it.The chapter on 'Eating Out' gives information on when to eat in addition to the specialities that Belgian restaurants offer, including drinks as well as main dishes, vegetables, seafood and snacks. A few phrases linked to ordering food and understanding the menu are given in French as well as Dutch. Restaurants are listed further on in the chapter 'Hotels and Restaurants', which uses between one and four Euro signs to give an indication of price. I didn't visit any of the restaurants listed in the guide, so I can't comment on the opinions given.The section entitled 'Handy Travel Tips' covers a wide variety of subjects. While there may not be a great deal of detail, website addresses are given for, to give one or two examples, bicycle hire, gay and lesbian travellers, and bus services. This chapter includes a number of panels that give useful phrases in both French and Dutch, but the text is printed in white on a pale blue background which does not make for particularly easy reading.Fold-out maps in colour are provided inside the front and back covers for Belgium as a whole as well as Bruges, Brussels and Ghent. To be honest, however, I didn't find the map of Brussels to be big enough and would have appreciated having one on a larger scale.The beauty of this guide is that it is light in weight and small enough to fit into a large pocket or handbag. Although it is such a small format, it still has its fair share of colour photographs throughout. One disadvantage is of course that the font used for the text is quite small. The guide should be ideal for a short trip to Brussels where travellers need a small, light book to carry around. For an extended stay in Belgium's capital, or for those wanting more detail, larger and more comprehensive guide books are available.Brussels Berlitz Pocket GuidePaperback, 144 pagesBerlitz Publishing, 2008ISBN 9789812682680Dimensions 14.2 x 10.4 x 1.3 cm Close
Written by Carmen on 28 Apr, 2009
Don’t make the mistake of just seeing one part of Brussels. There are two "towns" separated by elevation. The Lower Town is just that, the part of the city at the bottom of the big hill. There, you’ll find the Grand Place, the Manneken Pis,…Read More
Don’t make the mistake of just seeing one part of Brussels. There are two "towns" separated by elevation. The Lower Town is just that, the part of the city at the bottom of the big hill. There, you’ll find the Grand Place, the Manneken Pis, the chocolate shops, etc. If you want to walk off all the chocolate and waffles, take a 15 minute walk UP the hill to get to the Upper Town (or, spend 1.50 Euro to ride the bus, #95, which you catch on the side of the Bourse, or Stock Exchange, just off the Grand Place.)There are lots of sights that await you - including one heck of a view back down on Lower Town. The bus drops you at the Place Royal (notice, it’s not PALACE, the palace is around the corner.) The statue here stares down at the Town Hall, and you should, too. The view down the street is one heck of a picture.Once you’ve crossed back across the large street dodging trams, buses of tourists and cars like the frog in Frogger, take a peak around the corner. There you’ll find the Palais Royale, or Royal Palace. The gardens in front are really cool, and I’m sure if we’d walked through the paths of well-cut shrubbery, we would’ve found ourselves in the middle of a maze. The palace itself makes for a great photo op, as does the park across the street, Brussels Park.The rest of the walk is detailed in Rick Steves’ book, Amsterdam, Bruges and Brussels so I won’t plagiarize him. However, there is plenty to see in Upper Town, and the point is that you should make the trek.I will say that if you are limited in time, say you have a layover or you’re just stopping over on a train trip somewhere else, I’d concentrate my time on the Lower Town. That said, if you can, Upper Town doesn’t disappoint. Close
Written by jenandfrank on 14 Apr, 2005
The city of Ghent, pronounced "Gent", is the capital town of Oost-Vlaanderen (East Flanders) province. Many people say it’s the "wanna be" Bruges or the poor sister town to Bruges, but I disagree. I think this town has so many wonderful things to…Read More
The city of Ghent, pronounced "Gent", is the capital town of Oost-Vlaanderen (East Flanders) province. Many people say it’s the "wanna be" Bruges or the poor sister town to Bruges, but I disagree. I think this town has so many wonderful things to see and is so different from Bruges and Brussels in so many ways. I mean, okay - overall it is not as pretty as Bruges and certainly not as busy as Brussels, but it’s still very nice. We booked a day trip through Viator. Viator is an Internet site that books tours throughout Europe. They don’t actually give any tours. In Brussels, Viator uses De Boeck Tours. They picked us up at our hotel at 9am and drove us to Central Station, where we met a large coach bus.
The tour was a day trip to Ghent and Bruges. It’s definitely worth a trip to both cities if time allows. The predominant language here is Flemish, although you will hear French and English on occasion as well. It’s definitely a place to invest in a good map if you plan to spend the day exploring, as the streets become very winding. It’s basically a medieval city filled with beautiful, old buildings, and churches. Ghent’s three famous towers include Belfort, Saint Nicholas’ Church, and St. Bavo’s Church. Belfort, aka Belfry (09/223-99-22), once served as a watchtower for the city and stands almost 300 feet tall. Built in the early 1300s and open to climb/take the elevator to the top, since 1377, the structure has been topped with a gilded copper weather vane in the shape of a dragon, which is the city's symbol of freedom. The Belfort offers some incredible views of Ghent, as well as a collection of carillon bells, the clock mechanism, and a small museum within. The current 53-bell carillon is claimed by experts to be one of the best in the world and is located on the top floor. The day we were there, it was very foggy and overcast, as you can see in my pictures. Even still, the views were breathtaking, and on a clear day, I’m sure you could see the entire city. Admission is 3 euros for adults, 1.75 for seniors, .90 for children, and kids are free.
Saint Nicholas’ Church was built in the 11th century in a Romanesque style. It was destroyed a century later after two disastrous fires and eventually rebuilt by merchants. The Tower was the first belfry in Ghent and dates back to 1300. During the French Revolution, the church was used as a stable – can you imagine? Overall, the church was pretty, but simple--not even close to St. Bavo’s in size or beautiful décor and fixtures. Sint-Baafskathedraal, or St. Bavo’s Church, as it is most well-known, includes Gothic, Romanesque, and baroque architecture. Admission is free, and it is open daily, with various hours depending on the day and season, 09/225-16-26. The outside is large but unimpressive, I thought. Inside you will find incredible paintings, sculptures, tombs, and the famous "Adoration of the Holy Lamb". It’s a masterpiece by artists Jan and Hubert Van Eyck. It’s twenty-four separate scenes (panels) and is housed in a special chapel (with an additional 2.50-euro fee for admission). This church has a huge pipe organ inside and unbelievable stained glass. There was someone playing the pipe organ while we were inside, and it was amazing. There is a nice-size gift shop at the front entrance where they sold books in many languages, postcards, crosses, etc.
The Belfort, St. Nicholas, and St. Bavo’s Church are all in the same area, along with several souvenir, lace, and chocolate shops. In front of Saint Nicholas, we found a woman selling poffertjes (we hadn’t seen them since Amsterdam) from a little booth. They are the small Dutch pancakes and are SO tasty. My husband and I almost fell over when we saw her, and they were only 2.50 euros a dish, as well. Made the trip to Ghent just so much better. If you’ve ever tasted them you would agree. The ride to Ghent took less than 1 hour from Brussels (Ghent is 30 miles North West of Brussels). It’s a pretty city that we had unfortunately less than two hours to spend in. It is feasible to take the train from Central Station to Ghent for about $40 per person, round-trip. It is also very easy to catch one of the north-south trams to St. Pieters, the main train station, once in town. I would definitely come back to explore further if we ever found ourselves in Belgium again: www.viator.com , The tour provided a guide that spoke in three languages. Recommended.
Hotel Stanhope Brussels - Rue du Commerce 9, Square de Meeûs 4, Brussels, 32-02-506-91-11, http://www.stanhope.be/home.html
Located a stone’s throw from the Royal Palace, Avenue Louise and five minutes from Central Station, this 95-room hotel typically caters to diplomats during the week. With a simple front…Read More
Hotel Stanhope Brussels - Rue du Commerce 9, Square de Meeûs 4, Brussels, 32-02-506-91-11, http://www.stanhope.be/home.html
Located a stone’s throw from the Royal Palace, Avenue Louise and five minutes from Central Station, this 95-room hotel typically caters to diplomats during the week. With a simple front entrance and blue awning and a spacious lobby (for a European hotel) that is pristine yet understated. We found the service to be very friendly and helpful--that is, when we could actually find someone. The main problem with this hotel is that during the weekends the staff is cut by 3/4. It’s also fair to mention that this hotel does not have a bell boy or concierge - ever. The front desk clerk on duty is the concierge and although very nice they are not well informed about the city’s restaurants, best ways to see the city efficiently, basically all the questions tourists ask. This hotel also boasts (in every tour guide) a complimentary shoe shine – daily – provided you put your shoes in a basket found in your room. That’s great, right? Wrong. Every night, we left our shoes outside, and NOT ONCE were they taken or cleaned. I am sure week nights are a different case.
The lobby was all marble floors with lots of antiques arranged in mini-seating areas and cherry-maple woods. Fresh flowers, daily papers and candies at the front desk were also available. Internet access was located at a small desk in the front of the lobby. The charge was 5 euros for 15 minutes and 10 euros for 45. A small bar and an additional seating area were located at the back of the lobby. Guess what? During the weekend, the bartender was the front desk clerk too! It was like a bad sitcom. Two very clean and spacious bathrooms were also off the lobby, towards the elevators. There was a fresh fruit platter by the elevator that was replenished daily. That was a nice touch.
The rooms were surprisingly spacious (we had a standard room), with a separate seating area. They had a couch, two chairs, table, TV, half-bath, telephone, dataport, and (an almost empty) mini bar, separated by a door where the bedroom was and the large bathroom (minus the toilet). The main bathroom had a separate shower and large Jacuzzi tub, two sinks, Molton Brown products, hair dryer (with a button that you had to hold down to keep on), robes, slippers, a towel rack warmer (that was very cool), telephone, and plenty of light, mirrors, and marble. The bedroom was small, with a large closet (including umbrellas), another telephone, trouser press, and TV. The rooms were decorated in a very traditional Old English style, with classic and antique-looking furniture. Lots of light blues, medium-colored woods, off white and gold touches. Really pretty, not modern at all, very bright and very clean. I would say it was exactly what you’d expect from a hotel room.
The hotel had a small "fitness room" with a sauna, solarium, a few pieces of equipment and it was free of charge to the guests. The only restaurant was off the lobby, by the front entrance to the hotel. Small and super overpriced – and only open on the weekdays, of course. Are you seeing a pattern here? There was a small supermarket around the corner where we were able to buy water and basic items. There were also a few sandwich shops, a camera place, and bookstore that were opened early on the same block.
We booked this room on Expedia, very last-minute, because we saw a great deal and read that this hotel was so beautiful and convenient to touristy places. Yes, the hotel is very pretty, and it did have a good location, but to be honest, the lack of service really made it an irritating stay. So much so that I doubt I would go back (my husband feels differently). I travel to see the sights and to be waited on. After all, you are getting away from your own life to relax--that is the purpose of a vacation! I was not able to do this here. We had to carry our bags up and down the five marble steps in the front and through the hotel. We were basically on our own with finding good places to eat and making reservations (every time we asked the front desk to make one, we would get back to the hotel and would be told the restaurant was closed--you didn’t know that?). We had to request turndown service every night (one night we didn’t get it), which at a hotel like this is ridiculous. We requested the shoe shine service (which is supposed to be automatic) every night and were never accommodated. The hotel was empty (they told us so) when we arrived, but we were not allowed to check in until the end of the day because the ONE maid on duty hadn’t gotten to all the rooms yet – can you imagine, for 95 rooms?!
Overall, it's a pretty place, but I would say if you are looking for great service, find somewhere else or don’t come here on the weekends. If you are just looking for a place to hang your hat that is clean and convenient, this is the place for you. Somewhat Recommended.