So I returned to Belgium recently. I have been to Belgium twice before, but on both visits, I really didn't do justice to the country. My first visit was a short stint, only visiting Ghent and Brussels. And my second visit was a business trip to Leuven, plus a day of exploring Brussels as well. Nevertheless, there is more things to discover in the country than those two, so when I got the chance to visit again, I went to new places. This time, I went to Bruges and Antwerp, as well as to a couple of smaller towns nearby.
Remember when I said that I wanted to see more than just the surface? Well, I suppose this was an implementation of it. As I mentioned before, I found a new job, and so I wanted to make a quick last-minute getaway before I started. Of the countries I wanted to visit again, Belgium emerged to be a good choice, as it was nearby, and it didn't need too much pre-planning. So I grabbed my old guidebook and decided where I wanted to go. I ended up spending two nights in Bruges and three nights in Antwerp.
I started the trip on Monday June 26. I took a very early flight from Berlin to Brussels, and then a train from the airport to Bruges. I was already in my hotel before lunch time, but since it was too early to check in, I just left my little bag and then went to the center to find lunch. Then I simply explored the beautiful Old Town. I walked around different neighborhoods, exploring quaint little corners, quiet canals, and serene churches. I entered some historic museums, and ate good food. The next day also saw much of the same. If you're visiting Bruges, I think two nights is a good pace and you'll see most if not all of the Old Town in this time.
Food also featured a lot in my visit. Bruges has plenty of good restaurants, and so I enjoyed quite a bit of nice meals. On the evening of June 27, for example, I even made a reservation in a Michelin-starred restaurant. I had a 7-course tasting menu. There were just 9 of us (everyone except for me were in pairs) in an intimate restaurant that sits about 20 people maximum. This meal wasn't cheap (I paid more than what I paid for my round trip flight from Berlin to Brussels), but it was definitely worth it. It wasn't just a meal, it was an experience.
On June 28 I then took the train from Bruges to Antwerp. Again, I was at the hotel before lunch. Antwerp is a very different city compared to Bruges. It is not pretty, some parts of it are actually dirty, but it is a very dynamic and multicultural city. I just explored it all over the place. You see plenty of many different ethnic groups, from North Africans, to Somalis, to Orthodox Jews, to Congolese. Food also featured in this segment, but in a very different way. I tried so many different types of ethnic food, in fact, I tried a different one for every meal. I had Thai, Ethiopian, Indonesian, Japanese, Indian, among others.
Aside from exploring Antwerp, I also used it as a base to discover smaller towns nearby. So on June 29 I spent the morning in Turnhout (a small town near the Dutch border), and on June 30 I was in Mechelen until the late afternoon. Again, most visitors probably won't have these two destinations in mind when visiting Belgium for the first time, but as I said before, I see value in exploring less-known places and scratching more beneath the surface.
I wrapped up my stay by checking out other things in Antwerp on July 1, and then again it was time to get back to Berlin. I checked out of the hotel that morning, spent a few more hours in Antwerp, and when it was time to go, I went back to the hotel, picked up my little bag, took the train to Brussels Airport, and flew back to Berlin on the last flight of the day.
So this third visit makes my picture of Belgium more complex and multi-dimensional. It's definitely very different now from the first impressions I have had when I visited for the first time in 2013. And guess what, there are still plenty of areas I haven't touched! So maybe I'll come back again for a fourth visit, we'll see.
Details, as well as pictures, will of course follow, so stay tuned!