Tag Archive: Belgium


The Gems of Antwerp


Over 80% of the world’s rough diamonds pass through Antwerp. Belgium’s 2nd biggest city has everything to do with the ladies’ best friends — from cutting to polishing to trading right within the city’s “Diamond Quarter” spanning one square mile. But we didn’t come here for the precious gems. We came here to check out the gothic Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp — a house of worship as well as a museum housing Rubens’ artworks.

Antwerp

Antwerp

Judging by the many falafel food stalls we found here, there seems to be a big community of Jewish residents likely working in the diamond industry. It’s a big city and there were throngs of tourists offloaded from tourist coaches at the time we visited. Our tour guide Jasmine gave us some fascinating stories about Antwerp, including the residents’ aversion to the French language. Her advice? Speak Dutch if you can, English if you can’t. Never French. Don’t ask me why.

Antwerp

But if you’re going to Antwerp and have very limited time, you can skip the port area and just devote an hour or so in the Cathedral to admire the Rubens masterpieces hanging inside along with those of other Flemish painters. And if you still have some spare time and still hungry for more, try the Rubenshuis. This is the former Flemish townhouse, studio and workshop of Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens in Antwerp. The artist was laid to rest in another church in Antwerp though , the Saint James Church. His “Our Lady Surrounded by the Saints” adorn the altar in this church.

Not just a triptych but all of 5 panels. Rubens have 3 major works here: “The Elevation of the Cross”, “Descent from the Cross” and “Assumption of Virgin Mary”. In his lifetime, Rubens reputedly kept going back to these subjects for his artwork. Smaller versions are to be found in the Louvre and in the Art Gallery of Ontario. No wonder Napoleon brought these art pieces back to France, only to return the loot in 1815. They have since remained here in the Church of Our Lady of Antwerp, where they belong. The REAL GEMS OF ANTWERP. Who needs diamonds?


In the northwest of Belgium lies Bruges, the capital and biggest city of West Flanders. You would not want to miss this fairy-tale medieval town with its charming market squares, cobble-stoned walkways, a skyline of soaring spires, the clatter of horse-drawn carriages, swans gliding across the waters, the whitewashed almshouses and dreamy canals. Belgium is most certainly more than just fries, chocolates, mussels, waffles and beer. One would think it’s such a small country and visiting the capital Brussels is enough. Well, we spent a week in this European capital and made good time doing day trips from the capital. Got to say we were so happy to base ourselves in Brussels for a week to do as many day trips. One city or town each day. We wanted to do it more leisurely this time. If I were to change anything at all, I’d plan to stay a couple of nights here in Bruges!

Bruges

Bruges

The first 3 photos were our first impressions of Bruges. I wasn’t expecting to see horse-drawn carriages but they sure enhance the medieval splendour of this very Flemish city. Throw in those step-gabled building facades. The canals. And that iconic octagonal belfry called Belfort. If I didn’t see it for myself, I would have guessed this was some Hollywood Studio prepping for a period movie. I nearly imagined a lovely lady coming out of one of these buildings dressed in a lacy gown and a bonnet with ribbon ties around her long neck. Others may remember the movie “In Bruges” but our guide gently told us NOT to believe everything depicted there as something coming out of Bruges. I have not seen the movie, so I can’t confirm that.

Bruges

Bruges

The wealth and former glory of Bruges is not easy to ignore. Strategically located, Bruges was a trading hub and the merchants freely traded their products here and even innovated their trading practices which turned out to be the forerunner of a bourse or stock exchange. From the Merchants of Venice to the more creative banker-capitalists of Bruges who likely invented the core of the banking business like promissory notes, shares of stock, stock exchange and money market? Amazing to learn how many of the banking transactions still in use today may have started here.

Bruges

Bruges

With progress, the newfound wealth found its way in various art forms. Art found many patrons and many Flemish painters thrived. So did other European masters. The Madonna of Bruges by Michelangelo was his only artwork ever to leave Italy during his lifetime. Stolen, smuggled and then claimed back and restored, it is back and thankfully restored in its place in Church of Our Lady in Bruges. Jan Van Eyck, the father of oil painting, once lived in Bruges where he actually founded an art school for aspiring Flemish artists. Many artists must have drawn inspiration here. And that is not difficult to appreciate.

Bruges

Bruges

If you love art, you need more than a day trip. There are many art galleries in Bruges. Apart from the museums showcasing Flemish Primitive Painting, there is a vibrant contemporary art scene here. But even if you don’t hit the museums, you will enjoy just roaming around here. Like wandering aimlessly? Trust me, it’s good in cleansing the cobwebs off our minds and it feeds the soul. Besides, walking is good for your health!

Bruges

Bruges


“Ganda” in my native language means beauty. Here in Belgium, “Ganda” translates to “joining up” or “confluence”. As in the confluence of the 2 rivers: Lys and Scheldt. And GANDA is a very apt adjective to describe this once-powerful city state. Ghent’s medieval feel is palpable. So is her “university city” feel. Once so powerful, it’s prosperity and influence showed in the city’s belfry, the castle with a moat, the many guild halls, the cathedral and many historic and civil edifices. What a pleasant surprise! A pity it is often skipped as many others preferred to just pass it on the way to Bruges, another medieval village straight out of one’s dreams.

Ghent

Ghent

Ghent is actually older than Bruges. I hate to compare the 2, but let me just say that Ghent has its own charm. If you like old town feel, art and history, you won’t get disappointed. And that boat ride? I highly recommend it. Just 45 minutes of relaxation, cool breeze, old world charm and history lessons. The boat passes many centuries-old guild halls, cozy hidden by-the-canal bistros and bars, private residences and former merchants’ offices turned and repurposed into chic hotels, restaurants or corporate offices. There is no national or municipal funding to restore historic buildings but there is a law to preserve their facade. It is thus not surprising to see this old architecture housing modern interiors. From outside, one can appreciate those stepped gables and brick buildings, and then be transported back to present times as one enters such buildings. One example is the Marriott Hotel here. Formerly a whorehouse or brothel, it has since been restored and fitted with modern amenities following Marriott’s hotel brand.

Ghent

The Cathedral of Saint Bavon in Ghent is just a stone’s throw away from the Church dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of mariners and traders. Just like the other historic buildings, these worship places don’t get funding from any institution. We were surprised to learn the church can be used as an events place. No wonder we didn’t find any pews, only stacking chairs which can easily be removed at moment’s notice. Can you imagine holding a concert here? Or a wedding party? We visited on a Friday and the square behind the Church is being prepped as a weekend market complete with food trucks selling all kinds of Belgian junk food and different varieties of beer. I just love how the Belgians love to eat. And take pride in what many otherwise consider as junk food : fries, chocolates, waffles, candies, meatballs, poffertjes (mini, fluffy pancakes), etc. And you can tell the locals from most tourists by the sauce they eat their frites with. Definitely no ketchup for the Belgians!

Ghent

Ghent

Ghent

The Van Eyck brothers left a lasting legacy to Ghent. Not much is known about Hubert but the younger Jan Van Eyck is the first Flemish painter who signed his works. Both are credited as founders of a school of painting in Bruges and other art schools in Northern Europe. Hubert collaborated with Jan Van Eyck in the latter’s 1432 masterpiece, “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, also known as the Ghent Altarpiece. For a small fee, one can view this masterpiece inside the Cathedral of Saint Bavon in Ghent. Jan Van Eyck’s other masterpiece – The Arnolfini Portrait — is housed in the National Art Gallery in London.

Adoration of The Mystic Lamb

Marriott Hotel in Ghent

The Food Truck Market in Ghent

Ghent is fascinating to visit. It isn’t just another university town though it deserves to be taken seriously as such, ranking #69th among the world’s best schools. Students here have the best of both worlds. A world-ranking university, history and beauty all around, and yummy street food perfect for students on a budget! And there’s always the beer for every whim to celebrate. And for every good beer, there’s likewise good-quality coffee. These Belgians sure know to get a high on food and drinks! 🍺

Old Market, now a Tapas Bar in Ghent

Who wants the “noses” candies of Ghent?

Touchdown Brussels!


We left Amsterdam a day ahead of our schedule and totally wasted a paid hotel night to beat the transport strike on the very day we’re taking the train for Brussels. This also meant foregoing plans to visit Haarlem and Gouda as we decided to hop on the next train before many others. When we arrived in Brussels, an announcement was made that the train won’t stop at some stations because of some “accident”. Our hotel was a station away from Bruxelles Central Station, which was a good thing. As it turned out, there was a bomb scare in the bigger stations. No wonder we noticed armed guards and a military truck when we strolled around the area some days later.

Brussels

One of many beers in Brussels

All’s well then. We met a Filipino tourist in Amsterdam who said that he did not feel so safe in Brussels. We don’t know what prompted this but we’re having a wonderful time here. Much of the action centered around the Grand Place where the tourist crowd is thickest, naturally. In a city populated by as many as 184 nationalities though, the only way to separate the “locals” from the tourists is that ubiquitous CAMERA. During our walking tour, every corner, nook and cranny has at least 5 different nationalities. Consequently, one hears 5 different languages simultaneously at any given time. Can’t be more multi-ethnic and multi-cultural than that. As we meandered around the square and the narrow alleys, we made it a point to be a step ahead of the throngs of tourists unloaded from buses at various corners. You’d be amazed how many try to have selfie shots of that tiny boy with the tiny xxx in Manneken Pis. We passed the statue twice, if only to view it undressed at night and garbed in some costume during the day.

Manneken Pis

Royal Palace

Going to Atomium and Royal Palace took some effort. We hopped on a tram and walked a bit to reach these attractions. In my view, you can skip the Atomium. The Palace is worth seeing, and if you like, you only need to walk further to reach the EU Headquarters. We passed up on this though since many roads leading to it were blocked or had heavily-armed guards and military trucks. Instead, we spent more time at the Grand Place. Having learned of the recent bomb scare, we chose to be more cautious. Besides, there’s tons more to see around Brussels! And a few day trips to make outside of the capital — all just an hour or so away by train or bus.

Atomium

Grand Place

Our plan included a day trip each to Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. With 5 whole days and 6 nights in Brussels, we easily filled out our travel itinerary. It would have been ideal to include a day trip to Luxembourg but most day tours are fully booked. It wasn’t in the stars. But who’s complaining? We made these very easy day trips, leisurely spent our holidays, ate our annual quota of fries, waffles and mussels, and drank only a few of the hundred beer varieties here. We love it here 💕🍺💕🍺💕

Albertina Place

City Hall

Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gedula

Galleria St. Hubert . Older than Vittorio Emmanuel In Milan

Moules Frites @ Chez Leon