It’s a ring in the country of the netherlands that we’ll get to know: we’ll meet iconic monuments declared UNESCO World Heritage and romantic canals where weeping willows bathe their foliage, we’ll cross old town centres where the facades of the houses are made of stone and bricks to admire modern jewellers where we’ll feast our eyes, we’ll go as far as the extreme border of the English Channel to take a look at the cold North Sea and then return to the heart of Belgium.
But let’s go.
Brussels, a real surprise.
Thinking of the cities of northern Europe, we imagine their deserted streets, perhaps a little sad, at least dark, covered by a grey sky, with the inhabitants closed in the warmth of their houses to shelter from the cold… but no, Brussels was a real surprise. The sky was a beautiful blue, the streets full of people, the tables of restaurants and bars crowded the pavements so much that at one point I wondered if I was not in some town in Spain or in the south of France…
Walking in the old town centre you could breathe a dynamic, fun, I would say cheerful air. The atmosphere invited to taste the sweets displayed in the shop windows of the many pastry shops, or to buy one of the many postcards full of chips that could be seen in the hands of tourists and not.
So all that was left was to dive into these crowded and chatty alleys of the centre, enjoying the curiosities at every step.
What to see in Brussels.
Every narrow street in the town centre leads to the magnificent Grand Place, which together with the town hall, Musee de la Ville, a masterpiece of Gothic civil architecture that stands out on one side of the square, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The square, born as a market square, is rectangular, bordered by palaces, called houses of the Corporations, whose facades are richly decorated in gold, full of stones and beautifully carved wood and on the top of the spires stand out, as recognition, the various activities carried out in past centuries: merchants, boatmen, archers and cabinetmakers.
The Grand Place, considered one of the most beautiful in the world, is transformed according to the season, or the day of the week, into a flower or bird market, concerts are held there, and at mid-August it becomes a huge carpet of begonias.
As soon as we enter we find it full of students sitting on the floor, welcoming like a navel the tourists who converge from every corner, the tables host the patrons. It reflects this city, modern and active, and when night falls it fills with lights that are reflected in the buildings, making them alluring and fascinating.
Waiting for the night and the lights we wander around the centre in search of the famous statue of Manneken Pis the fountain statue of the child, Julien, who pees, symbol of the city. Legend has it that a great fire, perhaps caused by a fire thrown by a dragon, lapped the city. The little boy put it out by peeing on it. It is not a legend, however, that this much-loved statue is dressed in particular Belgian festivities, in fact in the Museo de la Ville we find, in addition to figurative arts such as painting, sculpture but also porcelain, pottery, silverware, all the clothes that have alternated on the body of the statue-child.
But there are two other subjects in this city immortalized in the act of making their own needs, the first is a little girl, Jeanneke, who is in a small closed street, deserves to find her as if she was playing a treasure hunt, she deserves a visit especially for the famous Delirium brewery, which is located in front of the niche that collects the statue. The Delirium beer, the eccentric pub, and the pink elephant logo have conquered the whole world, and since 2004 they have held the Guinness Word Record for offering the largest number of beers.
The other subject is a dog but we couldn’t find him… if you can find him, please indicate his position in the comments at the end of the article!
The Gothic cathedral of St. Michel dates back to 1225 and is certainly worth a visit, but it is by moving a little from the centre, heading towards the church of Sainte Catherine, that we find ourselves in a neighbourhood where squares and tree-lined avenues wind their way, where a long canal is channelled into two harmonious fountains. It’s all a succession of bars and pubs. Many restaurants offer raw or fried fish to be eaten standing around small round tables. You can hear many languages spoken, it is a loquacious and friendly background while diners eat the famous Brussels sprouts or the even more famous moules-frites, mussels with fries, the dish that best represents the city.
The district of Ilot Sacre’ is located behind the Grand Place and must be visited. The highlight is a covered gallery of more than 200 metres built in the 19th century. It has a retro feel to it, although the shops sell modern merchandise and it’s not difficult to find a coffee shop made entirely of wood or a refined pastry shop with soft lighting.
In the meantime, two days have already passed, and in the third and last one we will spend in Brussels, we will visit the Atomium, the European Parliament, the European Commission buildings and get lost in the De Bruxelles and Fiftieth Anniversary Parks.
Heysel Park is home to the Atomium, an iron crystal thousands and thousands of times enlarged, which includes nine spheres each eighteen metres in diameter. Inside these there are exhibitions, conferences, concerts. It was interesting and also fun to wander between one sphere and another going up or down escalators, crossing tunnels illuminated only by phosphorescent stars, passing between a surrealist exhibition of paintings, a small exhibition of Magritte, interactive games and finally the explanation of how the Atomium was built and more.
Like the Effeil Tower in Paris, the Atomium was built for the International Exhibition (1958), at the end of the exhibition it was to be dismantled but it remained where it is and has become one of the symbols of the city.
The Brussels politics is teeming with busy people who, as the recognition hanging around their neck, they walk fast.
We find them eating their meals during the lunch break sitting on the grass in the parks, and on Thursday evenings it is a ritual for all young interns to gather in Place du Luxembourg, in front of one of the three seats of the European Parliament (the other two are in Strasbourg, the official seat, and Luxembourg) with a beer in hand. There are dozens and dozens of them, and to see them celebrating the end of another working week is a beautiful youth.
it’s’strange, almost surreal, to admire from up close and live buildings that from years we see immortals only through the news broadcast to the television!
The parks are well-kept, full of children running around after school, of people jogging. The inhabitants of Brussels take care of them and respect, and enjoy these corners of greenery to the fullest city centre.
The next morning we left Brussels, we didn’t even see a museum, yet the Museum of Fine Arts was worth a visit, as well as that of Comics or, even more so, that of the surrealist Magritte. But we have to make do, other destinations await us.
Aalst, Gand and Bruges.
Bruges is about an hour’s drive from Brussels. But along the road are two small towns that we decide to visit. The first is called AALST.
It is small and cosy. The centre is home to a church, from the square of which the a pedestrian street, which we walk along. There is nothing of amazing to see but that’s exactly why we like it. Here, away from the roaring crowds of tourists, we can see how they live the Belgians in their tranquillity.
We have a coffee and go for a walk. There are shops of every kind, the locals do the shopping, walk the dog. It’s the little things that give us an idea of how these people take care of the common areas. There are flowers, benches, saplings. Everything is well cared for, clean, well preserved.
People are well dressed and greet us politely.
Let’s restart towards the second stage before Bruges, the town of Ghent.
Ghent is one of the most beautiful towns in Belgium. It is less known than most famous Bruges, but it too boasts well-preserved medieval buildings, museums of Flemish works and art galleries. Its historical centre is large and completely pedestrianised and there is the cathedral and the castle of Gravensteen, and as with Bruges the canals creep into the heart of the city to become an integral part of it.
If Aalst was quiet and not touristy here we find fleets of people wandering from one stall to another, it’s market day, and it’s crowded with restaurants and outdoor bars. The town really deserves a stop… we have lunch in one of the many places built entirely of wood, we wander around the beghinaggio of Ghent, that is a small historical district of low houses built around even smaller churches (the beghine are an order of nuns), we browse the small shops and we are enchanted by the sight of the three bell towers that dominate the city.
It’s sunset when we arrive in Bruges, the most romantic city in the world. Flanders.
Looks like out of a cartoon, with its cobbled streets, the arches, little bridges, swans swimming silently, horses that the gigs, the flowered balconies… an enchanted town.
Bruges you can visit on foot, in fact it is advisable to get lost in the alleys, cross one channel after another without having to deal with the problem of the where to go or what to do… simply enjoy glimpses of the city where the facades of the houses are reflected in the water, where the foliage trees touch the canals playing with light and creating Reflections…
This is the magic of Bruges.
Of course we take a boat and go around the canals. If we did not the queue to board us would be like not having been to Bruges!
But there is one more thing to visit, perhaps less well known but still interesting. We take a nice walk but it’s worth it. penalty. Let’s go in search of the mills of Bruges.
Yes along canals at the edge of the city, almost in periphery. The Mills are well preserved, some of them can be visited inside.
The area, like everything else, is well cared for, clean. The shaved lawns of a beautiful bright green accompany us all the way.
We enjoy the sunset and with the dusk the city, as we return to the centre, is illuminated by a thousand lamps and the magic continues.
The day after, before arriving in the city of diamonds for excellence, we reach as far as the sea. The town has a name unpronounceable: Knokke-Heist.
The sea and the coast are as we expected them to be: the sea moved of a dark colour, reflecting a grey sky, the sand dark, long and flat. To complete it all there is a strong wind, cold, pungent.
A wooden wharf goes out to sea, we reach the top where a building houses a restaurant and a bar. We take refuge a few minutes to catch our breath and then we retrace our steps.
Antwerp is waiting for us.
We take possession of the room immediately. We have booked in an ancient building that used to host art exhibitions, events, ceremonies. The rooms are spacious, even if they are dated. But it’s the common areas that are surprising, the internal cloister for example… if it was full summer having breakfast in that oasis of peace and nature would be beautiful. The interiors are no less, we are almost afraid to move because it seems to be in a museum! Long corridors with purple red carpeting, important paintings on the walls, sumptuous rooms with draped curtains, immense crystal chandeliers, brick vaults, tapestries, damask velvet armchairs…
Let’s go out, all this is too much!!!!
Anversa is elegant, the shops of the most famous brands are pulled to shine.
Even the traffic, which is obviously there, is composed, tidy.
The historical centre is beautiful, the bell tower of the cathedral stands out and the Immediately afterwards we are in Grote Mark square, where, here too, we find the guild houses all around. In the middle of the square the great fountain of Silvius Brabo that recalls the foundation of the city. In short Silvius was a Roman soldier who confronted and killed a giant who demanded a tax from citizens for cross the Scheldt river, or else your hand will be cut off. In the fountain is depicted at the very moment the soldier faces the giant and cuts his hand.
But What amazes you when you walk around this small town are the attractions that you don’t expect, that you find yourself in front of and are there just to amaze you.
Like the giant murals that fill the walls of buildings.
Or like a child, with his dog, coming out sleeping from under the road surface.
Then we move on to the jewellers’ area. One showcase full of jewellery behind the other, it seems to be a competition for the most beautiful display. We are, all of us, ecstatic.
We turn and admire but we are looking for a jewellery shop in particular, and we find it in a side street, near the train station (declared one of the most beautiful in Europe, if you have time a jump inside deserves).
This particular jewellery shop with adjoining workshop, shows and explains, to small groups of tourists, the processing of diamonds from the rough stone to the brilliant cut of the diamond. The visit is much more interesting than we thought and we leave the jewellery shop after an hour without diamonds in the bag but much more expert in the matter. We have to make do with it!
We conclude the visit to Antwerp by walking along the Scheldt river, there is no let’s forget that the city is also home to an important harbour river, up to the Medieval Castle, at the entrance of which towers the statue of the giant Lange Wapper, who, according to legend, loomed over in the streets terrifying the citizens of Antwerp.
The In the evening we dine in a small restaurant in the centre, we indulge ourselves the last mug of beer and the last Belgian fries.
The next afternoon our return flight awaits us, in two hours we are at Charleroi airport… but along the way we allow ourselves a very last stop: Beersel, with its fortress castle, allows us to taste a little bit more of Belgium, as if we don’t surrender to the fact that the journey is ending… all in all a beautiful journey!