In April, I visited Belgium for a weekend, flying from Manchester to Charleroi. Once I had landed, I caught the shuttle bus to Brussels and then walked to my hostel not too far from the central railway station.
I had come to Belgium with the distinct idea of visiting the Waterloo battlefield, about half an hour south of Brussels. The Battle of Waterloo (1815) had always fascinated me since I was a child and I promised myself many years ago that I would go and see it. Therefore, when the opportunity arose on a long weekend I thought I should finally set out and do it.
I would not visit Waterloo until the Sunday. I first spent the Friday in Brussels, walking around the sights rather aimlessly. Nonetheless, I was enjoying myself and felt pleased that the weather was nice and sunny. Brussels did not particularly impress me, except for the Grand Place and the millions of chocolate shops that seem to be everywhere you looked. It is still quite charming and I would say it is worth the visit. The Grand Place is simply wonderful. It is the central square in Brussels, surrounded by opulent guildhalls and two larger edifices, the city’s Town Hall, and the King’s House.
On Saturday, I caught the train to Bruges. I have noticed the trains are much better in mainland Europe than they are in Britain. In Britain, the trains are always crammed, rickety and noisy. In Europe, the trains are much more pleasant and peaceful. Seats are always available and I have yet to see a double-decker train in Britain. As the country who pioneered the railways, this is rather sad.
Bruges is further north-west from Brussels, near to the border of France and Dunkirk, another place I must visit in the near future. There is much to be said about Bruges and so I will try to keep it short. It is a beautiful small town with cobbled streets, delightful synchronised buildings and tranquil canals. There is the sense you have back peddled to the Middle Ages as there is no modern Brutalist architecture in sight and everything has been well preserved. I would love to go back one day for it really made a great impression on me.
I had not heard about Ghent before I asked a café owner about where I should go in Belgium on the Friday. The café owner described the city with passion and she convinced me with ease. Later in the day on the Saturday, I caught the train from Bruges to Ghent. The time was about five in the afternoon and I had not eaten since the morning, but I could not wait to see the reason for the Italian woman’s enthusiasm.
It takes about twenty minutes from the station to walk into the centre of Ghent. Once you arrive, you do not quite know where to look. The place is brims with magnificence. If you were to visit yourself, I would deeply encourage you to go and see the Ghent Altarpiece in the St Bavo’s Cathedral. I must have spent perhaps twenty minutes staring at this wonderful piece of medieval art.
After much prancing around, I bought a bottle of beer and sat by the canal. I sat here for more than an hour deep in reflection. I was unconscious of the time; it did not matter very much as I had nowhere important to be. It is very civilised how the people sit along the canal after the work hours and drink with their friends. I admired the peacefulness of it all and it reminded me not to be so serious all the time.
The architecture on the quay was gorgeous; the beauty of the buildings reflected in the water of the canal just in front. If you have not already noticed, I love architecture and it often determines where I visit.
I went back to Brussels later in the evening with a promise to myself that I would return.
Thank you for reading.
Harry J. Stead