Thursday, June 02, 2011
Last weekend I used Ryanair to have a long weekend in Belgium. They fly Brindisi to Charleroi for ridiculously cheap (this round trip ticket was 40 euros with all the taxes included). I believe this is really cheap because it was over the weekend and the weather in May can be great. This is February or March when the weather is miserable in these parts. We were really lucky with the weather because it was not to hot and not too cold which was important because the hotels we stayed in didn’t seem to have AC so any later in the year and the rooms probably would be uncomfortably hot.
The flight arrived early Friday morning and we jumped into a rental car and headed towards Bruges. We had time plenty of time to get there so we stopped and checked out Gent on the way. Gent was supposed to be a less touristy medieval town like Bruges and for the most part it was. It had some charm but we were left a little disappointed. It wasn’t small and quaint like we were expecting.
In Bruges we used my navigator option on the iphone to get us close to the hotel. We couldn’t get to the hotel because the road was closed. And when I say closed really I mean there wasn’t a road, it was gone. They had it stripped down to bare ground about a foot below street level. I guess this was good because it meant there was no street noise. I highly recommend the Hotel Gheestilic Hof (or something similar to that spelling) as it was great. We were within walking distance of all the major attractions and man did we walk. The first night we had dinner near the main piazza and learned something I didn’t expect. In Belgium this time of year it gets dark really late. We were hoping to stroll around the piazza just after dark admiring the lights but that didn’t happen because at 10:00 PM it was still light out. Also a strange thing about Belgium is everything closes early. The main clock tower (the main tourist attraction) closes the stairs to the top at 4:15 PM! The stores close around 6:00 or 7:00 PM and even the place we had desert at on the square was kicking us out at 10:30. We sat down at 10:00 and the waiter announced that we needed to order right away if we wanted anything. Come on man it’s the weekend, live a little and stay open to midnight. Do you need to get home to bed before the sun sets????
One of the highlights was the boat trip on the canals. I was worried that this would be too touristy but the boat driver was great and view from boat was worth the money. My personal favorite was going up in the clock tower. It was over 300 stairs all in a tight spiral. It wasn’t as hard as you expect but I had to stop to keep from getting too dizzy. We were the first ones to go up in the morning after learning the hard way about that early closing time I mentioned earlier.
After 2 nights in Bruges we went to Brussels for the last night so we would be closer to the airport for early flight out Monday morning. The hotel in Brussels (Best Western City Center) was not nearly as good as the one in Bruges. I really would like to know what “City Center” they are talking about. The two hotels had one thing in common and that was that the road was torn up leading to the hotel. The poor navigator in my iphone again wondered what the hell we were doing. The phone was blurting out directions and seemingly getting upset that we went around the long way. We also found out that we were not far from the “Red Light” district of Brussels during this exploration. I hadn’t seen anything like that since Amsterdam! This hotel was sooo close to the city center that we ended up driving from the hotel to main piazza, interesting given our ability to walk all day. In the end this helped as we were dead tired and stuffed after dinner. One of the highlights of Brussels was dinner. One person of our group had a cousin in Brussels and she showed us around but more importantly took us to a rib place that could be the best I have had in Europe. It was near the Brussels Stock Market and for 15 euro you had all you could eat ribs with a sauce that was dam good. I’m convinced they have stolen the recipe from the USA but that’s ok because we have tons of good ribs sauces and they choose a good one to steal. Brussels seemed to stay awake until after dark so we could see the famous Grote Plaz all light up.
Overall I enjoyed the trip a lot. I learned that Belgian beer is dam good. I know I had heard some good things about it but I really didn’t expect it to be that good. I learned that Belgium eats its waffles in the afternoon, only in the afternoon, and there are 2 kinds. I love the heavier dense kind. They throw a ball of dough that’s the consistency of bread dough into the waffle press and out comes waffle perfection. The other kind is crunchier but seems factory made. They also do a pretty good French fries with an interesting mustardish sauce. They close up the country early so go to any museums or monuments first. They need to take the Italian afternoon pause so they can open past 7:00 PM!