I went to Belgium in November of 2013, when I was in Erasmus in Italy, with my flatmate at the time, Maria João. We decided to go there because we had a friend doing Erasmus in Brussels, because we found a great flight and just because I really wanted to visit Brussels, once it was one of the capitals of Europe which I hadn’t visit at the moment and I was really curious about the country, as I have so many friends from there. We also decided to spend one day in Gent, to visit other friends, so this post will be about this two cities.
Brussels
We arrived Friday evening to Charleroi airport and after a bus from the airport to the train station, a train to Brussels, and the metro home we arrived to Martim’s place. He was living with a lot of other students and a lot of them were having visits that weekend, so the house was full. We just left the luggage in the house and went directly to the greatest bar of Brussels, Delirium Tremens, huge, with a loooot of space, great music and the best beer in the world, with the same name of the bar ?
The next morning we went directly to the Atomium but when we arrived there it was really foggy so we decided not to go up, as we were not going to see anything. Instead we decided to eat our first chocolate gaufre ?
Next to the Atomium there’s also the famous park Mini Europe, but as we just had a weekend we decided it was something we could visit on our next visit to the city. There’s also the ADAM – Brussels Design Museum, so if you have more time and are interested on these topics, just give it a try ?
We took the metro back to the city center and visited the church of St Catherine, the church du Béguinage and the church du Finistère, walked through the Place de Brouckère and the Place des Martyrs on our way to visit the Comic Arts Museum, housed on an exceptional Art Nouveau building designed by the architect Victor Horta. It was very interesting to enter the comic strips world, specially to visit the museum store and reading the very old stories about Tintin, Astérix or the Smurfs.
Then we finally arrived to the heart of Brussels, the Grand Place, passing by the Bourse, the church of St. Nicolas and, of course, chocolate, beer and souvenirs shops ? The Grand Place of Brussels is one of my favorite squares in the world. All the buildings around are exceptionally decorated, especially the guild houses which were associations of craft guilds that dominated the economic life of the city of Brussels in the late medieval and early modern periods.
We can’t leave Brussels without seeing Manneken Pis, the famous boy fountain pissing, even smaller than I imagined. We discovered that there’s also the statue of Janneke Pis, a girl squating and also pissing, in the same street of Delirium Tremens Bar (Impasse de la Fidelité).
On the next day we went up the Mont des Arts, an area in Brussels with a lot of museums and beautiful buildings, like the Brussels Meeting Center. It is also known as the axis which links the religious power (the church of Jacques sur Coudenberg), the political power (the statue of the king) and the economical power (the tower of the Grand Place, which used to be a big market). We entered the important church and then we walked to another one, the Church Notre Dame du Sablon, which I thought it was the main church in Brussels so we actually didn’t visit the Cathedral of Brussels… We then walked to the Royal Palace and gardens, and the king was in the house, because the flag was hoisted, but he didn’t bother to say hi! ?
We walked the whole Rue Royale to the Royal Church of St Marie, but it was closed… On the way we passed by the Colonne du Congrès and the Botanical Garden. Maria João decided to go instead to Magritte Museum, just next to the church of Jacques sur Coudenberg, which she loved, as it is her favorite painter. Something else worth seeing is the Art Nouveau facade of the Music Instruments Museum, just across the street. There are still other five museums in this area, like the Modern Art Museum or the Beaux Arts, so just choose which one you would like to visit the most.
On the evening we went to the Parc du Cinquantenaire where we could see the European Parliament from the outside and the beautiful park. Going out of the metro I was almost robbed, don’t know if it is a common thing in the area, but just pay attention to pick pockets.
I really enjoyed Brussels and, as you see, we could visit a lot of things in just two days, so if you don’t have a three-day-weekend, you can also just fly to Brussels and stay in the city.

Ghent

Our third day was spent in the beautiful city of Ghent. We considered visitng Bruges instead, but locals said that Bruges is a town made for tourists and you feel like being on a theater show, while Ghent was as beautiful but “more realistic”. Also helped the fact of having a friend in Ghent who told he could guide us along the city and two Erasmus friends with whom we were having dinner that night. So we took the train in Brussels, incredible the temperature difference inside and outside the train, too warm! The first good impression of Ghent was its train station with beautiful paintings on the walls. The train station is not at the city center and we decided to walk there without a map, just asking people around. I recommend you to find a map, because we were kind of lost and actually sad because what we were seeing was not that great. We passed by the Faculty of Architecture and St Peter Church and then we finally fell in love, when we found St. Baafs cathedral, one of the most incredible churches I have ever been! After that we met my friend Koen and he showed us the best places around like the Belfry (bell tower, and actually there are just three left in Belgium from the medieval times), the town hall or the Stadshal, a wood structure to host events in the city but which is known by local people as the sheep stable.

As we were there in November and it was really cold we always had to go inside somewhere to warm up so we went to a bar where we drank some belgian beer, we tried some sweets and pastries and we drank some liquors.

When we were feeling better we went outside again to continue our walk alongside the water channels. We passed by the fish market, the castle of Gravensteen and the famous Graslei and Korenlei. Ask ten inhabitants of Ghent what the most beautiful place in their city is and nine will answer the Graslei. Today this medieval port with its unique row of historical buildings, reflected in the long river, is the meeting place par excellence. On the other side of the water is the Korenlei. All that remains of some of the original buildings is the outer walls! The best place to end our tour before having dinner with our friends.

After dinner we got back to Brussels and the next “morning” (aka 3.30am) we got up to catch the bus to the airport of Charleroi. We already got out of the house late and we lost ourselves, we had to walk from the house to the train station and we didn’t have GPS. There was nobody on the streets, no taxis and we were really stressed because we didn’t know where we were and there was not a lot of time to discover it and then I saw a police car, asked them where the station was and they gave us a ride, which just that was really cool and then they asked us at 4.37am at what time the bus was, which was at 4.45am and they turned the emergency lights on and even did a bit of noise when we arrived to the bus, it was soooo cool, we laughed so much! ? And we caught the bus and the plane and then the first bus from Pisa to Firenze so I could still go to my morning class! ?