Friday, August 25, 2017

5 Belgium cities in 5 days

1 city per day in Belgium is definitely achievable, although we did skip a couple of the attractions.

Cork - Dublin coach            €29.70
Dublin - Belgium air ticket  €48.00

Our trip didn't start off well. For a head-start, our flight was 6:30am from Dublin, which means we have to leave Cork at 1am. I managed to get some sleep in the coach because I had my headphones on, but poor J couldn't sleep at all due to some scout kids rattling all morning behind us.

Then, our luggage were tagged to be checked in as Ryan air has this policy that only allows 97 luggage on board..and when we reached Brussels airport, we roved around the airport, trying to find Boots for toiletries only to found out that there's no Boots and everything was merely miscommunication. Everything just delayed our time to kickstart our itinerary! 

Tip: buy the Go Pass for €52 that provides you with 10 train trips. It'll be cheaper if you're travelling to cities & each trip permits one transit. I don't think it'll be worth if you're just travelling around Brussels with Go Pass though. 
* Note that you need to buy the Diabolo fee (airport tax) of €5.20 per single journey if you're using the Go Pass to travel either to or forth the airport. 

Language & Communication
Northern part of Belgium speaks Flemish/Dutch, while the southern part speaks more of French. Brussels is more bilingual but generally, people in Belgium speak English so it shouldn't be too hard to purchase goods or ask for directions.

I used the three 3G data roaming in Belgium; it should be free because my credit wasn't deducted. 

Booked Train hostel as our accommodation because it's a balance of good reviews and reasonable price. It costed €66.20 per bed for 4 nights; approximately €16.50 per bed per night. However, we were required to pay €16.96 for city tax (which we weren't informed beforehand =_=)

Our hostel is just 5 minutes walk from the train station. That's quite handy, although we weren't located near Brussels Central. We were starving by the time we reached our hostel. Thankfully, they provided free (more like leftovers from their breakfast buffet) croissants, pain au chocolate and some Danish raisin pastries for guest. 

We have to bring our own sleeping bag, and the bed seems to be small, but it works for me because I don't really like spacious bed if I'm sleeping alone.

We booked the 6 person mixed dorm, but turns out they didn't allocate anyone to sleep with us so we get the whole train cabin to ourselves! That seems to be the case for others as well because they do not provide a separate locker room for the luggage; having the whole cabin to ourselves is much safer for our belongings. 

We were allocated to a cabin in the 3rd floor, but on the first night, there were a group of Spanish who checked in at midnight and disrupted everyone's sleep! We filed a complain and were moved to the first floor. However, there was less privacy as it's nearer to the ground, and it was further away from the washrooms. The toilet and shower are separated and shared among guests of the same floor. Thankfully, they're relatively clean and well maintained. 

Food to try
When people talk about Belgium, it's always about their waffles and chocolate~ However, there are a lot of must-try food while visiting Belgium!

Managed to eat all 3 types of Belgium waffles! They say there's no 'Belgium waffles' because that's just a general term for all 3 types: 

1. Belgian waffles

Brussel waffle: rectangular in shape, biggest of the 3 waffles. It is lighter, airier and crispier!
Liege waffles: denser and chewier; it's the most prevalent waffles in Belgium
Galettes waffles: buttery and relatively more crunchy, it's thinner and more rigid

a) Brussels waffles:
Wafel Désiré de Lille in from Désiré de Lille, Antwerp

Waffle met vers fruit (Fresh fruits waffle) from @ Tattie's in Bruges

Brussels waffle with raw brown sugar from Maison Dandoy, Brussels

b) Liege waffles:
Plain Liege waffles from Crème de la crème in Antwerp

liege waffles with nutella and strawberries from Chez Albert, Bruges

(L) €2 for waffle coated with icing sugar
(R) €2.50 for waffle coated with nutella

€2 for waffle coated with speculoos spread

These were from a stall next to Maison dandoy in Brussels. I was attracted to it because of the €1 waffle sign..only to know €1 for plain liege waffles only xD and the plain brussels waffles cost €2 each. Any additional toppings would cost another €1-2!

Liege waffle with praline ice cream from Maison Dandy

c) Galettes waffles

We actually had a hard time finding galette waffles..and we got ours from a supermarket!

* J thinks that the best waffle he had is from Maison Dandoy (I guess it really lived up to its name, since it was rated the best waffles to have in Belgium). The queue to Maison Dandoy was unbelievably long as well..
Personally, I think they all kinda tasted the same, except Désiré de Lille because it was exceptionally crispy. The €1 waffle we had from the train station is equally good as well. 

2. Belgian fries 

Belgian fries from Frites Atelier in Antwerp
€3.50 fries + €1.50 selection of 2 sauces (our pick: Deep truffle & spicy andalouse)

Medium fries with curry sauce from Chez Vincent at Bruges

Medium fries with andalouse sauce from Chez Max in Dinant

Belgian fries are more chunky than French fries. Personally, I prefer Belgian fries! Probably because they double fry's rather unhealthy, but I can't deny the fact that they are tastier; soft inside and crispy outside! x_x
Belgians like to dip their fries with mayonnaise (the classic), but my personal favourite dip is andalouse, which is a mixture of mayonnaise, tomato paste and pepper!! It's my first time trying it and it's so good! Their spiciest dip is samurai - a combination of mayonnaise, Tunisian chili, spices, tomatoes and bell peppers (which we didn't find it spicy btw). Prices of dip/sauce toppings range from €0.70 to €1.20.

Mitraillette from Fritland, Brussels

Another way to eat Belgian fries is to eat them with a demi-baguette! Mitraillette is very popular among students and originated from Brussels. 

* J's pick: Frites Atelier in Antwerp
* My pick: Chez Max in Dinant

3. Belgium chocolate 

Need I say more?! Leonidas, Godiva, Neuhaus, Galler..they all originated from Belgium!! There are tonnes of specialised stores selling pralines and chocolate with unique flavours to choose from! They can be quite pricey though.

Mixture of white, milk and dark chocolate drink from The Old Chocolate House, Bruges

It was served with a large bowl of hot milk, where you could pour the chocolate bits inside and whisk them. What an experience! The hot chocolate was aromatic, rich and filling. There was also a small piece of almond biscuit that comes with it. Totally worth the price!

10 pieces of praline chocolates for €6 from The Old Chocolate House, Bruges

There were a wide variety, but our pick (well, J's picks) included Ghianduja, Pistachio, Crispy, Banana, Mocha, white chocolate praline, milk chocolate praline, Hazelnut, vanilla and dark chocolate (?)..can't really remember now >_< but my favourites are the praline and crispy; anything with some crunchiness!! <3

4. Rijsttaart (Belgian rice tart)

€1.60 from Brussels train station

I like it! The texture is very soft inside, but crusty outside. Love the burnt top as well. It was kind of sweet for me though, probably because we had it as a pre-breakfast snack. 

5. Speculoos

Speculoos is a type of spiced (usually pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg) shortcrust biscuit. It originated from Belgium, although other variations of it are available in Germany and Netherlands. We didn't try speculoos in Belgium because we could buy it in Ireland as well! I didn't know the renowned Lotus Biscoff biscuits are actually speculoos!! 

6. Smoutebollen (lard balls)
€4.90 from Désiré de Lille in Antwerp

Nothing special to be honest. They're just dough balls coated in icing sugars. 

7. Stoverij (Belgian beef stew)

Flemish stew from Restaurant Du Progres in Ghent

The waitress literally gave us a sour face when we ordered tap water; this seems to be the case in most restaurants in Belgium. If you do not order beer/wine, they'll roll their eyes so if you wanna save money, you can either be thick faced, or bring your own water bottle and fill from tap! xD

I have to admit tho, the stew was great! The pig's cheeks were very tender and soft, braised thoroughly in the intense flavour of Westmalle dark beer and Tierenteyn mustard; such a perfect match with the Belgian fries!

8. Waterzooi

Gentse waterzooi van vis (fish) from Brasserie Savarin

Another must-try dish originated from Ghent. The original waterzooi recipe uses fish for the stew, however, chicken (waterzooi van kip) is more commonly used now. To be honest, I was rather disappointed with it; it was too bland for me, and pricey as well. On top of that, the restaurant served us plain bread, which we thought was complimentary, but we were charged at the end of the bill, albeit a small price. It seems like this is a common tactic used in Belgium, which I think is unethical. They should at least inform us and give us a choice?! >_> geeez.

9. Roulettes sauce tomate (Meatball with tomato sauce)
from Proxy Delhaize in Bruges

Probably the cheapest main meal we had. Most restaurants are total rip-offs. This dish would probably cost €10 or more in a standard restaurant, and we got ours for only €4 from a local supermarket. I read from trip advisor and other travel forums that the supermarket quality is similar to restaurant served ones..and since we are not picky eaters, I think the cheap eats from supermarket are good enough for us. We should have done this with the waterzooi..

10. Konijn met pruimen (Rabbit meat with prunes)
also from Proxy Delhaize in Bruges 

Well, it's my first experience with rabbit meat and they tasted like chicken, but more tender and juicier. I'm glad we tried it :D 

The waterzooi is sold at €5.49 in Delhaize, and we had ours for nearly €20!! T_____T
Travel smart, go to the supermarket and try everything! We could have ticked all of our travel food list without burning a hole in our pockets! 
Then again, another factor to consider is whether the accommodation provides a microwave. The train hostel is equipped with microwaves, stoves and pots for budget travellers, so it worked for us.

11. Broodje (sandwich bread)
Broodje Martino from @ Tatties's in Bruges

When in Belgium, eat like locals. Belgians usually eat sandwich bread/rolls for their breakfast or lunch. It's nutritious, refreshing (with lots of vegetables) and light. 
Martino is minced raw beef, together with martino sauce, onions, tomatoes, salad and boiled eggs. Surprisingly, I couldn't taste the raw beef at all and it's really delicious!! 

12. Cuberdons

€2 for 100g (about 6 pieces)

Try them in Ghent, because that's where Cuberdons were originally from. Cuberdons are belgian candies which are hard on the outside but gelatinous in the inside. There were so many flavours to choose from!! We tried the green apple (green), lemon (yellow), raspberry (purple), strawberry (pink), and an unknown (blue) flavour. 

13. Ice cream
Nonno ice cream in Ghent
€4.50 for 3 scoops; our pick: hazelnut, coffee & speculoo

Oyya ice cream in Bruges
€3.20 for 2 scoops; our pick: kinder bueno & pistachio

We had a bad experience in Oyya because the man wouldn't let us try some of the flavours! We planned to buy 3 scoops of ice cream, so inevitably, we had to try the flavours and decide but the man was extremely rude and forbid us to try after our 5th spoon, even though they weren't even a spoonful!! To be fair though, the lady who served us was friendly and polite. I suppose the man was the manager or the owner. Bad customer service >___>

Leonidas's 'seduction' ice cream

I tried Godiva's ice cream in London previous so I wanted to try Leonidas's to compare..hands down, Godiva's would win; its texture and taste are so much better than Leonidas's..

These were on my food list to try but we didn't get a chance to:
14. Mussels and fries
Known to be Belgium's national dish! They're quite pricey tho and tbh, mussels and fries could be eaten even in Cork or London, but I guess trying the food from its country of origin just make it special/memorable?

15. Stoemp
Mashed potatoes with onions, cabbage, carrots, leeks, and many other vegetables. Traditionally served with fried mince, fried eggs, fried boudin or horse tenderloin.

16. Paling in 't groen (eel in green)
Never a fan of eel, but they said it's a must try in Belgium!

Well, J said the weather was hot..but the only day I found it hot was our first day in Antwerp. The other days were sunny but it was also quite windy, and it rained on our 3rd day there (at Bruges). I am grateful to experience the sun there, but the weather could be it's best to bring clothes that enable you to layer up.

Everything in euros :)

Day 1

Station: Antwerpen Centraal

We decided to go Antwerp for the first day because J thinks we could do it for half a day. However, luck was certainly not on our side. We missed 2 trains because some guy jumped in front of the railway and caused all trains on that lane (which happens to be our lane) to stop operating. One thing I dislike about Belgium is that they're not very tourist friendly. Everything is in French, or Dutch and we wouldn't know anything unless we approached the operators. Ultimately, we had to detour by going to Leuven first, and then Antwerp. It took us approximately 2 hours to reach Antwerp and the train from Leuven to Antwerp had NO air conditioning!!! This may be one of the rare occasions where I actually complained of the heat than the cold..but gosh, it was so stuffy and I was dehydrated. Did I mention there were no seats as well? Hot, stuffy, sweaty, hungry..

We were welcomed by this majestic sight of the Antwerp Central Station, which is known for being Europe's most romantic and the world's most beautiful train station!

Cathedral of our Lady

Listed as one of the World's Heritage sites, the cathedral took 169 years to finish its construction! We didn't actually enter the cathedral, but we really should have.. Starting off our day badly, I guess I was rather frustrated, hungry and tired to actually tour around.

Admission fee for adults is €5 and €3 for students/groups of >20 ppl/seniors.

Grote Markt

Het Steen / Steen Castle

We wanted to visit the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) but it was closed by the time we reached there..
hence, we took pictures at the riverside/port and headed up to the roof top of MAS to have a 360 panorama view of Antwerp city ;)

Antwerp Port

Day 2

Station: Gent Sint-Pieters

Sint-Pietersplein (St Peter's Square)

Sint-Baafsplein, the town square in between the Royal Dutch Theatre, the Belfry Tower and St. Bavo's cathedral.

The Ghent belfry is listed as one of the World Heritage List of the UNESCO Convention. Belfries symbolise deep human urge for freedom & democracy. The Ghent belfry is one of the well known skyline of Ghent city, along with St. Nicholas church and St. Bavo's cathedral.

Opening hours: 10am - 6pm
Rates: €8, €6 for senior citizens and group of ≥ 15 ppl, €2.70 for youths (19-25 yo)

The view from top of the belfry

St Bavo's cathedral

At Sint-Michielshelling bridge, viewing both Korenlei and Graslei (picturesque views)

Opening hours: daily 10am - 6pm
Price: €10 for basic, €7.50 for seniors & group of 15+ ppl, €6 for youths (19-25 yo)
P.S: I love being under 25 in Belgium!!

I highly recommend visiting here! Start off from the ground floor, and follow the numberings, which lead you to each unique room in castle. The castle was served as the Court of Flanders until it was abandoned in the 14th century. It was later used as a courthouse, prison, and a factory. They renovated it to its original architecture and served as a popular tourist attraction now. 

The torture chamber was eerie and interesting. 

Try cuberdons in Ghent :) 

Overall, Ghent is a lovely city. It's the city where we do most of the sightseeing and attractions. 

Day 3

Station: Brugge 

Breakfast at @Tattie's
We were so hungry that the first thing we arrived at Bruges, was to eat! 

Belfry of Bruges, but we didn't visit it..

Waffles on a stick!!

Strawberries nutella liege waffles from Chez Albert~

Burg Square 

Stadhuis van Brugge (Bruges City Hall)

We visited the Basilica of Holy Blood. It was renowned for possessing the vial that contain a cloth with blood of Jesus Christ. 
Even though I'm not a christian, it's eye-opening to experience the atmosphere inside the basilica. However, I was extremely concerned and anxious about wearing inappropriately as I know Roman catholics are rather strict with formality and attire. 

Oyya ice cream (great flavours but bad service!)

I think both Ghent and Bruges are famous for their canals and boat rides. Unfortunately, we didn't ride on any because they cost about €7 per person and it takes approximately 20-30 minutes? We prefer to spend the money on food xD 
Furthermore, if we travel by foot, we have the luxury to snap more pictures from different angles. As you can see from the pictures, each boat carries ≥10 ppl, which would be quite confined for us to take pictures.

Minnewater (Lake of love) & the Lovers' bridge 

Tranquil and serene place to stroll with the people you love. It was unfortunate that it started drizzling and then it poured heavily when we were on the way to Minnewater. 

Overall, Bruges was a great, relaxed city. It would have been better if the weather wasn't gloomy.

Day 4

Station: Dinant

Belgian fries for breakfast?!
I need to measure that waistline soon if I continue this diet in the long term...

Dinant is so pretty!! The hidden gem of Belgium~

I had sucked in my tummy for pictures after all the unhealthy consumption throughout my trip..

...and I have no idea why did I keep taking pictures with this pose..

All the pictures were taken on the Charles-de-Gaulle Bridge, a symbol of Dinant city. There were saxophones located at the sides of the bridge, each representing a country of the European Union. In addition, this was a tribute to Adolph Sax, the inventor of saxophone who was born in Dinant! There's a saxophone museum, but we didn't get to visit it.  

Notre Dame de Dinant (Collegiate Church of Our Lady) & the Citadel of Dinant at the back

We visited the Citadel and it was an enriching experience to learn about the Battle of Dinant during the First World War. The re-enacted the scenes with visual and audio aids, but I can't imagine the hard times people had to suffer during wars..

The price was €8.50 per person, inclusive of the cable car ride back and forth to the citadel. 

It became gloomy all of the sudden..

 ...and the sun shone again :)

Couque de dinant 
They are a special local biscuits originated (and probably only found?) in Dinant. They're EXTREMELY hard, so I would highly recommend eating them by dipping into coffee/tea!

Met a pom, who wasn't impressed to be carried by me xD

The other attractions in Dinant was too far to travel by foot, and we had no idea where to take the bus or whatever..we didn't want to spend on taxi as well, so we headed home after half day in Dinant. I regretted not trying the flamiche which is also a specialty of Dinant. :(

Went back to Brussels and had 4 waffles for dinner...tell me how will I not gain weight from this trip..
Queued for the Belgium's well known and probably the best (claimed by multiple sources) waffles - Maison Dandoy. While queuing, we saw another waffle shop located next to it, which has no queue and costed €1 each (additional charges for toppings), which is why we decided to try both shop's and compare XD

I can't really taste the difference tho..I'm happy as long as there's waffles (nomnomnom)
But J said Maison Dandoy's liege waffle was the best waffle he had overall in Belgium. So, I guess it does live up to its name. 

Day 5

Station: Bruxelles Central

 At The Grand Palace, central square of Brussels

Mannekin Pis

61cm naked little boy urinating into the fountain's basin. On certain occasions, the statue will be dressed according to the celebration. It happened to be a Japanese celebration (which I have forgotten the event)..

I'm still puzzled as to why people are queueing to see the statue and why is it considered as an attraction.. 

Le mont des arts

Head back to Dublin on the same day and back to summer electives :(
Thank you J for the short getaway. It turns out to be the only Europe country that I've travelled to during this summer (disregarding my London and Wales trip as Brexit occured..)

Till next time~