I visited Belgium last week for the day. It was a trip that I had planned some time ago, and then re-planned when I realised that I had bought the wrong ticket. My original plan was to travel to Brussels on the Eurostar, and then potter around there for the day, but I bought a ticket to “any Belgian station” by mistake, and at the suggestion of a Belgian friend I went to Gent instead…
As with my Paris trip of two months ago, I got up in the middle of the night and caught a train to London so early that I arrived before the rush hour. I was in plenty of time at London St Pancras International to catch my train to Brussels that left a few minutes before nine in the morning.
I spent my first Euros on the train, on a breakfast of porridge and coffee. (By the way, I managed to run through 100 Euros that day…and I’m still not entirely sure how :p ) The journey is roughly two hours, and there is not a lot to do but to sit back and enjoy the scenery, and of course the wall of the channel tunnel, until you get to your destination. I did notice that in France and Belgium there are numerous wind turbines generating electricity, and I did try and get a picture of some, but when I tried taking the pictures…well, let’s just say that it’s difficult to compose shots when one is travelling away from your subject at nearly 200 miles per hour!
We arrived in Brussels on time and then I went to find my train to Gent. Dutch is an absolutely fearsome language to listen to or speak I believe, but reading it wasn’t a huge problem and I found my way to the train platform ok…only to find that the train had been diverted to a different platform!
Eventually I caught the train, a service to Bruges, and arrived in Gent about 30 minutes later. Pausing only to take a picture of the gorgeous entrance hall I went out into the street. My original plan was to catch a tram to the city centre, but the sun was out, and anyway I couldn’t work out where to buy a ticket, so I opted to walk. It’s perhaps a mile to the centre of town, and I walked up a road lined with historic industrial buildings – offices and the like. Eventually I got to the centre, and, after taking more pictures of the historic court house, I wandered along one of the canals to find…an English bookshop! I went inside, and my first purchase on Belgian soil (apart from a 50 cent fee to use the public toilet in Brussels :p) was of a book written and published in England!
More pottering ensued. I went further into the centre, and bought some chocolate from a shop near the Cathedral. And then, having bought lunch, it was time to head back to the station (or so I thought – I arrived back in Brussels too early).
I walked back a different way, and came across the regionally important Gent Museum of Fine Arts. I went in and had a look round, and I must say…there are rather a lot of nudes featuring in European art! I found the Belgians very friendly, and they talked better English than many Brits…and as a case in point, I was asked to store my backpack in some lockers in the basement of the art gallery. Well, I couldn’t work out how to work the self service lockers, and I asked someone who was only too happy to help.
I left the art gallery and headed back to the station. The weather had turned a little, and I didn’t want to get stuck somewhere in the rain. I took more ducks and geese at a park, and went back to the station to catch the train back to Brussels.
When I got back to Brussels I realised that I had arrived too early and went for a meal at a burger joint. After that…having spent 20 Euros on fine chocolate in Gent, I bought more chocolate at the branch of Carrefour situated at the railway station.
Finally, we were allowed to queue to go through passport control, where I encountered the friendliest border guard I have ever seen, a Belgian, and there was time for more shopping before we boarded the train back to Britain.
I took a number of photographs, but well…today, a week after my visit to Belgium, there were a number of terrorist attacks on Brussels, and so I would like to share just one, that I took in Brussels, as a mark of respect and solidarity with the people of that city. It’s of a display on the wall of Brussels Midi station featuring one of Belgium’s more famous citizens – Tintin.