This is part two of a two-week trip to Europe. The first part is here and the last part is coming soon (ish). This part takes place after leaving Amsterdam and arriving by train to Belgium.
Day 0 (Day 7 Continued) – Arriving Into Ghent
I arrived into Ghent about 21:00 which gave me just enough time to figure out what line I needed to connect to get to my hostel. There happened to be a Starbucks in the Ghent Station, so I made use of their WiFi and found out which line I needed. Trams/buses/etc. here in Ghent run about 3 euros for an hour.
I got confused by which tram to take, so I missed my ride the first time, but eventually got to the Ziud stop, walked to my hostel, and made it right before reception closed at 22:00. After getting situated into my room, I went out to explore a bit and to grab some grub.
Wandering Ghent At Night
The lady at reception recommended a burger restaurant, but they ended up being closed due to the holiday. So, I ended up going to the first thing I found that was actually open. It was some shop that seemed to be the local fast food. I got myself a panini of a sort and a small order of fries…which ended up being like three cups worth of fries. To wash them down, I grabbed a canned beer (my first in Belgium). The meal was not too bad…thanks to the beer to wash things down.
Geeraard the Devil Castle
Later that evening I took off to walk around the streets a bit before walking by a castle I didn’t know anything about (I eventually learned it was the castle of Geeraard The Devil; named not because he was evil, but because of his dark complexion and hair). It was dark, so I didn’t really know where to go, so at the castle I turned right to walk along the canal before getting back around to my hostel to get some sleep around midnight.
Day 1 (Day 8) – Cathedrals, Bell Towers and Castles
I got going the following morning around 9:00. The hostel had supplies for breakfast, so I made myself some eggs, toast, cheese, and ham. Washed it down with orange juice and a cappuccino. Nothing fancy, but it was included with the hostel, so I was grateful.
Once I got finished up, I got my things together and took off to adventure around Ghent. I ended up walking towards the center of Ghent just past the castle I saw the night before. Looking even better in the day, I was surprised to see it next to the huge buildings just past.
Historical Center of Ghent
Once I made my way to the center of Ghent, I was blown away by the view of the massive structures. Built multiple hundreds of years ago, but still looking sturdy. I chose to just walk around the structures rather than going inside any today. Around the area there was a winter festival going on that had a market and a bunch of places for kids to play (and the parents to drink). Even a sweet ice rink in the middle next to a place called the Moose Bar.
The structures along the way start with the castle above, followed by the massive Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, Belfry (Bell Tower), and Saint-Nicholas Church (and a Ferris wheel). I went past them taking in the views of the buildings in the blue sky above. Eventually I made it over to St. Michael’s Bridge which had a killer view back on the center.
I never did a canal ride in Amsterdam, so when I saw one here for 7 euros through the River Leie, I decided to make it happen as the guy running the boat was funny and good to have a chat. The canal ride took us from just past St. Michael’s Bridge towards Gravensteen, back towards St. Michael’s Cathedral and then up one more path before ending the 45 minute un-covered ride (it was cold – so, it was nice to end it).
Gravensteen (Castle of The Counts)
Left the canal area and made my way to Gravensteen to get a closer look. This 13th century medieval castle is great looking and was enjoyable to wander around for 10 euros. They had some winter-swan-princess theme going on and it gave it some extra flair. They had a pretty sweet torture museum as well that I quite enjoyed (perhaps I’m morbid). At one point in the early 1900s the castle was being destroyed, but then they decided to repair it and make it pretty once again (I don’t remember the history of it all). Either way, worth while to check out, though I wish I would have gone in the evening, because they lit it up and added more to it than during the day.
At this point, I was getting in touch with an acquaintance-turned-friend from Belgium who is living in Bangkok, but visiting family for the holidays nearby. He ended up making his way over to Ghent. While I waited for him to arrive, I took part in the local fare of fries, waffles, and chocolate.
Jens In Ghent
Jens ended up meeting me at my hostel after he arrived into town and got checked into his place. He brought me some local beer not easy to get and we went out to dinner. One of the fancier dinners I had on my trip which consisted of some real great food and cherry beer. Thanks again for dinner, Jens!
After we had our fill, we decided to go grab some beers nearby. I was recommended by my friend Evan from BeerCycling (they do Belgium Beer Cycling Tours in the Summer), to go check out a local bar that was quite weird. Let me and Jens tell you, it lived up to its description.
The inside and outside of ‘t Velootje wouldn’t be setup in a way to attract customers, but there was something about the mess of the place that had some charm to it and made you feel at home. Unlike your normal bar, there wasn’t really a BAR. It was a bunch of tables with all sorts of things on them, some chairs, and a wood stove to warm up the joint. We walked in and was greeted by the owner after a moment. I told him Even recommended me to come to the place and he showed me the card he got from Evan around the end of the year. Great stuff.
We sat down and the owner brought us what he was serving. Some Gordon Christmas beers. Not too bad, but not my favorite. We proceeded to sit in awe as we took in the place and eventually started chatting up a couple of the locals. Both from Belgium, though one lives in Thailand half the time with his family (she’s Thai), and the other an artist who drew some drawings of me while I was there talking. We had a good time chatting with the two of them and telling stories and terrible jokes. It was exactly what I wanted!
After a few more beers here, we paid our tab (quite the expensive place for what you get in atmosphere, but whatever, it was quite the experience), and then went to Troll Bar.
Troll Bar and Others
This place gets its name from all the trolls they have around. We had a beer (or two) in the area, and then went to some other bars I really don’t remember all too well as by this point I was quite a number of beers in. We soon called the night and went our separate ways around 2:00.
Day 2 (Day 9) – Another Day In Ghent
I staggered awake around 9:30 the following morning, remembering that I had to either check out or spend another night here at the hostel. Also, the complimentary breakfast ended around 10:30, so I had to get going.
During my time getting things in order and having breakfast, I got in touch with one of Evan’s friends, Leslie. Leslie and his girlfriend Danielle are both from Belgium and live in Ghent. Avid beer lovers and brewers – and as I learned, super welcoming.
I was considering to train out to Bruges and get a hostel in the area, but I was offered a place to stay for the night and to hang out with them, so I stayed. Worked out pretty well, cause it gave me the day to walk to the top of the Belfry (Bell Tower) and to go on a “free” walking tour (VIVA Tours).
Belfry (Bell Tower)
The tour of the Belfry cost eight euros for the self-guided walking tour up the stairs to the top. There is an app you can download on your phone that provides text in English. I liked this tower and the different levels of entertainment they provided. Each floor has a different topic. One being the dragon at the top, one being the bells themselves, and then it’s the top where you can walk around the tower seeing the city from above. Great views of the cathedral and surrounding area. Worth a visit for sure.
Free Walking Tour
After checking out the tower, I decided to go on a walking tour of the area. I went on the free Viva walking tour. These are tip based tours. Meaning, if you enjoyed the tour, give a tip (5-10 euros). I’ve done these before and usually enjoy them. There was only four of us, but we made the most of it despite the rainy and windy weather. We walked around most of the places I had been, but this time with more info. Much more interesting than just site seeing.
Finished up the tour with some tasty fries w/ Samurai sauce. If you like spicy, then I recommend this sauce which is served in most places where they sell fries. Like a spicy fry sauce. Real tasty and worth the few euros it cost.
Leslie and Daniella
By the time the tour ended and I gorged my face with fries, it was about time to get my things together before making my way to Leslie and Daniella’s place. I made it back to the hostel, got my gear, mapped out my way to get to their place by bus, and I was off. The bus to their place ended up being easy to use and the driver was helpful.
I walked my way down the alleys near their place and eventually found their building. Leslie greeted me at the door and welcomed me into their home. Him and Daniella have been living in their place here in Ghent for quite a while. I was thankful to have them as hosts for the evening. First things first was to get my bags down and enjoy a beer. Leslie and Daniella are quite the avid home brewers and they know quite a lot of the good ones. Quite useful to have them to chat with regarding the different beers as they were very knowledgeable. They have spent a couple months over the years in Portland trying the numerous beers we have back home.
Leslie prepared a tasty dinner for the night which consisted of endives, potatoes, and cheese. Quite tasty and went well with the beer. Soon after, we were off to one of the bars they regularly hit up, Rock Circus.
At Rock Circus, we enjoyed a number of tasty beverages with some of my favorites being the Geuze.
Day 3 (Day 10) – Bruges
The last day of my time in Belgium started me at Leslie and Daniella’s place in Ghent, and ended in Brussels for my flight to Swtizerland. I used this day to explore the “fairy tale city”, Bruges. I ended up hopping on the morning train from Ghent to Bruges. Once arriving Bruges, I took the bus to the city center.
The bus I was on ended up dropping me off right in front of walking tour that I just happened to make by a few minutes. There were about fifteen people surrounding a lady with an orange umbrella letting us know she was the guide. While waiting, I overhead some American’s talking and chose to say hi. Amazing enough, one of them, a lady around my mom’s age happened to be from MicMinnville, Oregon (about 30-45 minutes from Portland). The other American was a girl around my age with her Spanish husband who live in Spain now. The three of us ended up sticking together for the majority of the tour.
The tour took us all around the center of Bruges and the buildings and sites all around. There were a lot of swans and other birds along the water and many lovely places to see, however I’m gonna have to give it to Ghent for being a more enjoyable place to be. Just something so charming about the buildings in Ghent. I’m not going to go into much detail here, but I can say that it was a pretty place.
When the tour ended, I went wandering to the outer part of the city to the windmills and the road that surrounded the town. For being cold outside, it didn’t stop numerous people from walking along the trails. Eventually on my way back, I went through a couple parks that were quite lovely.
Making my way back into the center of the town, I was on the hunt for muscles, fries, and beer. There was a row of restaruants, and I just picked one in the middle. Ended up being a great spot for a meal. The view was great, the food tasty, and the beer kept flowing.
Eventually I ran out of time, rushed back to the train station, grabbed my bags, and left Bruges for Brussels to catch my flight to Switzerland.