Ghent and Brussels
I made my way to Ghent, a half hour train trip from Brugge and then jumped on a bus to the hostel. Unfortunately I had given my ticket away to someone else, not realising I could have used it again so the train and bus cost me around 18 euro. The bus left straight from Brugge and went to Ghent, and even though it took 90 minutes I would recommend that to people as it will cost you 3 euro and if you’ve got the time, why not?!
Unfortunately my sickness had well and truly set in by the time I arrived in Ghent so I headed to Kaba Hostel to check in and take a nap. The hostel was great! It’s owned by a husband and wife, it was incredibly clean, the kitchen was great and they had a real coffee machine! And free breakfast. I shared with two guys and they were really nice. I went out to a Chilean restaurant and had a delicious chilli con carne with vegetables for 10 euro and then met a great Australian couple back at the hostel. Lots of travel chat ensured and that’s how I made my decision to go to Ireland as they lived and worked there for six months and it sounded great. Really as soon as Erin mentioned “Australian style brunch” in Dublin, I was sold.
Back to Ghent though! I wandered around on Friday and checked out the old town, the city hall, cathedral and a couple of churches. I wasn’t in the mood to do a lot of touristing so I’m sure there are a lot more things to see. I mainly spent my time in Ghent eating fruit and vegetables and planning the next part of my trip. Considering It was Wednesday and I was leaving for Brussels on Thursday and I didn’t have a place to say I found some decent wifi and planned a few days in advance. Because I’m a terrible budget traveller I was keen to stay in a hotel. I got on to my favourite website, lastminute.com and found another secret deal for $70 a night in Brussels. Turns out it was Four Points by Sheraton and it was great! It was a good 2.5 kilometer walk from the city centre but that was good exercise!
The hotel was equipped with a gym and sauna so I replaced the fries, beers and chocolate for exercise, mussels and fruit and vegetables and a side of the ‘best fish and chips in Brussels’ #moderation. According to all reports Bia Mara was the place to go. I walked almost 3 kilometres to eat there, it was really busy and the staff were nice but I was underwhelmed. On the way back to the hotel I also got yelled at by this strange guy and he hit me with an umbrella. It was pretty random and I definitely got my quick walk on back to the hotel! On Friday I had a quiet morning, then did a free walking tour of Brussels which was really interesting and worthwhile. I would recommend going with Viva Brussels for the tour! They say free but you really are expected to tip the guides. I never know how much to leave and from looking at what other people gave, my 10 euro contribution was generous. Up until this point the weather had been quite mild but a real cold front had made its way to Brussels so I quickly went to the shops before they closed to buy some decent gloves and a beanie. I am so glad I did because it got cold super quickly after that!
On Friday I hadn’t been following the news that much but thought something must have been happening because the police and military presence was MASSIVE. I got stopped walking in to the main square and my bag was searched. It was a bit unsettling and I was quite pleased I was leaving Brussels early the next morning. On Saturday I left the hotel at 6:30am and headed down to the tram. It was about 40 minutes late and bloody freezing outside. Once I got on the tram I was relieved thinking “phew, I’ll get to my plane in time!”. About 10 minutes in, the tram driver said something in French and everyone was getting off. It turns out Brussels had upgraded their terror threat to the highest level of 4 at midnight and therefore the metro was shut down, and the trams were not allowed to use the underground stops. Luckily there was another family going to the airport, as well as a young Spanish guy, Amele, who was going to meet his parents who were flying in for the weekend. Amele ordered us two taxis, and only one turned up. We let the family go as there flight was a little before mine. What then ensured was another 40 minutes of waiting in 2 degree whether and the stress and anxiety building as taxi after taxi drove past us. We made it to the airport and there was a big traffic jam. I was getting seriously late for my flight and neither of us had enough euros on us to pay the driver. I thought I could run inside and go to an ATM but the driver wouldn’t allow it and instead drove us back out of the packed airport and made the young guy pay for the equivalent in fuel (45 euro) from a petrol station. I tried to pay as well but Amele insisted he had it covered and wished me a safe flight. I will definitely be paying the kindness forward!
Much stress, anxiety and running through the airport later, I made my flight with 5 minutes to spare. The same can’t be said for my bag, which went missing for 34 hours. What a weekend. I just feel incredibly lucky that I was able to get out of Brussels and am keeping all the locals in my thoughts. During these bad times, you really do see the amazing community spirit and the kindness of strangers. As soon as I arrived in Ireland, I was greeted with a warm welcome and knew the next week was going to be grand.
In a nutshell the things I love about Belgium are…
- The food is amazing. You need to try all the things
- The architecture in each town is uniquely beautiful
- Being such a compact country it’s really easy to travel around
- I met so many amazing people here
- Interesting history. They are very proud of their beer!