Belgium is underappreciated. I first went to the country nine years ago, spending four days in and around Brussels and I feel for the country and its people completely...
Well it was about time I managed to get back there so the last week has been spent wandering around the country as a whole.
We visited Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels, as well as some smaller towns like Tournai, Chimay (mainly for the Trappist brewery), Mouscron and Diksmuide.
Bruges is wonderful, one of the most picturesque places I have ever visited - in fact with the exception of Venice I would say it is the most romantic place I've yet been. It misses out on only one thing for me - it allows cars into the city, something Venice obviously does not. But this intrusion of modern life into its medieval dreamworld holds it back from being truly wonderful. One day here as simply not enough and we plan to return as soon as we can.
Ghent has a fantastic medieval centre, albeit one you have to reach by walking through some depressing modern streets. It makes for a very pleasant day's strolling but I couldn't see much more time spent there.
Brussels was everything I remembered. The Grand Place is Brussels is stunning and in the middle of such a busy city it, and its surrounding streets form a remarkable oasis of calm. you only have to turn a corner from a busy modern city of thoroughfares, heavy traffic and flashing neon signs, place on one foot onto a narrow cobblestone street and you are in a different world.
Antwerp surprised me. I really wasn't expecting it to live up to the other destinations we visited on the trip, but it has a Grand Place to rival Brussels and Bruges. Walk from their down a narrow road and you encounter the city's magnificent Cathedral. But its old centre is remarkably small when you compare it to the others. It is a vibrant city, full of bright lights, traffic and life.
The Belgian's are one of the friendliest nationalities I've ever encountered, and helpfully when you consider I speak very little Flemish/Dutch, they speak very good English in the Flemish areas (Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp were all in this area). Brussels was a little different which did surprise me. I met a few people who did not speak English at all. Fortunately French is one language I can get by in so it was ok (if, as mentioned, suprising).
Well I'm back. About to do some writing, going to watch the Grand Prix and dreading the return to the day job tomorrow.