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Belgium

    Mons, Belgium – an accidental day trip from France

    We drove from London to Belgium, crossing Essex, the southeast of England, a fair amount of France and then accidentally slipped over the border to Mons, Belgium. 

    Mons Belgium Day Trip Adventures of a London Kiwi

    As a reprobate island dweller (all the way from New Zealand to Grande Britannia) I still delight at how easy it is to slip between countries in Europe, so we took full advantage of this when spending a few days in France.

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    Gambolling Through Ghent; A Wanderers Guide.

    As a day trip from Brussels (only a half hour train),  I’ve found that either many people haven’t heard of Ghent, preferring to explore the chocolate box streets of Bruges, or they adore Ghent so much that when a blogger (me) visits, they spam them via instastories with recollections of days spent there and memories made. True story.

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    Disclaimer: I was a press guest of VisitFlanders in Ghent

    but all planning, mischief and thoughts are all mine.

    We fell into the former camp on our trip to Brussels and explored Bruges, but genuinely regretted only being able to fit one city in, vowing to return one day.

    Luckily an invite to explore Ghent appeared in my email inbox, so I gleefully accepted, hopping on the Eurostar one sleepy morning, and spending a long weeked gambolling through the streets (under blues skies and then grey clouds.)

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    As guests of the tourism board, we were given city passes which allowed us to hop on the local transport (trams & busses), pop in and out of the museums and climb aboard a canal cruise, exploring the city by water.

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    Galavant through the Gravensteen
    We didn’t galavant so much as gallop up through the castle, so intent we were on completing a challenge to the top, but strolled back down through exhibitions. The exhibits share the history of The quintessential 12th-century stone castle, which comes complete with moat, turrets and arrow slits.

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    And the view from atop the towers? Well, it’s ok I guess.

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    Hop onto a canal cruise
    Sit back, relax, and let the world glide by. The 40-minute tour included in the city card takes in the city by canal, led by a knowedgable driver/guide and is a lovely way to get to know the city a little bit better. There are also other operators, a couple of whom offer picnics as you float through the medieval city.

    I was so tempted to jump into the drivers seat. So tempted.

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    Explore the Street Art 
    With a thriving weekly student population, there is a fun vibe to the city (and loads of entertainment) but notably, the streets are strategcally decorated with street art of every kind.

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    From local graffitti artists to commissioned works featuring medieval art…

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    …all the way through to intriguing statues lining the canals. It’s a feast for the eyes.

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    Nurture your sense of wonder and wander through a couple of museums
    There are so many museums in Ghent that it was hard to choose which ones to visit. In the end I let my feet decide, and visited the Design Museum (which was also close to our hotel.)

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

     It was intriguing, slightly mischevious and full of interesting exhibits.

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    We also nipped into the STAM museum to learn about local history, the medieval Sint-Pietersabdij Gent which has its own vineyard and classical art, and scooted up the Belfry for 360° views of Ghent city. There are also several beautiful churches that need to be visited to be believed, their spires soaring above the city majestically.

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    Tour the local breweries.
    This is definitely a must-do, along with enjoying frites, eating local chocolate and nibbling fresh waffles under a mountain of freshly whipped cream. It’s the law.* (Fuller gastronomic guide to Ghent here.)

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    As a European city break, Ghent was a lovely combination of being able to relax and explore. For the most part we didn’t even need to hop onto transport, being able to rely on our feet to discover much of  what the city had to offer visitors. For more inspiration, see the tourist site here.

    Do you pre-plan your visits or see what happens when you get there?

    Things to do in Ghent Belgium on a city break Adventures of a London Kiwi .

    * Not really, but if you don’t, you’re missing out.

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    Things to do on a long weekend in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

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    A Gathering Of Gastronomic Suggestions In Ghent.

    Eating frites smothered in mayonnaise, nibbling fresh waffles under a mountain of freshly whipped cream and drinking glasses of beer outside in the sunshine is practically inviolable law when visiting Belgium. (In fact, if you look under a microscope at your Belgian passport stamp ‘proost / à votre santé / prost’ may or may not be etched under the flag.)

    Enjoying their exquisite pralines is obviously the fourth law, but one I managed to fail miserably, thanks to a bag of Bolognaise flavoured crisps for lunch – but I did take some home to the UK, which totally counts, right?

    Where to eat and drink in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Disclaimer: I was a press guest of VisitFlanders in Ghent

    and our dinners were complimentary but all thoughts are very much my own.

    While we spent our long weekend exploring the medieval city of Ghent, we also uncovered a few local specialities and places to explore, quenching a quota of wanderlust. The city is small enough to feel cozy, but vibrant enough to feel fun and have something going on – a perfect long weekend break. With 97 Michelin-starred restaurants in Flanders, the quality of local cuisine is rather high – and these were my favourite tastes of the weekend.

    Beer
    There are bars on almost every Ghentish corner – canalside terraces, local beerhouses and even a smattering of breweries in the city if you want to reduce your carbon footprint down to inches. The Belgians are famous for their brewing prowess, and nothing beats a leisurely hour or two nattering with glasses in hand.

    Where to eat and drink in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Where to eat and drink in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Cuberdons 

    Called ‘neuzekes’ or little noses, these sweets are a local delicacy – and only found in Belgium as they have to be eaten fresh, otherwise, the shell becomes too crispy. And they are delicious. They are found in from the open-air carts piled high in Ghent’s Groentenmarkt in a few different flavours, but I adored the classic berry ones.

    Where to eat and drink in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Frites
    Go local. Wander, get a cone of freshly fried frites and settle canalside for mayonnaise induced meditation in front of medieval buildings. Warning: check the portion sizes before ordering because they are GENEROUS.

    Moules
    Don’t Mussels sound so much more sexy in French?

    Where to eat and drink in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Oysters
    Why do some people love oysters? Because they taste of the ocean, of walks along shell-strewn shores and the delicate tang of salty sea air. I adore them, but they have to be utterly fresh and unobstructed by froufrou flavours – which served with lemon and nothing more, were perfect.

    Where to eat and drink in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    We had a lovely (if very, very leisurely meal) at Brasserie PakHuis, a former warehouse and one of the top-rated restaurants in the city. They have no fewer than ten different varieties of oyster, including two signature oysters, available for indulging from October to April. They also have a variety of dishes and tasting menus for those not of a mollusc-imbibing persuasion.



    Waffles

    According to the research I did online in the middle of my self made Sunday mission, the best place to eat waffles in Ghent city centre is a small restaurant called Passion. I grabbed a table on the terrace overlooking the Medieval belfry and ordered a coffee. Slightly damp from the drizzling rain, the hot cherry compote warmed me from top to toe, and I can hand on heart say it was the best waffle I’ve ever eaten. #sorryBrusselsnotsorry.

    Where to eat and drink in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Waterzooi
    This is a creamy stew is made with vegetables and served with either chicken or fish, and is a hearty, delicious hug of an autumn dish. We enjoyed our taste of traditional Ghentish cuisine in the canalside Belga Queen Brasserie, in a building dating from the 13th century (previously a grain warehouse, named Spijker of Korenstapelhuis) where luxury contemporary design and gastronomy meet.

    Where to eat and drink in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    (Oh, and vegetarian/vegan friends of mine, read this post by my friend Bintu – she recommends a variety of her favourite places to eat in the ‘vegetarian capital of Europe‘.) If your mouth is watering from this list alone, when you visit Ghent, I’d recommend these spots to explore in-between meals.

    When you travel to a new place, do you have a mental tick-list of local favourites to try?

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    Where to eat and drink in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

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    Getting Lost in Ghent, Belgium

    From my hotel window, I can hear the sliding scales of a bluesy jazz saxophonist, children softly singing a nursery rhyme and the occasional tinkle of coffee cups from a nearby cafe.

    I should be parading around the town, hunting out all of the medieval gems with the keenness of a panther, but instead, as it’s a Saturday morning, I’ve simply snuggled in further into the covers (more like a house cat in truth). There is a soft breeze floating through the ajar windows, I have a hot cup of tea cradled in my hand and no concrete plans for the morning.

    What to do on a long weekend in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Disclaimer: I was a press guest of VisitFlanders in Ghent

    but all planning, mischief and thoughts are entirely mine.


    This is what I call a blissful city break.

    I knew that as soon as I walked out of the hotel that there was plenty to explore, history to discover and frites to eat, but the tenor of our whole trip was relaxed. Even the journey.

    What to do on a long weekend in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    To get to Ghent I simply rolled out of bed and hopped on a couple of trains (that crisscrossed three countries), checked into the hotel and hopped onto a boat cruising the canals. It was that simple, that carefree.

    What to do on a long weekend in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    What to do on a long weekend in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Eventually slipping out of bed and into tourist mode, I picked up my wallet, the City Card that Visit Flanders had provided us (complete with map) so I could wander into any museums that I happened across and my phone.

    And wandered.

    What to do on a long weekend in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    The city is compact, and an intriguing mixture of ancient and modern. Belgian beer halls sit a few streets away from a lane dedicated to street art…

    What to do on a long weekend in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    What to do on a long weekend in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

     …and the electric tram rolls past the cluster of Cathedrals drawing your eye heavenwards.

    What to do on a long weekend in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Best of all? Fresh waffles on practically every corner.

    What to do on a long weekend in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    During the week Ghent is buzzy – full of student hubbub and lining the canals with picnics on sunny days, but at the weekends they mostly go home to their parents so the city settles into more of a sleepy hum.

    What to do on a long weekend in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    I loved both tastes of the city, and just meandered. (This could possibly be the subtitle of my blog – but I really feel that you get the best angle of a city by foot.) The centre is small enough that you can throw away the map, but large enough to spend a few hours peering into lanes and being surprised to discover cat cafes and ancient belfries.

    What to do on a long weekend in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    What to do on a long weekend in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

    I was also kicking myself for choosing Bruges over Ghent for as a day trip from Brussels a few years ago. Bruges is chocolate box beautiful (excuse the foodie pun) but Ghent has a spark of life that makes it a long weekend destination in itself. And, it’s almost taken me longer to cross London than it took the Eurostar to get to Belgium.

    Thank you Visit Flanders.

    Have you been to Ghent yet? The trip excitement on my Instagram was awesome!

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    What to do on a long weekend in Ghent Belgium Adventures of a London Kiwi

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    Bruges, Belgium #travelthursday

    Chocolate, sunshine, Colin Farrell, gingerbread buildings, turrets, canals, lace, chips & mayo and medieval cobbled streets. What more could you want from a weekend city break? 


    Everyone has asked me whether we preferred Brussels or Bruges and I honestly can’t say. Bruges is quaint, teeny, full of meandering streets and canals, chocolate shops and frite stores catering for your average cheesy tourist. They do also however have something called ‘samurai sauce’ for your frites which I’m disappointed we didn’t try.

     


    We turned up in Bruges having done no research whatsoever, and simply followed our noses (and initially the rest of the tourist off our train) down into the village mostly untouched by the modern world.

    Oh, except in a few places…


    The architecture was a beguiling mismatch of styles, decoration and twisty alley ways bringing you to yet another interesting building.

     

    This building on the main square looks like it could easily house Volturi, but sadly hosts the Bruges Medieval museum which has about as much bite and interest as an orange.

    Brussels is much more of a city, and takes coaxing to find the quirky delights, but seems to have something for everyone. Beer, Margritte cloud post-it notes, Invader street art, more chocolate, restaurants that just sell waffles, beautiful buildings, Peter Pan statues in hidden gardens, laughter and a Eurostar station. 

      

    I can tell you what I did find though, my new home. Now, I only need to get it to London…



    What’s your favourite of the two cities?

    Oh, and psst don’t forget it’s almost time for the monthly travel link up – this month’s theme is your favourite travel – add your post to our linkup between the 1st & 7th, share a little comment love and read in wonder. I’m not sure how I’m going to pick…


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