I don’t know what I’m thinking, flying to this foreign land and wandering around its many cities. All I know is that I’m in search of something: a break from the ordinary trip—not just about getting some sun and playing around.
Having that in mind, I know that the answer lay elsewhere, maybe in a different continent on the other side of the world. So without any hesitations, I immediately booked a flight to Belgium just to spend a week seeing its many streets and landmarks.
As a globetrotter, I know that travelling involves passion, love, and a lot of money. It’s an Eat, Pray, Love scenario where you just go with the flow and wait for that moment of clarity while enjoying the journey. More than that, traveling is also about accepting the wrong turns, facing your fears, then learning that you can do anything.
With that and many things, I write about this once in a lifetime trip to Belgium, an adventure filled with thrill and excitement.
The first leg of my stay in Belgium was spent in Brussels, the capital and largest city of the country. Its name was said to derive from the Old Dutch Broekzele or Broeksel, which means‘home in the marsh’ (with Broek meaning ‘marsh’, and Sel for ‘home’). Consisting of 19 municipalities, the city is known around the world for its many landmarks such as the Royal Palace, the Grand Place, and the Triumphal Arch.
More than the monarch’s official residence, the Royal Palace was built in 1900 to provide a place for the King to exercise his privilege among its people. As magnificent as the palace façade is, it is nothing compared to the interiors which consists of many rooms for the king along with his cabinet and chiefs of staff.
Among its many rooms are the Throne Room, or the Aula Magna erected during the 15th century for Philip the Good; the Goya Room, whose name was taken from the tapestries given to King Leopold I from Queen Isabella II of Spain; the Small and Large White Room, furnished in an 18th century style and where the King and Queen accepts their royal visitors; the Music and Mirror Room, built for the entertainment of the Royal family; and the Blue Room where the King and Queen dine.
Contemporary artworks by Jan Fabre (“Heaven of Delight”), Marthe Wéry (“Monochrome Series”), Patrick Corillon (“Royal Palace Flowers”) and portraits made by Dirk Braeckman also adorn the Palace.
While the Royal Palace greatly attracts many tourists for its elegance and regal beauty, the Grand Place captures travelers for its decorative and artistic features. Located at the center of Brussels, it has been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998 and considered as one of the most stunning places worth seeing.
Also known as Grote Markt, the Grand Palace boasts of landmarks like the Town Hall and the Breadhouse. The Town Hall is a Gothic building dating back from the middle ages. Its most prominent feature is the statue of St. Michael slaying the devil on top of the hall’s tower.
Attraction in the square includes the Flower Carpet, designed traditionally every two years in the month of August. Representing the artistic side of the locals, the carpet displays different chromatic patterns of Begonias covering a full 79 by 253 ft area. The tradition started in 1971.
After having enough of Brussels, I proceed to the second leg of my trip: historical Antwerp. Its name originated from the legend of mythical Antigoon, a giant who lived near the Scheldt River and was slain by Brabo. Story has it that Antigoon gave a fee for everyone who crossed the river. Anyone who refused to pay that toll got his hands cut and then tossed into the water. This brought the name Antwerpen, coming from the Old English term for hand and wearpan (to throw).
Before I headed to Antwerp, I stopped by the Triumphal Arch, found in the eastern part of Brussels. Built to celebrate the fiftieth year of Belgium’s independence, the Arch was part of the world exhibition held in 1880. During those times, only the bases of the columns were made of stone, while the rest of the structure consisted of wooden panels. On either side of the Triumphal Arch is a government building shaped like a “U”. It is also known as Jubilee Park.
The highlight, however, of my stay in Antwerp is the MAS Musuem, which opened for public in May 2011. Considered as the largest museum in the city (standing over 60 meters high), MAS is a Dutch word for Museum on the Stream. It was designed by the Neutelings Riedjik Architects, who used a unique combination of Indian red sandstone and curved glass panels for the exteriors.
The museum houses more than 470,000 pieces of artwork with themes on power, life, death, and the metropolis. Masterpieces dating over five centuries are seen on the third floor, while exhibits on artworks with themes of power are on the fourth. Floors five to eight, on the other hand, holds art pieces on metropolis, world port, life, and death. Selected pieces around the museum also depict the city of Antwerp and its struggle to be known around the globe.
The last part of my stay was greatly spent in the city of Ghent. With its different tourist spots that are both bewitching and charming, no wonder the place has captivated my heart and made me want to stay longer.
One of its many landmarks is the Grasbrug, a bridge greatly favored by travelers as it gives one a spectacular view of the area’s towers and gables. The bridge crosses the Graslei Canal, which many consider as the most scenic part of the old city center. This waterway also serves the passing point of many boats and water taxis. Medieval warehouses and townhouses along the canal give tourists a view of the local’s lifestyles.
Saint Bavo Cathedral is must-see destination that is famous for its eccentric design and structure. Named after the city’s patron Saint, the edifice is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. Aside from its distinct chapels, aisles, chapterhouse, and transepts, there are also artworks that adorn the interiors. Among them is the painting called “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck, as well as Frescoes of different religious figures.
The cathedral’s crypt is also a popular attraction as it serves as a burial site for many of Ghent’s prominent bishops and duchesses. Among them are Bishop Cornelius Jansen, the first bishop of the city, Bishop Karl Vanden Bosch, Bishop Jan de Smet, Bishop Gerard van Eersel, Duchess Michelle of Valois, and Duchess of Burgundy.
Villages serve a prominent part of the city. I dropped by Vrijdagmarkt where tourists and local alike sit and dine in the different cafes and restaurants while enjoying a scenic view of the city’s daily life. The Vrijdagmarkt village square is famous for the Friday Market held in the area.
Museums featuring Ghent’s cultural heritage are also found around the city. Among them is the Stam, a nunnery-hospital complex where a satellite image and interactive map showcase the different docks and developing sights seen in the area. The Huis van Alijn, once a children’s hospice complex, holds traditional puppet shows every Saturdays. Lastly, there’s also a 14th century belfry called Belfort that features a large weathervane dragon, which is considered as a city mascot.
The moats, turrets and towers of Gravensteen, a 12th century castle, is also must-see landmark while in Ghent. The edifice greatly depicts the long history of the city and how it has overcome many struggles that come along their way.
As a world traveler, I may have gone to different places that have greatly exceeded my expectations. But as many as they may be, there will always be that insatiable feeling of wanting to find out more. It’s not so wrong especially if it gives one enjoyment, a channel of releasing stress, and providing unending learning.
However, in all my journeys around the world, there’s this special place that makes me want to stay longer. It’s a place where I can imagine myself going back over and over again. And I want to share it with everyone, especially to those who want to see what I had found, because that certain place is out there. It’s waiting for you to step on its grounds and witness its beauty.
PS… it’s Belgium.