[Travel Diary #1] Belgium & France – Day 1: The Kingdom of Waffles and Chocolate

The first day of our first trip after the lifting of travel restriction in Europe.

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The Grand Place — Image courtesy of the author

I have to admit that I was so excited about this trip. I had been talking about it for the whole week before the trip. It was the first time I got out of the Netherlands from the first day I landed here. My wife and I waited for the chance to explore Europe for too long.

The itinerary of the first day would be Tilburg — Brussels — Ghent. We got up early to prepare lunch for the first day. It was an excellent way to save cost for the trip; especially we spent quite much on the accommodation in Ghent.
We chose to transport by train. It would be safer during this unpredictable time. At least, most governments required passengers to wear face masks on public transport, and the train could have sufficient space for us to keep 1.5 meters distance with others.

Our only concern before the trip was that the number of positive cases in Belgium slightly increased one week before our trip. We felt a bit worried about that.

It took us two hours to get to the Brussels Central Station. We put our luggage in the lockers of the station. That was convenient because we could store our stuff there when exploring Brussels without carrying them for the whole day. Lockers appear in most of the train stations in Belgium with a reasonable price so that tourists can enjoy their trip with the least number of bags to carry along.

My first feeling when I came to Brussels was that this city was not bustle as I thought. As the capital of Belgium, Brussels should have been a city of groups of tourists waiting in line to view this city. When we arrived in Brussels, it was one day before the Belgian National Day. That was why we were both afraid that many people would go to this city to celebrate this day. However, we were wrong. Streets and roads were emptier than we imagine. There were not many people on the street at that time. We arrived in Brussels at around 10:30, so I did not think we came too early. That was the first surprise for us.

The second feeling when I was in Brussels: there were so many chocolate shops in this city. I thought I could see one chocolate shop every five or ten steps. That would be definitely a country of chocolate. As a chocolate lover, I would buy some. However, I would wait until the next day when we visit Bruges. One of my friend staying in Bruges recommended a shop there. So I would wait. Waiting is happiness.

The first destination was the Grand Place. It was about ten minutes walking from the central train station. A large square where we could find the Town Hall of Brussels with several colorful building blocks surrounding it. We were lucky today because there were not many people at this place when we arrived. We could enjoy the view without being covered by other tourists.

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Manneken Pis—Image courtesy of the author

About 150 meters away from Grand Place is the Manneken Pis — a statue of a boy peeing. We did not put this as a destination at the beginning. However, this place is close to the Grand Place, so we decided to get there. And we were right with our initial decision. The statue is small, and I think it is not special. I don’t understand why this boy is the symbol of Brussels. We could find a lot of souvenir about this statue. For me, one place that worth a visit should have a history or a story behind that. But, I do not understand the meaning of the statute.

The next place we went to was the St. Michael & St. Gudula Cathedral (also known with the name of “the Brussels Cathedral”). We were impressed with this cathedral. With the curiosity about the churches and cathedrals, every time we visited them, we felt we would like to understand more about this religion. Features and statues inside the Brussels Cathedral surprised me by their sophistication and beauty.

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St. Michael & St. Gudula Cathedral—Image courtesy of the author

We finished our lunch quickly. We chose sandwiches because it did not take too much time to prepare. And they were delicious. And cheap.

When you travel anywhere, you have to pray for your luck that the whole trip will complete and you can visit every place you have planned. You also have to accept that sometimes, the trip will not go as you wanted. Today was that day for us. We chose the European Commission for the next destination. We would like to take some photos there, but they were repairing some parts outside the place.

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A young lawyer in front of the European Commission—Image courtesy of the author

After that, we moved to the Royal Palace. During this Covid time, it would be hard to visit all the touristic sites in a city because some of them had not reopened yet. Like the Royal Palace, it only reopens on 23 July, and we came to Brussels too early. Another thing was that fences covered a large area in front of the Royal Palace to prepare for the National Day. Thus, we could not come closer to gaze the beauty of this place.

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We could only take a photo of the Royal Palace from this position—Image courtesy of the author

The last place we chose was the Notre Dame du Sablon (The Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon). Although the church has its beauty outside, the inside did not amaze me. I think it happened because the Brussels Cathedral was so impressive that I did not see specialty inside the Notre Dame du Sablon.

We finished the tour in Brussels in around four hours. That was all we planned because we wanted to spend more time in the other two cities. That was what my Belgian friend who lives in Bruges recommend us. We took the train to the next town — Ghent.

When we checked in and received the hotel room, the first thing I noticed was that the room had NO separate toilet. The toilet was not even covered by a curtain. Don’t you believe it? See the image.

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Welcome to the special toilet—Image courtesy of the author

Well, we knew about this before when we read reviews about the hotel. However, we were still surprised when we saw it in real life. The reason we chose this hotel because of its location. The toilet, and the narrow stairs, were problems of the hotel, based on reviews. Nevertheless, for a place we would use to stay for one night, that would be acceptable. The good thing was that the site was super close to the city center: only a 100-meter walk.

Ghent was a different place compared to Brussels. When I expected this city would be more peaceful than Brussels, what happened there was different. We were surrounded by so many people in the city center. It was 18:00 at that time, and that was an ideal time for people starting going out and chilling alongside the canal.

We spent the afternoon in Ghent. It was a beautiful city. However, there was a small city center. We visited the St. Michael’s Bridge and strolling alongside the canal from there. We could easily find other attractions in our list within walking distance from the St. Michael’s Bridge.

To say about this city, I would choose the word: bustling. Yes, that word. So many people on the street that we could not take photos at the tourist attractions. I don’t know if today was the public holiday or not, but people were just spreading to the streets. Anyway, we both decided before that we would visit those place the next morning, so we were not too worried about that.

Not like Brussels, what we saw the most in Ghent was waffles. Waffles everywhere. The smell of waffles was amazing, and we could not stand for that too long. We chose one waffle with Nutella as the welcome to ourselves to Belgium. We would also visit the best waffles in Bruges (as my friend introduced) on Day 2 of the trip. So, the waffle we had today was just a warm-up.

We came back to the hotel quite early because both of us were exhausted after a long day. Before that, we stopped by a supermarket to buy some food for breakfast. We would have to get up early the next day to visit our list of attractions (and taking photos on empty streets). So, it should be better if we went to bed early.

That is all for the first day. See you on the second day of my first Europe trip. We will spend the morning in Ghent then move to Bruges, a beautiful small town during the day, then taking the train to France in the evening.


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