[Travel Diary #1] Belgium & France — Day 2: Unexpected Destination

When we were supposed to be in France, we weren’t.

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The Castle of the Count — Image courtesy of the author

Welcome to the second day of my first Europe trip.

Waking up early in the morning, we started preparing for a long day. We would spend the first few hours in Ghent, to visit tourist attractions in this city. Then we would catch the train to Bruges, where we planned to spend around four hours there. We had to finish the trip to Belgium by 5 pm, before taking the train back to Ghent and take another one to Paris.

One good tip that I always apply for my travelling is getting up early. It can be hard because most trips take a lot of energies from us. But, getting up earlier can help us to maximize the time we spend in a day, to gaze as much as we can the beauty of the places we visit when not many people are there.

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Enjoying the smell of an early morning — Image courtesy of the author

The place was peaceful in the morning. It was different from what we experienced the day before. Just a few people were on the street. We chose to walk around before entering the only place today. Ghent is a small city center with most of the tourist attractions located in walking distance.

We stopped at the Belfry of Ghent. We had to buy tickets online before. That was the popular requirement in most of the tourist sites during the Covid-19 time. We chose to come up this tower instead of the one in Bruges because we thought the city view from there would be worth seeing. For Bruges, where has small houses with the canal, it would be better if we spent our time to walk around to explore rather than climbing 365 stairs to view the city. One more thing we chose the Belfry in Ghent was that they have an elevator to bring us up. For a long day of waiting, it would be a great choice. The Belfry of Ghent was located next to the other two churches: St. Nicholas’ Church and St. Bavo Church. From the road, we could see the beauty of three towers next to each other.

St. Nicholas’ Church and the Belfry — Image courtesy of the author

The view from the Belfry was fantastic. You can see the whole city from there. Nevertheless, I expected to be at the top of the Belfry to visit the clock there. But, we were not allowed to do that. From the top, we took the stairs to go down. Around 250 steps in total, I think. And we stopped by two floors: one placed a large bell which rings every 30 minutes, and the lower floor showed how people made bells in churches.

Bells exhibited on the second floor of the Belfry — Image courtesy of the author

We took the train to Bruges. Most of my friends who visited Belgium before always recommended us to go to this city. We were curious about that. And when we arrived Bruges, this beautiful small city did not disappoint us.
Bruges is the city coming from a fairy tale in real life. How to say? It was simply too beautiful for me to use words to describe it.

We contacted one of my friend here to ask for recommended places. He instructed us so clear that we could easily to follow.

Bruges offers tourists many types of city tour. You could choose to visit by boat on the canal. Or, you had an option to visit the city with Horse-drawn carriage. For the former option, we visited Giethoorn in the Netherlands before by riding a boat, so we did not take that into account. For the second one, that would be a fantastic option because we had never sat on a horse-drawn before. However, the price of a carriage was so high. It would be a good deal if you visited in a group of 4 or 5 persons. But for us, only two persons on the drawn would cost us a lot.

So we decided to visit Bruges with the most traditional economical way: on foot.

We followed the route that my friend recommended. We crossed the Minewaterpark, a famous natural park located opposite the central station of Bruges. We stopped at a place where we could see swans.

Image courtesy of the author

The first place we stopped by was the brewery De Halve Maan. The story of this brewery was extraordinary: people here brew the beer here and deliver the beer through a pipeline under the city to another factory. That would be the place where they bottle the beer. The brewery also opened for visitors to come inside, with €12 per person. There would be a guide to lead you through the brewery and tell you the story of the brewery. But it was not our choice. We chose to sit outside where the brewery served craft beer they made. We ordered two glasses of beer, one Zol Yellow and one Zol Dark. Tasting Belgian beer is always the must-do when you visit Belgium. The beer tastes great. I prefer the yellow one than the dark. The funniest thing was that I was a bit drunk after that — just a bit. Maybe I was hungry when I had the first seep. I was not a good drinker, but I was not that bad.

Tasting Belgian Beer is the must-do in Belgium — Image courtesy of the author

We passed by the Church of Our Lady in Bruges and the St. Janhospital — an old hospital in Bruges. Both places required to buy tickets to get inside, so we chose not to do that. We just came inside the small square in the Notre Dame to enjoy the view there. Leaving the church, we crossed by the Bonifaciusbrug bridge (a.k.a. the lovers’ bridge) and followed the street to the Rozenhoedkaai — where tourists said that it was the most beautiful view in the city (as my friend told me). It was. I could not expect more than what we saw there. That place was a short wide bridge, from where you could see the canal and lovely colorful houses alongside.

Coming to the city center, we saw a large square where the city hall and the Basilica of Holy Blood located. We decided to visit the Basilica of Holy Blood, where the Holy Blood would be presented from 14:00 to 15:00 every day for visitors to venerate. Legend had it that the Holy Blood was the real blood of Christ, preserved by one of Jesus’s apostles when this person washed the body of the Christ. We calculated the time correctly to be there at around 14:30; then we could have some time to sit and adore the Holy Blood. To be honest, the atmosphere inside the Basilica made us feel quite strange compared to other places.

Inside the Basilica of Holy Blood. We were not allowed to take a photo or film the Holy Blood — Image courtesy of the author

We moved to Market Square, where we could see the Belfry of Bruges and a huge square surrounding by ancient buildings. Not far from there, we found the waffles store that my Belgian friend recommended: Chez Albert. It was a small store located in Breidelstraat street. The waffles they offered were amazing. You have many options: natural waffles with butter and sugar, waffle with whipping cream, colorful waffles with strawberries or cherries, to name a few. We chose one waffle with Nutella and whipping cream. The first bite explained me why this store was considered the most famous store in Bruges. The combination of melt butter and sugar with the whipping cream and Nutella was fantastic.

Waffle with Nutella and whipping cream — Image courtesy of the author

We then went to chocolate stores there to buy some chocolate. I love chocolate, especially dark chocolate with 70% or more cocoa. Every time I entered a chocolate store, I felt I was a kid again. I love the feeling of entering chocolate stores in the Kingdom of Chocolate. We could taste a few types of chocolate before deciding to buy. They were all delicious. Ah, scientific research showed that eating dark chocolate every day will last your lifetime. So, eating chocolate daily.

We started taking the train to Paris at around 18:30. It was a three-hour-plus train, with one transfer. We could have time to take a break after a long day. And, the story began.

We thought we should leave the train at the last destination because we checked the schedule at the station and the app I downloaded previously. It stopped at the last destination as stated. The time was correct. I was surprised by the accuracy of the train here. The problem started when we got out of the train. When we were supposed to be in France, we weren’t. When we expected to be in Lille to transfer to another train to Paris, we realized that the place we were named Poperinge, a town in Belgium. We HADN’T got out of Belgium yet.

I was freak out. I came back to the train to ask the train staff. He informed me of the craziest thing I ever heard in my life: the train had six carriages; in the middle of the trip, it stopped at a station called Kortrijk. From there, the train was SEPARATED from two parts: three cars went to Lille, and the other three went to Poperinge. That meant we sat on the wrong carriage of the train. The staff told me that they informed passengers, but in Dutch, not in English.

I was shocked after hearing that. I never thought that could happen. No one told me that the train would be separated into two parts, even the app we relied on to get on the train. That was ridiculous when they arrange a train like that without explicit notification to passengers.

We had no choice but took the train from Poperinge to Lille immediately. We tried to figure out how to arrive in Paris on the same day, but there was no option. The reason was that the last train to Lille would be at 21:40, while we could only reach Lille at 21:51 at the latest. We tried to find a bus, but all coaches would come back to Ghent or Brussels before departing to Paris. Going by bus would take us eight hours.

Sad, depressed, worried, terrified, disappointed. A mix of feelings at that time. We realized that we had to stay in Lille overnight and catch the earliest train in the morning to Paris. But where would we stay? Booking a room at a hotel or via Airbnb was not a good option because of the price.

Then, a light came to us from the end of the tunnel. Our friend, Chloe — who offered us to stay at her place in Paris — tried to call some of her contacts. Finally, one of them had a friend in Lille, and that friend agreed to host us for one night. We quickly took a train to Lille and accepted that we had to stay there for one night. We did not have time (and feeling) to explore this city. We tried to move fast to our friend’s friend’s apartment (yeah, it was complicated). We also quickly booked the earliest train the next morning to Paris. We hoped that everything would run smoothly.

That was all for the ‘stormy’ second day of our trip. See you tomorrow with our ‘real’ first day in Paris, the City of Light.


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