When I left Belgium, I was in disbelief how underrated a tourist destination the country is. It is picture-fucking-perfect. Romantic canals winding through the city, stunning castles smack in the midst of the city, gorgeous ruins and amazing food. Plus, the people are actually nice! Thanks to my cousins who live in Ghent, I found myself spending slightly more than a week in Belgium, making day trips around the country by train - which I thought was a perfect amount of time to sample Belgium and do as many things as I could do. Even though I found myself completely wiped out after the whole trip as I needed to see the city everyday, I loved it and it was a perfectly fulfilling part of my trip.
How to Get to Ghent?
I booked my train tickets when I was in Singapore before heading to Europe, because it was summer and I knew for a fact that there'd be loads of travelling and I didn't want to be stuck without a ticket. Plus, tickets tend to be cheaper if you booked them in advance.
There is a direct train from Paris to Ghent on Thalys or you could book your tickets through Rail Europe as I did. I took the train from Paris to Belgium, and had to switch trains from there. Unfortunately, I found myself in the most ghetto train station and found myself running all over the place to catch my next train. Everything was in Flemish and it was rush hour, so people weren't exactly fond of halting their schedule to help a girl with a massive purple suitcase. I did, however, catch the train to Ghent:
Ghent is sandwiched between Bruges, Brussels and Antwerp, making it an amazing destination to stay put in and make day trips to the various cities around - which I did!
WHERE TO EAT!
You can't come to Belgium and not try Belgium waffles. It's a little slice of heaven, and everything you've imagined the perfect waffle to be: crisp, light and full of flavour in every mouthful. Nothing short of orgasmic.
Julie's House Kraanlei 13 Tel: 0032 (0)9 233 33 90
An adorable cafe that you can't help but to go into, drool and linger for a while, Julie's House is perfect for a brunch, or a late afternoon tea after you've had a stroll around the city centre. It's conveniently located next to the Gravensteen, which you will read about in a bit when I freak out about it. The cafe is like walking into a life-sized doll house and you want to coo over everything in site - from fixtures to teacups to their food.
While my cousin got a cupcake, I decided to be adventurous [something I almost never do when it comes to food - I'm a creature of comfort], and sampled a pistachio pastry thinggie. It's light, and funky tasting - definitely an acquired taste though! The teapots in Julie's House are stunning - I didn't get to photograph them, unfortunately, but they do sell the adorable things. Wish I'd gotten them!
Het Lepelblad Onderbergen 40 Sint-Michiels Tel: +323240244
I swear it's like a smaller version of Whole Foods' ready-prepared food section - sandwiches, quiches, soups; all bound to make sure you start salivating the moment you enter. I walked into the cafe desperate for a drink after hitting the summer sales, and I was amused by the fake grass patches on the little terrace outside, and after I went in, I found myself buying a spinach quiche [I LOVE spinach quiche - it's the only way I'd eat spinach. I hate the taste of that crap] and fizzy apple juice. Totally yummers.
Brooderie Bed & Breakfast Jan Breydelstraat 8
You can't not be drawn to a restaurant that has an outdoor area that looks like something out of a fairytale:
Unfortunately, hunger does not a good writer make - I completely forgot to get the details of the restaurant and I'm kicking myself as I write this, but thanks to my cousin, Mush, you now know. ;o) I don't know how the 'bed' part works out, but the 'breakfast' portion of this bed & breakfast is pretty awesome. The portions are pretty freakin' huge, I remember struggling to finish my lasagne, but 'twas awesome, so I couldn't not finish it, right? [My ass says I could, of course]
The House of Elliot Jan Breydelstraat 36 Tel: +32 9 225 21 28
Unfortunately, I didn't eat at The House of Elliot. If I did call for a reservation while I was there, I'd probably have the wait staff laugh in my face trying to make a reservation at a permanently-packed Michelin Star restaurant, but if you're a foodie with deep-enough pockets, it's worth checking out.
WHERE TO SHOP!
Jacob Retro Sint-Jacobs Bij Sint-Jacobs 7 Tel: 0477/58 93 27
I bought the amazing printed skirt from my Mad Men-esque outfit from this cute little vintage store, which is right by the flea market in St. Jacobs. My favourite part about the store, is that even though it does stock big people clothes, it specialises in vintage children's clothes from the 50s and 60s! Little Mad Men! How totally cute!
St Jacobs Market
Right in front of the Jacob's Retro store is a sprawling vintage and retro market filled with clothes, bric-a-brac and knick knacks. The flea market happens from Fridays to Sundays, and like all flea markets - better to get there early!
Originating from the middle ages, the Gravensteen is one of my favourite things about Ghent. I mean, c'mon, it really doesn't get any better than this - a castle in the middle of a freakin' city! A castle!! In the middle of a city!
Admittedly though, the museum that the castle now houses is very lacklustre and unimpressive. If I had it my way, I'd spend a ton of money making it badass boutique hotel. Of course, that's just me and my bountiful money-making schemes.
Wander Around the Crooks & Crannies
Ghent is stunning - so plug into your iPod [my choice of music in Belgium was The XX & Florence & The Machine] and get lost in the beautiful city. Hopefully, you'll find yourself in the graffiti street [graffiti is only legal on that street! Pretty fun!], check out cute boys, bump into cute boys whilst taking photos of your shoes against the cobblestone, and find yourself in quaint little courtyards like these:
And hopefully, you'll love Ghent as much as I did! ;o)