We wanted to get away for a few days in October, found a cheap flight to Belgium, and as my friend told me nice things about Bruges, we decided to give it a try.
It was a short, 3 nights stay, but we had a great time and fully enjoyed every aspect of it (cuisine, architecture, weather).
We stayed at a lovely B&B in Brussels (Uccle), where we enjoyed the tastefully furnished room (and the whole house!), delicious breakfast (which included fresh strawberries, freshly pressed orange juice, some really crunchy baguettes, and sweet jams), and our new pet friend- a 3 months old, extremely cute, teddy bear lookalike and playful Scottish fold kitten.
We rented a car at the airport, so we were able to move around as it suited us, which is always great.
While planning for this trip, I found out that Belgium has a highly rated and interesting local cuisine with typical dishes like waffles, mussels with French fries (called frites), sausages with mashed potatoes called staempl), beer stews, and gratinated chicory. There are also the beer and the chocolate, of course.
On our first evening, we tried out a charming local restaurant in Ixelles called Le Bugatti. The atmosphere was cozy, thanks to the art-deco style and candle lighted interior, and the food was delicious! I tried the stew with frites, Luka tried the sausages with stoempl and some extremely good Belgian beer. We were convinced- Belgian cuisine is something worth traveling for!
Next morning we headed to Bruges, perhaps the most touristy city in Belgium. There was a traffic jam on the highway, so we got off of it and went for a local road. That was a great decision, as we got to see the beautiful countryside residential architecture. Almost every property has a fairytale-like house, with lovely bay and roof windows, colorful doors, and window frames, a tastefully decorated interior, and a well taken care of garden. I was so impressed that I didn't even make one photo of this beauty.
The city of Bruges is charming, with its picturesque houses and canals, but Saturdays overcrowded with tourists, especially groups which flooded its streets. When you move away from the main streets, it becomes a quiet little town with a medieval atmosphere, and I can imagine it being particularly interesting by night!
We had a nice walk, a nice meal and a beer at the local pub (garlic shrimps, chicken in beer sauce, and a beer served in a horn-shaped glass), and our first Belgian waffle (mine with strawberries, Luka's with chocolate, and it was love at first bite). There are two most popular varieties of waffle in Belgium: the Liege waffle and the Brussels waffle, the first one being chewier and denser, the second one lighter and crispier. We opted for Liege, but next time we should also give a chance to Brussels variety!
On our way back we stopped at Ghent, where I wanted to see the Ghent altarpiece (painted by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck in the 15th century) in St Bavo Cathedral which I didn't due to restoration work on it. That was a disappointment, as it is one of the first examples of early Renaissance in northern European art, one of the most important artworks in the Western world, and the most frequently stolen artwork in history! You have probably heard about it in the movie or in the book The Monuments Men, where it is the main object of the hunt for the troop.
Ghent is a lively, vibrant town, not so overpacked with tourists. The center is free of cars, so you can truly enjoy wandering through its streets and admiring the medieval architecture!
We had a dinner at Ellis gourmet burger, and if you're ever in Belgium don't miss it! I would go back anytime, just to have their tasty burgers again! We also experienced the perfect storm, chasing through Ghent's puddled streets and pouring rain, and drove back to Brussels completely wet but happy.
The next day we decided to stay in Brussels and explore the city. We had a long morning walk in the center, which included wandering through chocolate shops and buying presents for family, friends and ourselves. The center itself is pretty and pedestrian-friendly, with some impressive points like the Grand Place (I recommend you to visit it by night also, as all the facades are lighted, which creates a Disneyland impression). We also got to see the tiny statue of Manneken Pis and didn't really understood what all the fuss is about. The little guy pees in the fountain, and even more awkwardly, they dress him during the day. :) There is a picture below, so you can judge it by yourself!
That day we also visited the house/museum of Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta. Art Nouveau was a Belgian version of Austrian Secession (with well-known protagonist Gustav Klimt). The architect applied the premises of this new style to his own house which resulted in the so-called "gesamtkunstwerk" which would mean something like “a complete piece of art”. That applied to the architecture meant that every single part of the house was artistically designed, from the layout to furniture, keyholes or ventilation tops. The Horta house is a wonderful example of that style, flowing in organic lines, with many open spaces, lovely personal details, spacious rooms overlooking beautiful garden in the back of the house and the street in front of it. If you're ever in Brussels visit that house, as an exquisite work of art or as an unusual inspiration for interior design.
That evening we tried out a restaurant called 9 et Voisins, and although it seems like I'm recommending everything we tried in Belgium, it's because everything was worth recommending!
We consulted Tripadvisor frequently on where to eat topic, so it's not just us, people love this place.
If you're in the mood for juicy Argentinian steak or perfectly cooked stuffed chicory, accompanied with standard great beer and really cozy atmosphere, go for it. They are also open on Sunday, which is great to know when you're in Brussels.
Brussels has plenty of nice and pretty big parks. We've visited only one of them, which was close to our B&B and it was spacious, clean, simple and colored in autumn colors. Great for a walk on the fresh Belgian morning.
Since we're back we couldn't get used to the idea of not eating waffles on a daily basis! So we found a nice little place that serves Belgian waffles in Zagreb, which is a good enough substitution till our next trip to Belgium!