02 March, 2011

Weekendje Weg - Ghent and Antwerpen

In our house we have adopted a new year's resolution that we plan to stick to.  Well, it's Maarten's resolution, and he's the boss so that means it's mine too...

This year the idea is to go out of the country at least once per month.  So far we've stuck to the plan and have trips away booked up until April.  The rules are that abroad is abroad.  So Belgium counts!

Our first trip was in January, and we went to Ghent/Gent/Gand.  I love Belgium.  I think it's beautiful and diverse.  Once you get over the trauma that is the six or so merging lanes of the Antwerpen ring road and completely bonkers Belgian drivers, it's a wonderful place to be.  I also love how all the cities have different names in Dutch and French.  Brussel becomes Bruxelles, Brugge becomes Bruges.  My favourite though is Bastenaken becoming Bastogne.  Bastenaken is one of those words that I repeat over and over in my head just because I like the way they sound.  There's a very famous cycling race called the Luik-Bastenaken-Luik and I like repeating that in my head over and over even more than just plain old Bastenaken...

Anyway, where was I..?  Right.  Ghent.  We went in January for the weekend.  Now, we're not ones to put our hands very deep into our pockets to pay for accommodation, so we booked a Formule 1 hotel on the outskirts of town.  I wouldn't really recommend it to be honest.  Sometimes the accommodation can be reasonable, but this time I really wasn't feeling it.  I think it was the long term home of a bunch of single men who hung out in the foyer all day, so if you're looking for something quiet and welcoming, this isn't your place.

Ghent itself however; what a visual treat.  Way back in the middle ages Ghent was the largest city in Europe outside Paris and it shows in the skyline.  The city's famous for its three tours in a row:  The Belfry, and the Saint Bavo Cathedral and Saint Nicholas' Church are just stunning, not to mention the Gravensteen castle dating from the late 12th century smack in the middle of town.  It was also the birthplace of John of Gaunt (Ghent), Duke of Lancaster who was the father of Henry IV and from whom the British royal family is descended from through the ages.

Three Tors
When we were in Ghent, it was absolutely freezing (being January), but it was still very pleasant.  The cold had likely made the city much more quiet, which for someone like me, that equals bliss.  Must see locations are the Saint Bavo Cathedral and the Saint Nicholas Church, but wandering around the city is just gorgeous.  The architecture is medieval and being from Australia, anything older than a soldier settler's pre-fab house makes my head swivel like it's on a stick trying to take it all in.  Mouth hanging open is obviously compulsory.

We ate at a lovely restaurant on the Korenmarkt, next to the St Nicholas Church.  There were so many choices that we became sick of wandering around looking for something and we very nearly just went to an Irish pub because it was easiest.  I think everyone else had the same idea, however because we couldn't get a seat!

The following morning we decided that we might check Antwerpen out.  I've been around Antwerpen on my way to other places countless times (oh, the dreaded ring road), but had never been into the city centre.  Actually, there was that one time but it was a car-free Sunday so we decided to keep on driving and ended up in Bruges!

Cathedral
Antwerpen was amazing!  Being a Sunday, nothing much was open which is par for the course across a lot of Europe.  However, that just adds to the appeal for me.  We could wander around the city without all the crazy shoppers and saw some absolutely stunning buildings.  The Cathedral of Our Lady was incredible.  But, there was an entrance fee so we decided not to go in on principle.  I'm always prepared to offer a donation when I visit a church/cathedral, but being slugged a €6 entry fee just gets up my nose (hence why I have never seen the inside of St. Paul's in London either).  However, there are three works from Rubens, so it possibly would have been worth the fee.  But, the bloody Louvre is only €10 by comparison!  I know.  I'm a philistine.  Anyway.  The train station was also amazing.  The stairs inside are reminiscent of that unforgettable shootout pram scene in The Untouchables.  It was another city where everywhere you looked there was something beautiful to see.  Idols of the Virgin Mary on corners of buildings, Gothic and Art Nouveau architecture, endless gabled buildings...  Just loved it.


I really can't wait to go back to Antwerpen.  We've agreed that we'll go back in the summer (to fight the crowds) for another look around.  It looks like it will be a wondrous summer city.  I might even cough up to enter the cathedral...
Grote Markt with the cathedral in the background

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi MissNeriss this is a great idea and great plan to travel once a month, cant wait for more stories of castles!!!! PS I will send you the EU6 for the church donation. xxxx ATrish

MissNeriss said...

I've got another post tomorrow, and Fitzy rates a mention! I've toned down the castle talk a bit - it's a but of a niche market :P

Aledys Ver said...

Very nice weekend trip!! I haven't been to those cities yet and I've been collecting info, brochures, etc. for a while now, waiting for the right moment to go. The architecture is just wonderful, I think I'm going to like these places! I've only been to Brugge so far.

Invader_Stu said...

Sounds like a great idea. I keep on telling myself that I have no excuse to not go to other near by coutures since there are so many just a train ride away. I've not been so good in doing this yet but we are finally planning a trip to Berlin at the moment.

MissNeriss said...

Aledys and Stu, you must go to both cities. Antwerpen is especially lovely. We go to Belgium regularly during the warmer months, the Ardenne is wonderful!

Stu, come back later - we just went to Berlin and I've got a post going up this evening!

Valentijn said...

We had a great time in Brugge when my mom visited. But yes, the roads there are crazy! We've been spoiled in the Netherlands.

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