Sister Cities

My sister joked before I left that I was going on a 4 month vacation in Europe. While this isn’t technically true and I have done quite a bit of work already, my brain sure seems to think it should be all fun.

I have had quite a bit of fun already, this past weekend especially. I toured the cities of Bruges and Ghent to get a feel of life outside my city. Often compared against each other or lumped into the same day, these two gems are located just an hour outside of Brussels and make two wonderful day trips. They are easily walkable, charming, and extraordinarily different for being in such close proximity.

Bruges was first on Saturday- we left the train station at 9:50 AM. I was pleasantly surprised by the train’s comfy chairs and tables but disappointed by the lack of wifi. It was a short and pretty ride through the countryside. It was a cloudy with a slight chill but the pace warmed us up. We walked through quaint cobblestone streets with vine covered arches and buildings with the most adorable architecture. The large church tower loomed in the distance.

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The destination at the end of our jaunt was a shop and tearoom called The Old Chocolate House. I found this place during my research on Pinterest and immediately made it a must do. It was the best hot chocolate I have ever had in my life. They served a selection of drinks including specialty coffee, tea, and even adult hot chocolate. I had Salty Caramel and never wanted the drink to end.

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Next we made our way to the church, a beautiful structure with a tall clock tower, pane upon pane of stained glass, and a few excavated tombs. Moving through the streets, we stopped in a few clothing shops (We’re girls, we couldn’t resist) and took in some of the local treasures. We brought sack lunches and beer and sat down for a picnic as well.

Bruges is known as a historical lace making capital and they still have shops that make their goods by hand! A few pictures by the canals and a look at what I can only describe as a mini Grand-Place and it was time to head back home.

The next day was possibly even better although we didn’t start off with an amazing breakfast. This time we jumped right into the sightseeing making our way down the streets of Ghent. This city had a more commercialized entrance, with more shops that one might see on the streets of Brussels and Antwerp. The real treasures were to be found further towards the historical center. As we got closer, the buildings started to change, becoming older and more reminiscent of the architecture found in Bruges. A ring of historical churches and buildings and even a castle made up the city center.

Besides the Gravensteen Castle, Ghent is also well known for its canals. Much like Venice, they used to be major methods of transporting goods and people to saltwater ports on the coast and freshwater routes to France and Germany. Now they host tourist boat rides and picturesque views.

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I was very excited to get into my first real life castle. It was wonderful. I truly felt like I could be a princess looking down from these stone towers. The multitudes of stairs were a massive workout and my thighs are still burning days afterward but it made up for our taste testing of these local candies- flavored with fruit they are like Dots but a more gooey center. I think I’ll stick to chocolate.

Sack lunches which we ate by the canal, a tour of the Design museum with all it’s funky furniture, a book market, and a giant top took us almost to dinner. The last thing was another beautiful church. This one had law-defying vaulted ceilings made out of brick. Yes, brick. There was less stained glass in this one due to losing some of it during a war. Not sure which one. But we were stopped by an old Spanish preacher who gave us the biblical history and influences on a famous piece of renaissance art.

We decided to do dinner out this time around and ended the day along the canal again, sipping more Belgian beer (we’re not alcoholics, their stuff is just delicious!) and digging into pizza and pasta. My 3 companions were a mix of pescatarian, vegan, and vegetarian. This was a change for me because I usually don’t consider a meal complete until I’ve had protein from some sort of animal but I suppose being open minded comes with the territory.

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Sleepy, satisfied, and already planning our next adventure we returned home to start a new week at school. What is our next big adventure? Prague of course! This ancient city in Eastern Europe will be ours for the weekend starting on September 28th. More to come!

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