As some of you may know, I went to Belgium for a couple days last week. My class got cancelled on Thursday and, although most people’s normal reaction would be to roll to the other side and keep sleeping, I opted to leave the country because YOLO.
Good old Flixbus was my friend and with only €7 I was able to get from the Netherlands to Belgium in under 2 hours, landing in Antwerp in the early afternoon.
Antwerp in itself is a pretty cool city. The central station looks amazingly nice and looks on Diamond street, a central street full of shops, bars and restaurants to welcome tourists in the Belgian province. Walking down the street, you are surrounded by cars, stands selling the world-famous Belgian waffles and typical bike riders (alas, not as many as in the Netherlands, we noted).
We decided to take a side street on the right and ended up in another main road full of chains and shopping centres such as H&M and Pull&Bear, with street musicians, more food stands and people strolling about with bags in their hands and happy faces. The weather was sunny but dreadfully cold, as we ventured through the city and made our way to the Old Town to find the city’s landmarks.
One thing that we noticed about Antwerp was that there seemed to not be that many people. Fair point, it was a Thursday afternoon. Still, the old town especially felt like a village lost in space where barely anyone appeared. We walked up to and inside the main cathedral, as well as admiring the buildings lit up with Christmas lights (as you can see from the above picture). The cathedral was pretty cool as it also showcased a series of artworks, especially from painter Rubens who was originally from Antwerp.
We spent our night in Antwerp drinking beer and trying out the famous Belgian chips (did we choose the right place? We found them kind of average, no offence), in a populated pub looking over one of the central squares. We also found out Belgian people eat dinner quite early – compared to us Italians, at least – which meant we skipped a meal as all the restaurants were already closed by 10 pm (*sad face*). We walked for hours trying to get back to the “new” city centre, which we had walked past earlier on in the day, to no avail. Is Antwerp a maze? I swear we ended up in the same square around 5 times, until we gave up and just went to the same pub for another beer to drown our traveling sorrows.
We ended our first day couch surfing at a Polish woman’s house, which proved to be a very interesting experience.. as well as having to baby sit her little son Leon who farted his way to our hearts. Waking up thinking the grandad is in the house and turning around to find a young lad (whom we presumed was the father?) was quite the fright, but overall it was a pretty fun stay.
Quick note: If you guys don’t know what couch surfing is, it’s a free website where basically you can connect with people and other travellers and offer a sofa / get offered a sofa to stay for the night at absolutely no cost. It’s an amazing initiative which works extremely well for people trying to travel on a budget, as the people on the website offer a couch in their home for free (and it is usually pretty safe, so don’t worry!). Here‘s the website in case you’re interested.
The next day we set off to the second city on our list: Gent. After an exhausting search for the Central Station and a desperate search for a discount train ticket for students (no way we are paying €20 for a return ticket), we stepped on what we thought would be a 30 min train ride. Fast forward to an excruciating hour later, we finally got to our destination. Instantly we could feel a completely different vibe compared to Antwerp, more relaxed and intimate.
As we walked along the road which leads from the station to the city centre, people started appearing on our path and soon we ended up in a shop-filled street buzzing with life.
Gent struck me as better than Antwerp for three main reasons:
- The higher number of people: I don’t know if we just got unlucky with Antwerp, but I swear the city looked dead compared to this one. The buzz of people talking, laughing and walking around gave Gent a cosy feeling which I loved and felt Antwerp was missing;
- There was an historical vibe which I didn’t feel was as strong in Antwerp: three Churches one after the other, the castle and all the old buildings adorning the streets make the city breathe history, which I love;
- It actually felt like a cute, cosy small city which welcomes visitors and doesn’t really promise more than it delivers. I heard way more stories about Antwerp than Gent, but the latter surprised me more than anything and made me feel really glad to have put it in my list.
The city offers discounts in several attractions for people under 26 years old – same as Paris, really – so we got to get up the church tour for under €3 and up the castle for about €6, which was totally worth the money. Here’s a few pictures I took from the top of the building:
Overall, it was a very nice trip. Although Antwerp kind of disappointed me a bit, I’m sure we just got unlucky with the days and it’s actually as good as Gent! I will have to go there again. 😉 I really liked the street art in the city and met a few decent people which I happily linked with over social media, which I’m happy about. I still believe the Netherlands rocks more than Belgium though…….. soorryy! Bruges and Bruxelles are in my plans for the next weeks, so who knows I might change my mind.
I am going to stop this entry here because otherwise it’s never going to end. I hope you enjoyed reading a bit about the two cities and the photos as well. My phone died several times during the trip so I don’t have as much footage as I would like, but a video is definitely coming soon. Keep your eyes out for that!
Have a good night everyone,