One of the many joys of studying abroad is traveling within the country you are studying and learning more about the little quirks that make each city unique.
I was able to learn a lot about two cities this past weekend, Ghent and Antwerp (Dutch: Gent and Antwerpen) while on a group trip with CIEE, and I was able to learn about the unique character of each city. We started off our journey on a private bus to Gent where we had a snack of croissants and apples on our short bus ride! (fun little tip: you know a croissant is well made if you bite down and immediately taste the butter – these definitely passed the test). Once arriving, we were lucky enough to have a private lecture at Gent University where we learned more about the dynamics of the Belgian political systems and how the EU dealing with the current Brexit drama. After the lecture, we walked to our lunch spot, Epiphany's Kitchen, and it was absolutely so beautiful! As a vegetarian, I was very happy to learn that all the food served today would be meat-free. We had so many yummy treats from edamame (my personal favorite), rice crackers, an assortment of unique (& delicious) pizzas, and an assortment of pasta dishes!
Finishing the last drops of my cappuccino, we were off to a tour of the city guided by a local. On this tour we explored The Gravensteen (castle of the Counts) and wandered through the enchanting city filled with peaceful canals and unique architecture. Throughout the tour, we were all told there was a surprise at the end, where we were led to a small street just off the main square known as Graffiti Street. As you can probably tell by the name, this area is full of colorful graffiti by locals and tourists alike. Contributing to the art on this one street is completely legal, and as our tour guide told us, this is in an effort to contain the graffiti that normally would be all over the city. We all were handed spray paint cans and were able to truly make our mark on Gent!
We finished off the day by eating dinner at the famous Amadeus restaurant where meateaters can enjoy endless ribs! My friends were all extremely excited to eat plates and plates of delicious ribs and potatoes after a full day of exploring. Some of my favorite memories are the times where everyone can sit around one table and enjoy each other's company. After dinner, we hopped back onto our bus and headed to Antwerp! Waking up in Antwerp was a dream, getting out of my very comfortable bed was made easy knowing there was a free continental breakfast downstairs in the hotel lobby. We were given free time in the morning, so my friends and I decided to explore one of the hidden secrets of Antwerp, St. Anna's Tunnel. According to amazingbelgium.com, "The pedestrian tunnel was designed by the local engineer, "Emiel van Averbeke", and consists of a 572 metre tiled cylinder which crosses under the river at a depth of 32 metres." It was so cool going down the old wooden escalators and walking through the tunnel to reveal my favorite part of the weekend, the view from the other side of the river.
For lunch we had delicious meatballs by the water (for both the vegetarians and meateaters alike) and then enjoyed a tasting of the local museum scene (with a pit stop for a quick sugar waffle) before we started on our locally-guided tour of Antwerp. It was beautiful to see such a cosmopolitan yet historic city. It had a little bit of everything! The highlight of the tour for me was seeing the only museum to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Museum Plantain-Moretus.
Tired from a long day of exploring, we boarded the bus and headed back to Brussels. I am so thankful to have these opportunities to see cities that I never knew existed and explore them while learning about the history from the locals. We were definitely treated well on this trip, and I cannot wait to explore more with CIEE this semester!
(Credits to our BIR student Margaret)