Christmas In Four Countries Pt. 1 Belgium

Authored by:
Berkley B.

Now that it is the new year and everyone’s schedules are settling down I wanted to recap and share my experiences celebrating the holiday season in four countries... in three weeks!

This post is going to cover my time traveling around Belgium. In Spain there is a holiday called "Puente de la Constitucíon". Puente is a day off of work or school to bridge the time between the weekend and a holiday, thereby creating a long weekend. 

Since I had Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off my friends and I decided to plan a trip to Belgium. We heard that there were going to be many Christmas markets there and we wanted to get into the holiday spirit. We planned the trip which included four cities. They were Brussels, Brugge, Ghent, and Antwerp.

We arrived to Brussels late Tuesday night and made our way to the hostel. My first observation of Brussels was that it was a lot cleaner than Madrid. The buildings looked more modern than Spain's and the streets were filled with Christmas lights. I was starting to get excited to see what adventures the week was going to bring. Once we arrived to the hostel we were exhausted from traveling so we decided to start our five day adventure the following day.

The next morning we dressed warm to venture to the Christmas Market in the center of the city. Before shopping we went to an amazing crêpe restaurant for breakfast. We were enjoying ourselves warming up with hot chocolate, tea, and coffee while people-watching from the cafe window.

Once we felt ready to brave the weather we decided to head to the Christmas market. Huts were filled with goods to buy such as paintings, scarves, candles, shoes, etc... There was also festive holiday fare being sold like candied nuts, mulled wine, and traditional Belgium dishes. The group decided to quickly browse because our next stop was Brugge which we heard was going to be worth seeing. 

Once we arrived back to the hostel we quickly grabbed our bags and made our way to the train station. Once there, we bought tickets and boarded for the hour trip. I was pleasantly surprised by how lush Belgian terrain is. In Spain they don't get a lot of rain so it really created a contrast for me to see how dry Spain actually is. 

Once we arrived in Brugge we decided that we should check into the hotel which ended up being extremely close to the train station. We were happy about this because the temperatures were a lot colder in Belgium than we were used to. Once we were settled, and bundled up we headed into town.

Brugge is very tiny compared to Brussels with a lot more charm. The town is filled with restaurants, shops, and the Christmas market of course. We were enjoying walking around but decided to go warm ourselves up at one of the local bars where I ordered an amazing Irish coffee. 

 Once we were warmed up we perused the market and walked around the town some more. We ended up hopping into different bars and pubs talking to locals. I was relieved that most people in Belgium spoke English.

After socializing for awhile we decided we were hungry and started asking for restaurant recommendations. We were pointed to a nice restaurant close to our hotel so we decided to head there. I ordered a traditional Belgian stew paired with a whiskey neat. We left the restaurant full and exhausted from our day of travels so we decided to head back and sleep to prepare for the next day. 

We woke up, had our free hotel breakfast, and decided to head to our next destination; Ghent. We headed back to the train station to board for another hour long journey to the city. We knew Ghent was going to be bigger than Brugge, but we didn't know what to expect.  Once getting off the train I already knew that I was going to enjoy my time here. The architecture was absolutely beautiful.

We had to take a tram to our hostel which ended up being one of the coolest places I’ve ever stayed in. It was called the Treck Hostel which was an indoor trailer park filled with custom RV’s, so basically indoor camping! I'm going to share with you the link in case you ever need a unique place to stay in Ghent: The bathrooms and showers were communal and there was an activity room with a movie screen, toys for smaller children, and a ping pong table. In the check-in area there was a bar/cafe with alcoholic drinks, coffee, a wide array of board games, and really good Indie Rock playing over the speakers.

Once we looked around we knew we wanted to spend some time there, but we decided that we would go out for dinner and check out some of the city even though it had been raining all day. We took the tram into the center of Ghent where their Christmas market was located. This city center was very cool since there were 5 or 6 churches and a castle close in proximity. We ended up having dinner and some drinks and it started snowing. 

 There was a coloring corner so we decided pass the time and get creative while waiting for the snow to stop. Once the snow was finished we decided to take a walk around the city. Ghent at night is magical with the canals and how the buildings are lit. All the attractions were closed since it was late so we decided to treck back to the Treck Hostel (pun intended). We ended up having a ping pong tournament and some good laughs settling into our RV for the night. 

The next morning we woke up and had free breakfast in the cafe. Belgium is known for chocolate so the spread was paired with blocks of chocolate and Nutella of course. We decided to take advantage of the board game corner so we decided to play Scrabble while we ate.

After breakfast we checked out and decided to go into town to see some of the main attractions in the city center. We decided to take a tour of the castle, and afterwards we went to the churches. We felt satisfied with what we had seen everything so we decided to head to our next destination; Antwerp. 

Once we arrived in Antwerp it was dinnertime and we were starving. We  were getting used to talking with locals so on the train we had gotten another restaurant recommendation from a passenger heading home. We were getting lucky with our hotels being next to the city center. After checking in we had a very short walk to the restaurant and on our way we noticed that the Christmas market's grand opening was going to be the following day.  We noted it and headed to the restaurant to warm up.

This was a traditional Belgian restaurant, and we decided that we were going to try something new. We decided to order the bone marrow as an appetizer which was a spread that you put on toast. I wasn't expecting it to be served inside the bone, but I am adventurous so I will try anything. My friends on the other hand weren't too thrilled. They each took a bite, and decided that it wasn't their cup of tea. As the main meal we decided to order Carbonade Flamandeand A Po which is a beef stew. It was very good and warmed us up quickly. After dinner we headed back to the hotel to rest up for our day of exploring Antwerp. 

 The next morning we woke up, got ready, had our free breakfast. At this point I was getting used to eating chocolate with every meal and I was really enjoying myself. Once we were finished we headed to the city center. As we started walking around we ran into a marching band warming up for the Christmas mark opening that evening. We decided to stop and listen and our Spanish friend said that this kind of band is typical in Spain and that they were performing here since they were on holiday as well.

Once we were finished enjoying the show we walked around the Christmas market which was the most elaborate I've seen thus far. Antwerp was colder than the other cities since it was right on the water. We were so cold that we stopped and had a Belgian beer in one of the covered tents. After our beers we walked along the water even though it was freezing. We happened upon a burger place and decided to go in since all we'd been eating is Belgian food. I got a salmon burger that was absolutely amazing.

We ended up talking to our waitress about the opening night of the Christmas market because we were deciding whether to leave and go back to Brussels. She said it was worth staying and to also check out the observatory in the building next to the restaurant. Once we finished our meal we headed to the observatory, and the view was absolutely beautiful.

Afterwards, we went back to the center and made it in time to see a light show they were having for the grand opening. In Europe it is common to have light shows that are projected on the buildings and I had been wanting to see one since I arrived in Spain. I had originally wanted to go to Lyon for their light show that they have every Christmas so this was a pleasant surprise. I quickly grabbed an Irish coffee to warm up and stay awake since it had been a long day. We decided we were heading back to Brussels that evening since we were flying out of their airport the following day. 

The show itself was very unique to anything that I have experienced before. The different projections were so colorful and not what one would expect for a Christmas light show. Even still the story was beautiful and we were glad we waited to leave.

After the show we headed back to our final destination and where our trip began; Brussels. Overall, my friends and I were very pleased with the trip. I would recommend to anyone planning to travel to Belgium to do so. 

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