The recent atrocities in Belgium took us by surprise, In my naivety I honestly didn’t even realise Belgium was a primary target for the Islamic State. It only clicked that Brussels is the home of the European Parliament, after the appalling inhumane attacks occurred.
Before I continue this post, I want to state that our thoughts and prayers have been with the country and the families of loved ones affected by the recent attacks. No country should endure such tragedy!
So days after the attacks, we were due to travel to Belgium for the first time. Essentially we were driving over from the UK for a long weekend exploring Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands. With foreign offices around the world advising against non-essential travel, we had to make a decision if we were to change our plans, or not go at all. .
We weighed up our options and decided not to let the events deter us, we were going! Don’t get me wrong here, I am not suggesting ignoring foreign office warnings, but as very experienced travellers we decided to alter our plans for safety, not completely cancel them. I am a big believer in not allowing fear dictate my choices. In all honesty terrorism in now a real threat anywhere in the world even countries previously considered as safe! You can’t let it stop you exploring…
We made the decision to avoid Brussels and head to Oostende, Bruges and Ghent. What we discovered was an amazingly beautiful, peaceful and inspiring country. I honestly can’t explain why we hadn’t previously visited being that it is so close to our shores.
Let me start with Oostende, a beautifully quaint seaside town, less than an hour from Calais. It has a long stretch of golden sandy beach, that rivals some of the continent’s southern beaches – although I can’t attest to the warmth of the English Channel. It’s really a town for summer days, a mere 20 minutes from Bruges however even a winter’s visit had its charms. A wander around this quaint seaside town is well worth a couple of hours, and it holds its head high as a real differential to the usual touristy locations.
A double decker train ride 20 minutes south is the well-known tourist hotspot of Bruges. A small town interlinked by beautiful canals, cobbled walkways and medieval buildings. It’s a stunning town for wanderers such as us. Reminiscent of Venice, the canals are not as magnificent or grand in scale however the hour boat trip is a trip worth experiencing. As you meander round some of the cobbled street, the draw of chocolate shops, bakeries, waffle and cheese shops is just too much to ignore. Honestly we were drawn into so many it was silly! A waffle here, some handmade chocolate there, cheese everywhere – it really was a wonder. The café scene in Bruges is also very hard to ignore, with a lovely French red by the canal side just to enticing to ignore.
All in all we really enjoyed Bruges, however couldn’t see us spending more than a day, maybe two wandering this beautiful, picturesque town. Security wise we didn’t feel under threat at any point, even in this popular destination.
We continued our mini break into Holland where I shall write about in a separate post, yet on our route back, we were tempted to stop in Brussels for a quick look. This was soon scarped by a protest in the city, therefore we stopped off ant the unknown town of Ghent. By unknown I mean unknown to us! What another beautiful surprise!
Ghent is extremely scenic, with a canal running through its centre and a number of huge medieval churches surrounding the city centre. The centre square houses all the modern amenities, however if you look a little harder there is a number of cobbled streets leading to eateries and cafes galore. It felt as if we had stepped back in time on occasion, when walking down these historic lanes. Across the canal, there is even a medieval castle to explore. It’s just another example of Belgium’s hidden gems – incredibly picturesque and well worth a day to explore.
All three locations were incredibly enjoyable and even in this unsafe time, we didn’t feel in danger at any time. Granted we did use our initiative and when visiting the more populated parts of the country were a tad more on guard. However it didn’t affect our experience as a whole, and both Megan and I came out knowing we had made the right choice. This friendly and beautiful country should not be tainted by the inhumanity of others.
For such a small country we still have many places to visit, Brussels, Antwerp and Liege included. We wouldn’t think twice as to revisiting as it truly was a surprise to both of us… Sometimes you don’t realise how beautiful some of the locations on your doorstep are until you step out and explore!
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Mark Twain said it best ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness’