10 reasons why you’ll fall in love with Ghent (including a Boatel and how to get accidentally drunk)

Ever since I embarked on my very first trip to Belgium, two years ago, I’ve been in love with the country – and its beer. Don’t even get me started on the chocolate. And waffles.

And fries. Yes, the fries from Belgian frituurs/friteries/frietkot/fries’ shops are phenomenal!

To everyone who ever claimed we’re crazy for eating mayo with our fries over here in Europe, you better dip that fine piece of potato in some Belgian (or French) mayonnaise as soon as you set your foot in Belgium. Like I said; phenomenal.

I’ve been romanced in Bruges, charmed in Antwerp and entertained in Brussels. My latest Belgium-adventure, brought me to the beautiful city of Ghent. I knew it wouldn’t take much for this Flemish gem to seduce me (you know, being a sucker for fruit beers and Belgian chocolate and all).

Enough with the food talk (for now). There’s so much more to Belgium than its amazing food and drinks. Especially in Ghent. You’ll love Ghent.

Let me just tell you, I fell head over heels in love with the city – and so will you!

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These are my 10 reasons why Ghent is a city you’ll easily fall in love with

  1. The Flemish architecture not only looks amazing in photos – but it makes me want to drop everything and move into one of those charming townhouses with a view over the Leie river. Imagine living in a nice little studio apartment in a tall narrow brick house, close to all the traditional pubs and eateries. You might end up becoming an alcoholic, but at least your house looks amazing on Instagram. ghent river
  2. The fairy tale castle, Gravensteen, is conveniently located in the city center and just waiting for you to photograph it, visit it, enjoy it and appreciate it – like the prince or princess you are! The castle originates from the Middle Ages and served as the residence of different Counts, throughout history. Today it’s a venue for special events, parties and cultural activities and it is by far the most important tourist attraction in Ghent. Many couples choose this fairy tale-esque castle as a unique setting for their big day. I don’t know about you, but I woud love to say “I do” in a gorgeous castle (darling, if you’re reading this, take notes) ! gravensteen
  3. The Boatel we stayed at, was a very pleasant surprise and it is without a doubt my number one place to stay when in Ghent. It’s cozy, clean and the breakfast is amazing. But the best part of the stay at The Boatel is the owner. A very helpful, chatty and extremely funny guy. He couldn’t resist poking fun at my boyfriend for being French, and as neighbor’s do, my Frenchman made a handful of jokes about Belgium right back at him. Ah, don’t you just love a friendly banter? All jokes aside, the Boatel-owner let my boyfriend borrow his bicycle to run an errand, and gave us plenty of good ideas for things to do and places to eat – and handed over plenty of useful brochures! boatel
  4. The events and festivities! We had no idea there’d be an awesome Food Truck Festival in Ghent during the weekend of our stay. Being someone who loves festivals AND food trucks, I was on cloud nine. A beer here, a snack there, and a whole bunch of snacks from yet another truck, and another one, and another one. Now that’s pure happiness, right there. Be sure to also check out the other fun festivities in Ghent, such as the Christmas Market and Winter Festivities, the Light Festival, Film Festival, Jazz Festival and so much morefood truck festival
  5. The street art adds a little extra coolness and urbanity to the city. As if the city wasn’t already cool! The Werrengarestraat is in fact a legal graffiti street. ghent graffiti
  6. Belgian beer is the greatest beer you’ll ever have. Whether you like light beers, white beers, lager, dark ales, sour ales, fruit beers, strong beers, you name it – Belgium has it. But beware; a lot of Belgian beers don’t have a strong taste of alcohol to them. But a lot of them are quite hardcore and will knock you out if you drink too much too fast, too soon. Trust me, I’ve been there, done that. Still, I keep getting accidentally drunk in Belgium every time I fall in love with a new beer. While in Ghent, we wanted to learn more about the city, its culture and to do a whole bunch of beer tasting, so we went on a guided tasting-tour with BeerWalk. It was fun, educational and we even got to keep our beer glasses after the tour! I did get accidentally drunk again, though. ghent festival
  7. Cuberdon – also known as Gentse neus (Ghent nose) is the most delicious candy ever. And you’ll only find it in Ghent! We bought maybe half a kilo of those yummy sweets from one of the street vendors, while wandering around town. The cuberdons are sweet, cone-shaped, raspberry-flavored and are made with gum arabic (natural gum made from hardened sap of the acacia tree), which gives it the gelatinous texture. cuberdons
  8. The food was mentioned before, and I have to mention it again. Do you want to satisfy your sweet tooth with some artisan gourmet chocolates or thick delicious waffles? Are you looking for a tasty late night snack and want to try some high quality Belgian fries, perfectly crispy on the outside and airy on the inside? Or do you wanna have a pint and a meal at a gastro pub and feed your belly with something more traditional like Carbonnade (Flemish beef and beer stew)? Before you ask, I ate all those things during my stay in Ghent. belgian chocolate
  9. The old-fashioned charm to the city. You’re surrounded by old, beautiful bridges, buildings and monuments. The historic St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Gravensteen castle, Saint Nicholas’ Church and the castle of Gerard the Devil – Ghent is a city full of history and treasures. belfry ghent
  10. Shopaholics love Ghent because the city has something for everyone. Chain stores, authentic boutiques, local up and coming designers and design stores – and last but not least, if you want to get your hands on some local produce or original souvenirs; there’s a market every day of the week, and six (!) markets every Sunday morning! ghent facades

And here are some fun facts you might wanna know about gorgeous Ghent…

  • Ghent is the capital of East Flanders in Belgium. The name of the city is spelled Gent in Flemish and Gand in French.
  • There’s a local brewery in Ghent – in case you wanna try the most local of local beer there is to try. Visit the Gentse Gruut brewery!
  • The inside of the Gravensteen castle houses a torture museum (not for sensitive viewers!)
  • The city promotes vegetarianism. Meat-free Thursday is promoted in all schools and public buildings, and the city is said to have the world’s largest number of vegetarian restaurants per capita. So if carbonnade and other meat-filled dishes ain’t your thing, check out veggie eateries – such as vegan buffet Komkommertijd or the colorful, trendy and Instagram-perfect Le Botaniste.

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Eating & Drinking Our Way Through Brussels, Belgium

With a pint of raspberry flavored beer in one hand and my Brussels guidebook in the other, I tried to make some sort of a list of things to see and do in the capital city. We were only a forty-nine minute drive away from the city – according to Google maps – and in no hurry, whatsoever. The weather was lovely in Antwerp. Sunshine and not a cloud in sight. May the rest of the day be blessed with sunshine too – I said to myself. Fingers crossed.

Before making our way downtown, we went to see the Atomium, which is a building that was originally constructed for the Universal Exhibition – just like the Eiffel tower in Paris – and is now a major tourist attraction. The Atomium depicts nine atoms and is in the shape of the body-centered cubic unit cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times.

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We didn’t buy tickets to enter the building itself as the lines were too long and we were too impatient to stand in what looked like a never-ending line to buy tickets, then another long line to enter. Neither me nor my partner were ever good at being tourists. We’re just good at taking photos of stuff and moving on to the next place. Which is exactly what we did.

We stayed at the Bedford Hotel & Congress Centre, a large hotel conveniently located in the heart of Brussels, just around the corner from the famous Manneken Pis. We were agreeably surprised by the price of the hotel. 130 euros for two nights  – including breakfast!

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Although we saved a lot of money thanks to our nice-price accommodation, we definitely didn’t keep our wallets closed while in Brussels. Not at all. Just ask the barmen and the chocolate-salesmen (and women).

I couldn’t resist buying myself a hot chocolate – white chocolate and coconut – from Le Comptoir de Mathilde , even though I didn’t initially want one. Everything in that store looked tempting, and I would have bought half the store if my partner hadn’t put his foot down and dragged me out of the store after I got my hot chocolate. No wonder I’m not skinny.

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We bought ourselves some yummy chocolate as well as cute souvenirs for our loved ones at the lovely store La Belgique Gourmande. I wanted to buy everything there. I mean, I found the most adorable cookie tins – obviously filled with deliciousness – which would fit perfectly together with all the other stuff I’m hoarding in my apartment. La Belgique Gourmande also offered a large selection of beer. But so did the mini market around the corner. And the souvenir shops across the street. That’s just Belgium, really.

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Speaking of beer; when in Brussels, you have to visit Delirium Café. This bar is enormous, and so is their selection of beer. With 30 beers on tap and over 3000 beers in total, how can a beer lover possibly resist? Even if you don’t like beer, you’ll love the Belgian fruit beers. Hands down. I ordered the cactus beer by Floris (photo below – the green one), which was one of the few fruit beers on tap. And I loved it. Amazingly refreshing and sweet, but not too sweet.

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The most beautiful part of Brussels is without a doubt the Grand Place, or Grote Markt, the central square of the city – and a World Heritage Site. There’s no better place in Brussels to take beautiful pictures than here. “Smile to the camera,” he said. I did, but not to the camera. I looked away instead. “Let’s get back to the hotel and relax with a beer before dinner,” I suggested. He laughed at me. “All you wanna do is drink beer”. He made it sound like I had a drinking problem. My only problem was feeling like a kid in a candy store. That’s me in Belgium.

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C’est Bon, C’est Belge was the name of the restaurant we went to that evening. And yes, it was good. Traditional Belgian cuisine. It was really good. We both ordered the same thing; a tasting platter with five different traditional local dishes and some deli meat/sausages. Everything tasted as good as I imagined it would. And the waiter was everything you want in a waiter: he had a great sense of humor, he was efficient and he knew the menu by heart – and the beers too!

As always, whenever I visit a new place, I check out their local coffee shops. So in Brussels I found this place called OR Espresso Bar. When I told my partner I wanted to go there, his immediate reaction was “but you don’t like espresso”. Which is true. I don’t like espresso, but as a coffee shop, I knew they’d have other things too. Like the lemonade he ordered for himself. Me, I went with a classic latte.

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And what better way to say goodbye to Brussels than by eating waffles? Mokafé is known for serving the best Belgian waffles in Brussels, so we went there after breakfast. Yes, after breakfast. We weren’t hungry, we just needed to stuff our faces with a large amount of Belgian calories. Just one last time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How a Drunk Guy’s Story Brought me to Antwerp, Belgium

Maybe nine or ten years ago, I fell in love with a story told by someone who was very, very drunk. Someone who had fallen in love with the city of Antwerp in Belgium, and couldn’t stop talking about it. “I want to find a nice Belgian girl and settle down in Antwerp. I had the best time of my life there, you know. It’s a beautiful city. And the people there are so friendly, and the beer – oh my God – the beer”, he slurred and took a sip of his non-Belgian beer. “You have to go to Antwerp, you really have to”, he continued. While most other people at that party got fed up with listening to him obsessing over Antwerp and wouldn’t take his drunken slur seriously , I just wanted to know more. I wanted to fall in love with Antwerp too.

And now, many years later, I was finally on my way to Antwerp. My boyfriend and I had decided to go on a road trip to Brussels and decided to spend one night in Antwerp because of my strong desire to go there. And the city was just as amazing as I had expected it to be. I had fallen in love-  just like the drunk guy at the party.

We stayed at the Hotel Prinse, which is an old-fashioned four star hotel set in a 16th century building only a stone’s throw away from the historical center of Antwerp. When we arrived, we received welcome drinks (a glass of wine each). What a pleasant surprise. Cheers to us. Cheers to Antwerp!

The old city center of Antwerp reminded me of how much I love living in Europe. The ancient buildings and narrow streets, the stunning Cathedral of Our Lady and intimate pubs and restaurants on every corner. We grabbed a beer at Paters Vaetje and enjoyed the beautiful autumn sunshine. Tourists of all ages were taking selfies on the Grote Markt (Great Market Square), while others were hanging out drinking beer like us, or snacking on some of the Belgian specialties; chocolate, waffles or fries!

We strolled the narrow streets and tried our hardest to resist the smell of delicious waffles and the sight of tasty chocolate. I wanted to eat it all. But instead of stuffing our faces with calories, we went to see the Het Steen – a medieval fortress, built in the early middle ages. This beautiful fortress managed to get my mind off snacking – at least for a little while – until we both agreed to return to the Grote Markt to buy fries from Frituur Number One, which for some reason has become kind of famous and is always crowded with tourists. Basically, curiosity brought us there. The fries were basic, though. Nothing out of the ordinary. So don’t expect a mouthgasm – unless you already get one from whatever random fries you order anywhere else.

Dumb as we were, we hadn’t made any dinner reservations anywhere and started to panic as we got turned down by one restaurant after another. Eventually we found a nice restaurant called De Bomma , which I think translates to “at grandma’s”, which would make sense as the concept is nostalgic, traditional food –  just like from your grandma’s kitchen…if she was Flemish. The food was good. I especially loved the appetizer; cheese croquettes with fried, crispy parsley on the side. I had never tried parsley prepared in such a creative way before, but it sure was interesting and a lot better than non-fried, non-crispy parsley!

After a heavy meal at grandma’s, we made the clever decision to go to a beer bar to make our already full stomachs even fuller. According to online reviews, Cafe Kulminator was supposed to be one of the best – or THE best – beer bars in the city of Antwerp. My boyfriend was kind of scared to go there, as some reviews said the owners were not very friendly towards francophone’s. I reassured him it would be okay, and I’d do all the talking – as his french accent would give him away. The owners didn’t seem unfriendly, though. And what a fascinating establishment. Random decoration, random furniture and a whole lot of board games everywhere. It looked like my grandma’s attic. Or a flee market. Cafe Kulminator has probably every type of Belgian beer that exists, behind the counter – and the menu looked more like an enormous dictionary than a menu. We gave up on the menu and just ordered what they had on tap.

As I’m not a big fan of the coffee served in hotel breakfast buffets, I was happy to discover that there are plenty of coffee shops to choose from in Antwerp. We visited Caffe Mundi, a coffee shop specialized in roasting high quality coffee. I highly recommend this place if you’re the kind of person who want to know exactly what you’re drinking, as the menu gives you the option to choose between blends and single origin coffee – the very best coffee from different countries around the world.

I finished my coffee and thanked the barista. I silently thanked the rest of Antwerp too. For letting me enjoy this charming city. For letting it be exactly what I hoped it would be.

Thank you drunk guy, for the recommendation. You were right. You were right about everything.

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A sweet taste of Bruges, Belgium

I had wanted to visit Belgium for such a long time. Six years ago, I even bought a plane ticket to Brussels and was planning to stay with some people I met on Couchsurfing . Unfortunately, I had to cancel that trip due to financial problems. Two years later, I made plans to go to Antwerp. But that trip never happened either. I was starting to wonder if it just wasn’t in the cards for me to ever go to Belgium. 

I was wrong. You know the saying “the longer you have to wait for something, the more you will appreciate it when it finally arrives”? I guess that’s why I hadn’t made it to Belgium yet. It just wasn’t the right time. But this year, this spring, I finally made it there. I spent a fantastic weekend in Bruges, a beautiful city often referred to as “Venice of the north”.

The sun was shining and I wore a pink summer dress to celebrate spring and the lovely weather. My boyfriend and I were looking forward to a romantic weekend together in this gorgeous Belgian city. There were so many things I wanted to see – and taste!

I’m not a beer drinker at all, but I had heard good things about the famous Kriek (Belgian cherry-flavored beer) and other Belgian fruit beers. We visited a few craft beer bars and absolutely every single beer I tried, was amazing. That’s coming from someone who doesn’t like beer! I highly recommend 2be – a great bar with a large selection of beers on tap. They also have a beer shop, if you wanna take some souvenirs/beverages home with you.

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The beer tasting made me hungry for a snack – or two. I went to one of the many Friterie’s to get fries in a cone. Because, French fries are actually Belgian – and not French. And they definitely tasted better in Belgium. And my second snack? White chocolate covered Belgian waffle on a stick from Go.Fre, sprinkled with nuts. It was delicious!

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We had recently bought our bright new Nikon-camera and were ready to explore the city and take some gorgeous photos with it. It wasn’t a hard task. The picturesque bridges and beautiful canals, the medieval architecture. How could anyone not fall in love with this city?

Before leaving Bruges, we bought some fine Belgian chocolates. Now was not the time to worry about dieting. I couldn’t possibly imagine a high as good as the taste of those luxurious artisan chocolates.

A perfect way to end a perfect trip to the country I wanted to visit for so long.

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