August 28, 2022
Written by Lillian
We woke up at 4:30 A.M. on Saturday to catch a 6:00 A.M. train to Ghent, Belgium: a quaint, culture-filled town recommended to us by a graduate student. Traveling is so meticulous, especially when each train relies on one another to get you on each of your connections, and unfortunately, we ended up missing one of our connections because we hopped on the wrong train, so when we finally got to Ghent, we were all starving because of the mishaps and delays to the trip. But before we could stop to get something to eat, I spotted a thrift store near downtown Ghent. The thrift store organized its clothes into four categories: intellectuals (for professional and dark academia styles), strangers (for off-the-beaten path and one-of-a-kind statement pieces), flower child (for florals and cute styles), and rockers (for edgier and punk rock looks). We spent the next hour thrifting in Ghent’s neighborhoods in the various stores we stumbled upon; I was surprised at how many good items I could find!
Thrift store in Ghent – such a wide range of clothes
Finally, we stopped by a Portuguese Bakery to cure our hunger. We got Pastel de Natas, an egg custard tart pastry, which was super delicious. We also stopped to get Belgian fries loaded with beef, onions, mayonnaise, and gravy. We strolled a little further and stopped at a waffle shop. I dined on a Belgian waffle with Nutella and whipped cream. There was so much good food around every corner we turned, we couldn’t help but try it all.
When we finally got into downtown Ghent after our many diversions, we stumbled upon a couple of different local events: a Pokémon Go Festival, an Alice in Wonderland App & Cosplay Festival, an annual regatta, and a music festival. The city was teeming with life, and everyone that we saw was either dressed as the Mad Hatter, glued to their phone in search of Pokémon, or disembarking from their canoes. We decided to join the canoer’s on the water and take a boat tour of the city, and our captain spoke three different languages on the tour: English, French, and Dutch. He would repeat everything three times in the different languages for all of the patrons to understand. It was very impressive. We also learned that Ghent has the most number of universities in the county of Belgium; it makes sense why the thrifting scene was so good!
The river Lys that runs through the whole city. Anyone can use the river, so it is filled with boaters, kayakers, and paddle boarders.
We dined on more authentic Belgian cuisine: cuberdon or Gentse neus (“Ghent noses”). These noses are made of Arabic gum candy in the shape of a nose, and within its hard crust lies a soft and gelatinous filling. These candies originated from Ghent, and the two cart merchants from which you can buy the noses have a history of fierce rivalry which spans fist fights, merchant bans, and hefty fines.
Colorful Ghent Noses with an equally colorful history
Early the next day, we hopped on a train to Bruges, a town in Northwest Belgium. We spent the first couple of hours sightseeing and taking photos before the town woke up. This ended up being a good plan for us because midday brought so many tourists. It’s so interesting to see a city light up with people after having it to ourselves all morning. We decided to rent bikes and explore the river which encircles the city instead of getting caught up in the downtown crowds.
Bruges was inducted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. These gorgeous views definitely helped.
Then, we ate lunch in downtown Bruges. One thing that I found interesting was that it was really hard to find authentic Belgian cuisine. I found the same issue in Luxembourg too. Most of the food was French or interestingly enough–American! We did find many Belgian chocolatiers though— pralines were invented in Belgium and include a chocolate shell filled with softer fillings such as caramel, coffee, cream, and marzipan. These pralines can last about three months uneaten while plain, unfilled chocolates can last six; however, I fully know that these will barely last a week in my dorm!
Chocolatier in Bruges: there were tons of them in Belgium, at least two on every street!
Overall, it was very obvious to see and taste why Belgium is known for so many different foods. Over the course of these two days, I had a sugar overload from feasting on waffles, chocolates, and noses. I absolutely loved walking through the city of Ghent; it has all the charm of Bruges, but with a younger demographic, more lively social scene, and less tourists. In Bruges, I loved biking through the cobblestone roads, dodging the horse drawn carriages, and darting over the many picturesque bridges. My first weekend abroad was a success, and while I may still need more time getting used to the train system, I am looking forward to a more smooth sailing next weekend as I gain more skills on how to live and travel in Europe!