Arriving late in the day in Brussels what better thing to do than head to the Grand Place with its palaces, old guild halls and town hall illuminated against the night sky. Crowds of people were enjoying the open air cafes in this square voted Europe’s most beautiful in 2010. The Town Hall was built in stages beginning in 1401. Subsequent bombardments and fires led to further reconstructions and the thriving merchant economy in the seventeenth century led to the construction of opulent guild halls which today house banks and the Museum of Brussels. During World War One the Town Hall was used as a temporary hospital for wounded soldiers.
Bruges has a worldwide reputation as a charming small town to visit which is not unlike Venice. With a wealth of preserved medieval buildings, cute houses, churches and bell towers hugging many of the canals, Bruges is a mecca for tourists.
Taking a canal trip after a delicious lunch of Belgian fish soup was memorable and breathtaking. So many of the buildings are carefully preserved and seemingly protected from the water with clever engineering.
A visit to the battlefields at Ypres and Passchendale is a moving experience. Many of the cemeteries such as Tyne Cot demonstrate the extent of those killed during the war. It is eerie to visit the Menin Gate of Ypres through which you can see the beautiful Ypres cathedral. This is a memorial to the missing soldiers presumed dead in World War One. Along this road marched all the young soldiers on their way to the Western Front. Such a melancholy realisation.
Belgium is more than Brussels, Bruges, beer and battlefields. Despite its dense population it features beautiful gardens and natural forests. At this particular time of the year in late April I was able to wander through the Hallerbost forest near Halle ( about one hour south of Brussels) during the Hyacinth Festival.
I am indebted to friend and tour guide extraordinaire Annie for a most enjoyable taste of Belgium.