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Trip Report Belgium April 2018

We have just booked tickets for another trip to Europe and I’ve realized I never delivered the trip report that I promised for our Belgium adventures. Soon after our return we became overwhelmed with home improvement projects and I never got it done. My computer with our pictures is currently broken so I’ll be writing this report more briefly than normal based off memories and notes.

Our trip was planned as this:

April 13, 14, 15, 16: Bruges
April 17, 18: Dinant
April 19, 20, 21: Brussels

For the first time on any trip, in an interesting turn of events we actually completely broke away from our plans. I will get to that, shortly.

Bruges was a picturesque delight. We daytripped to Ghent, and were I able to do it over again, I would stay in Ghent. We enjoyed the feel and atmosphere of Ghent more than Bruges. It felt more alive and buzzed with a different energy. Bruges was absolutely magical at night though. I would imagine that in full summer swing, it could be a little overwhelming with all the crowds. It wasn’t overly crowded when we were there, but it was still busy.

On another day we daytripped to Ypres. What a cool city. We stopped in a cute shop for chocolate covered waffles and learned from the shopkeeper the story of all the cats we saw in the storefronts around town...what a story! Give yourself two hours at the WWI museum, we cut ourselves slightly short at about 1.5 hours (we ran into road construction work) and feel like 2 would have been perfect. If you’re a real war buff, I’d give yourself even more time. We did a North Salient tour in the afternoon and it was an absolutely great tour. Our guide has had the honor to meet and get to know many WWI soldiers and had very memorable stories to share and great insight. It was interesting to hear stories from other countries besides our own. All in all, a day very well spent. We decided to head back to Bruges instead of staying for the Last Post. We were anxious about driving back through the countryside at night and decided to error on the side of caution.

The next day we made our way down to Dinant, with stops planned along the way. Our first stop was Hallerbos Forest. WOW, WOW, WOW. It was an absolute highlight of the trip. What a magical place. The flowers were in bloom and it was simply stunning and a delight for all the senses. The air was so crisp and clean, laced with the light, lovely scent of the flowers. The flowers themselves dazzled in a carpet as far as the eye could see. Upon arrival we opted for the longer walk spending a few hours in the forest. If you have the opportunity to visit when the flowers are blooming and you love nature, I highly recommend prioritizing this stop in your trip to Belgium.

Our next stop was Kasteel van Beersel which was a fun little moated castle stop. We grabbed a very light lunch at a restaurant adjacent to the castle. Which was perfect. We couldn’t ask for better views or better weather. We then poked and explored around the castle. You really get to explore at your leisure. There was one other group of two people there when we were there so you may end up with it all to yourselves. One person at a time can climb to the top of a single tower for great views of the surrounding area. But, this is not for the faint of heart as the way is a bit rickety, covered in pigeon poo, and very claustrophobic. My husband made the climb and I did not.

We then drove to Villers Abbey. Again, what a cool stop! We should have made a little bit earlier start to the day as we felt like we could have used just a little bit more time here. We enjoyed poking around all the ruins. Some bride and groom were getting an insane amount of pictures taken in the church portion of the ruins while we were visiting. The bride never left the center of the aisle for the entire duration of our visit so I never was able to capture it without her in it, but so it goes. Definely recommend it!

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We then drove on to Dinant. Our lodging for the next two nights was Auberge de Bouvignes. I’m very sorry to say that it was a disappointment. While the owner was very kind and gracious, the establishment was tired and the air was not pleasant to breathe. This odors could partially be due to the fact that he had just opened it up for the season? I’m not sure. We did find out from the owner that General Rommel of Nazi infamy stayed in the B&B years ago while they moved through Belgium. My husband is not inclined with an overactive imagination but he thought the place could be haunted. He slept uneasily and I slept terribly. After a bad night, we decided to leave a night early and move on from Dinant. And, to touch on Dinant, we really did not care for it very much. The town felt a little sad to us both. Maybe we were too early in the season and it picks up later in the year.

The next day we decided to drive down to Chateau Bouillon before leaving the area. It was a great castle stop and a very large one! So many things to see and do. The falconry display was incredibly impressive. It was all done in French and we don’t speak anything beyond the very basic. I’m sure knowing the language would have enhanced the experience but it was very good without. The castle itself was fascinating, from Crusade history to WWII history. The hole in the ground type cellar was definitely enough for my imagination to dream up how terrible being a captive would be. We made a point to go buy some of the cheese in the town that is aged at the castle, a neat little display. Again, a recommended stop.

Adding a night at our Brussels hotel was very expensive so we decided to consider another option. In my trip planning research I had read that Leuven was a neat place to visit so I looked up last minute accommodation there and booked it and we made our drive up north. We dropped the car a day early and ubered to Leuven, which was actually very reasonable to do so and we avoided having to shuffle luggage on public transportation. Leuven was a breath of fresh air after Dinant and I would go back there in a heartbeat. It’s a college town with about 40,000 students. The place buzzed with energy and we very much enjoyed slowing down and having a few late afternoon drinks on the plaza surrounding by lively college students. The architecture was beautiful and there were fun shops to pop into. I could easily go back and spend more time in Leuven...really a cool place to simply be.

The next morning we moved on to Brussels. We did many of the recommended activities in the RS book and did enjoy the city. To me, Brussels felt like a bit of a blend of Paris and Madrid. I have read that some people don’t care for Brussels. I thought that it was a nice city to spend a few days. As a person with architectural interests, we did go to the Victor Horta museum. I enjoyed it but can’t say that it is necessarily worth the time on a short trip to go there. We also went to the Castle Floralia show at Groot Bijgaarden. I do highly recommend this stop as well. Spring is a great time to visit Belgium. It was a lovely half day spent poking around beautiful scenery, trees, flowers, etc. You can have a nice lunch on the grounds and enjoy some live music if they have it that day. A nice, relaxing visit.

Another few random interesting item to notes:

I really enjoyed our museum time with the Flemish primitive paintings. We like to visit an art museum or two but are by no means art buffs. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the art.

The way the Belgians trimmed their trees and hedges was new to me. It was so interesting to see something so different than where we come from.

We did enjoy the food in Belgium. BIG portions. Great fries, great waffles, great beer. I enjoy beer but I was overwhelmed a time or two by the limitless choices at different establishments. I felt like a complete novice at making selections on what to drink.

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We departed for home on Sunday. We were supposed to arrive home on Sunday night but the way things worked out, we did not arrive home until Tuesday around noon. It was a grueling trip home. I dislike being negative but do want to relay the story of what happened on our return travels.

We arrived at the Brussels airport early in the morning for our 10:30 am flight. They announced they were having some problems with the plane and let us know that we were delayed. Long story short, they had engine problems and ended up having to cancel our flight and express a part in to fix it. In a confused mass of people, we then had to go back through passport control to leave the airport. Seeing as it was a Sunday, only a few people were working the stations. It took us a few hours to get back through passport control and then grab our checked bag. There was another hour long wait at the Delta desk to get our hotel vouchers. Then, there were so many people trying to catch a shuttle ride to the same hotel we ended up taking a taxi as we didn’t want to wait an additional hour in line for a shuttle. We had to do unplanned sink laundry that night in the hotel as we had ran out of clean clothes and there was no where close to buy any new clothes at an airport hotel on a Sunday.

We got up early the next morning to go back to the airport. We almost weren’t able to fly again as the plane was fixed only in the knick-of-time before the pilots timed out. Thankfully, we were allowed to fly and it such a relief to finally be on the plane and know we were going home. You will laugh at the next part of the story though...there was a group of gentlemen that evidently weren’t able to find a shower the night before. As we all settled into our seats, a noxious odor wafted through our plane. Flight attendants sprayed air freshener down the aisles in an attempt to alleviate the problem. I chatted up an attendant in the back by the restrooms and he confessed it was the worst he had experienced in his 30 years of flying. So...back at my seat, I used my eye mask as a breathing mask and attempted to get some sleep. LOL. It was really something...long delays and smelly flights. What do you do?! We finally arrived Atlanta and checked in around 10pm to our hotel. We did have to ask the Delta counter at the airport for hotel vouchers as they did not have that ready for us upon arrival. So, if this kind of thing ever happens to you...ask for a hotel voucher! We flew home to Wichita the next morning. I have never been so tired upon a return from a trip. Those couple days really were stressful and took it out of me. If this happens to you, do know that there is an EU regulation that requires airlines originating out of the EU to compensate for delayed flights. I have to say that Delta treated us very well between travel vouchers, refunding our flights and honoring the EU regulation. While the experience of getting home was not fun, at least they tried to make it right. They will be my preferred airline of choice for future travels.

I highly recommend visiting Belgium. We really enjoyed our time there. It felt like a change of pace after previous trips to Italy, France, Spain, etc. And don’t feel like you have to stick to Bruges...there are a lot of great places to explore and I feel like we only scratched the surface.

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1490 posts

Julie, I enjoyed reading your trip report. It sounds like you did a great job of making the best of everything, even when things didn't turn out the way you hoped. Congratulations on keeping a positive outlook!

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2057 posts

Thank you for taking the time to post your wonderful trip report. Personally, I loved Bruges. We stayed there for 10 days at a B&B that provided bikes for their guests and lots of information on where to go and what to see. It is indeed magical being in Bruges at night and early morning. We day tripped to several of the places you mention and enjoyed every minute and every single place we visited. We were there in the late fall so not too many others traveling when we were. I do love Belgium and you have been to some places I haven't so I foresee a trip to Belgium in my future! Thanks!

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1689 posts

Hi Julie,

Thanks for your nice report. And glad you enjoyed your trip to Belgium and some off the beaten track destinations like Villers Abbey, kasteel van Beersel and one I heave never heard of: the bluebells bloom of Hallerbos Forest. Proves no one is never too old to learn something :).

Glad too for Bouillon, as it is a bit out of the way your visit to the castle proves it is worth the effort going there. Dinant remains a point of discussion as some like it, but it’s glory is to my opinion a bit of the past. As a kid I visited it several times in the late 60’s, but in that period Wallonia was more wealthy, places like Dinant had a better reputation and was for many a popular holiday destination before everybody started going to the Mediterranean. Five years back visited again but it was not the place anymore that it was in my memory.

I like it you have left the beaten track, sometimes it works and sometimes not, but that’s all in the game, in general it proves you can have a memorable trip. Good inspiration for others.

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2221 posts

I so want to go back and see more in the Scandinavia and Netherlands area. Thanks for the enjoyable report!

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Enjoyed your trip report. I had a project take me to Ghent for 3 weeks and loved every minute of it. Evenings on the squares just people-watching, great restaurants, fantastic people. I've heard others say that Ghent is a good place to base for day-tripping. Never made it to Bruges, not a huge fan of Brussels....but definitely want to go back. Thanks for taking the time to provide such a detailed report.

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9929 posts

Julie, thanks so much for your trip report! Flight home notwithstanding it sounds like a fun and interesting time. I’m planning a visit maybe next spring so was interested that you saw some great flowers.

Creepy story about the BnB and Nazi connectionbut yes, makes history a bit closer.

Wil, thanks for your observations about changes over the years. Interesting as well.

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Glad everyone has enjoyed the report.

Wil, you were very helpful with advice when I was planning and I very much appreciate it! You’ll have to let me know if you make it to the forest.

Jack, I could easily go back and spend more time in Ghent. I did not feel like I had enough time there. It’s a place you can sit and linger and explore. I’d love to get back some day.

Pam, absolutely! It really was a great trip and I’ve been recommending Belgium to my friends and coworkers. It’s so funny when they’d ask where we were going and I would say Belgium — they would respond, “how’d you pick Belgium?” They were very curious. I definitely recommend it in the springtime, seeing the flowers and nature like that were highlights of my experiences. The bluebells bloom in a very limited timeframe, just a few weeks, so do plan around that if you want to see them.

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Thanks Julie! The bluebells must have been stunning. I've actually been to Belgium before - parents lived in Brussels in the mid-70's and then also went to a smallish town in Eastern Belgium a couple of years ago to meet up with some Belgian friends who took us to the air base my Dad flew from in WWII. Very interesting to visit a town where there are few American visitors. We received a very warm welcome plus the hotel had a bowl of chocolates on the breakfast buffet, hahaha!

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1689 posts

Julie, I put the blooming bluebells on my to-do list!

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2284 posts

Nice report, Julie! I’m glad you enjoyed Belgium. I just love it, including Brussels.

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On Dinant, "a little sad to us both." That town was the strategic objective (due its location) in both WW1 and 2. It suffered the horrors of war in 1914 and 1940.

Thanks for an interesting report.