Our friends Francine and Russ in London just returned from Ghent, Belgium and our friends David and Denise in Des Moines are visiting their son in Antwerp (Belgium)…sooo, here’s some travel suggestions from the Londoners (Francine) to the Iowans:
Okay – a few words about Ghent
We stayed in the centre of the medieval district – Hotel NH. Good hotel – clean and comfortable – but not especially quaint. There is a Novotel close by too. The advantage of these places are they are a hop, skip and a jump to the sites. Don’t have breakfast there though – find a local café.
Ghent (or Gent as it is known in Belgium) is about half an hour train ride from Brussels. I suspect it is about the same from Antwerp. There are several stations. The main station is about 30 mins walk from the centre – so get a taxi or hop a local train to Ghent St Peters – and then only 10 mins from centre.
Things that are special about Belgium/Ghent – the beer, chocolate, lace, 14th and 15th century art and in season mussels and chips!
Sites we recommend are all close by to the hotel – Belfrey, St Bavo’s Cathedral (a visit to Van Eyck brothers painting Adoration of Mystic Lamb in the cathedral is a must), St Nicolas’s church and Castle of the Counts. Fabulous strolls can be taken around the town and along one of the 4 rivers that meet in the middle of the town.
We visited the STAM museum – about the history of Ghent and about half an hour walk from the centre or 8 minute tram ride and a museum about the ongoing restoration of the Van Eyck painting in an arts centre that used to be a monastery (Caermensklooster) but there are several we did not have time for, ie the trendy Design Musuem and Fine Arts Museum where you can watch them restore the van Eyck masterpiece!
Beware musuems are mostly closed on Mondays!
Things to do – take a river boat cruise, take a tram, walk round the town at night as all the buildings are illuminated and there is a night trail. The tourist office is right by the Town Hall, tucked away near the river (about 3 mins from NH hotel) and you can buy a 48 or 72 hour Ghent card which gives you free public transport and entrance to virtually all the sites and monuments.
On Sunday morning – go to the flower market and join the locals in a plate of Oysters and a glass of wine at the Blue Oyster kiosk.
Amazing array of bars, cafes and places to ear – all of which were fab. We liked
Mokabon – retro coffee bar- good for coffee not breakfast
Faja lobi café – great sandwiches, Indonesian food and I think breakfast too
The Pink Flamingo bar – funky 50s American – good for beer/wine pre dinner
Wasbar (launderette cum café) – on the way to Stam museum and good brunch with prosecco!
Restaurant de Graslei -Traditional Belgian beer and food in old house on quay side of the river
Marco Polo – trattoria – with good slow Italian food
de Rave – very close to NH hotel – intimate authentic Belgian cuisine restaurant run by husband and wife team.
Finally – lots of boutiques and shops – especially women’s clothes/shoes (if that is Denise’s thing)
If they are really feeling adventurous and staying in Belgium for a while- they should take a First World War battlefields tour and visit Ypres and an amazing museum there dedicated to the so called Great War If so – they must stay for the Last Post which is played at the Menin Gate every night and attended by hundreds of people. Very moving experience.
I hope they have a lovely time!