Jessica, OHNY’s program manager, spent a week in Belgium this past April. When one normally thinks of Belgium, chocolate, beer, waffles, and mussels and pommes frites all come to mind. She soon learned there was all that and much, much more. First stop, Brussels.

brussels in april

The Grand Place is Brussels’ central square or “Great Market” and has been a marketplace since the 12th century. The square features a Gothic style Town Hall, a King’s House and guild houses. There are several cozy cafes, delicious chocolate shops and just off of Grand Place – Manneken Pis!

grand place in brussels

There are many stories and folklore behind Manneken Pis that range from a little boy urinating to extinguish a fire to save the king’s castle to a father whose child went missing and after two days he found the boy urinating in a small garden. To thank the locals who helped search for the boy, the man had this fountain built. The most likely truth behind this two-foot tall Manneken Pis is that it served as a fountain where people in the Middle Ages could get clean water. The statue has a wardrobe of over 600 costumes and some of the outfits can be viewed at the City Museum located in the Grand Place. Sadly, during Jessica’s visit, there was no costume on Manneken Pis.

manneken pis

About an hour train ride from Brussels is the quaint and picturesque town of Bruges (now one of Jessica’s favorite cities to visit!). You may have seen the 2008 movie In Bruges with Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes.

bruges

While they filmed throughout different locations in Bruges (they even filmed some scenes at the B&B Jessica stayed at), the one memorable building in the movie is the bell tower.

bell tower in bruges

Situated in Market Square, it is an impressive building dating back to 1300 and to get a spectacular view of the city, one needs to climb 366 winding, narrow steps. Be forewarned! There is only one way up and down the bell tower!

city view of bruges from the top of the bell tower (after climbing 366 steps!)

While Bruges is a very walk-able city (you really cannot get lost), it’s definitely worthwhile to take a canal boat ride to get an overview of the area. There are also several museums and churches to explore and discover as you wander through this charming town. Another must see site in addition to the bell tower is the Church of Our Lady which houses a Madonna and Child by Michelangelo, and is believed to be the only statue to leave Italy during his lifetime.

madonna and child by Michelangelo at the church of our lady

Last stop on the Belgium tour was Antwerp.

grote markt in antwerp

Since Jessica only spent one day there, she didn’t have enough time to visit any of the museums, but did make it in time to tour the Cathedral of Our Lady. Just off of Market Square, the Cathedral’s construction began in 1352, commenced in 1521 and has not been fully completed since. There are several, impressive paintings by Peter Paul Rubens as well as Jacob de Backer, Otto van Veen and Marten de Vos. The Cathedral can hold approximately 25,000 people, has 57 altars throughout and 128 windows.

cathedral of our lady, antwerp

Overall, Belgium is a wonderful country to visit especially during Easter time when all the chocolate shops have festive displays. There is an efficient network of trains (they were always on time!) making it easy to navigate from city to city. Every city that Jessica visited, she encountered wonderfully, detailed architecturally designed buildings, visited several museums to learn about Belgium’s history, drank tasty fruit beer, and oh yeah, sampled a few chocolates!

easter display at a chocolate shop in brussels

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