Where time stood still

Have you experienced some things in life when you didn’t think much of them before experiencing them but then they turn out to be the best? For me, such was the case with Belgium.

With a curiosity a five year old has for solving a mathematics problem, I was just looking forward to visiting Belgium because, why not? To my surprise, by the time we had to say our goodbyes, I wanted to know what the living expenses here were!

I visited two places in Belgium- Bruges and Gent. Both very small places compared to the well-known capital, Brussels.

Our first stop was Brugge. As I deboard my train, the place doesn’t give any “love at first sight” feeling. It seems to be a small, pretty, quiet city. Only later do you realize that it is so much more. It is upon entering the heart of the place that you understand that you are not only in a different country but a different era. Almost everything everywhere invites you to a century gone by. Brugge is a World Heritage Site and the title could not have been better deserved.  It depicts a Europe that I have only read of in novels- streets lined with the stone that is so unique to Europe, rowing boats on the lake, waffles being sold at every corner of every street and the air, oh the air!

We covered almost all the tourist places through a guided English tour (which was free. These tours are available in other languages too. All one has to do is gather near the Belfry.) Our guide, Lucy, was very sweet and gave very interesting tidbits about all the places. She even took us to a chocolate shop whose owner was an old lady who let us all (10-15 of us) taste all her different chocolates. 🙂

Since I have a sweet tooth, it becomes necessary to mention that there is a reason Belgian waffles are famous. The ones that I tasted here were delightful and very light, compared to the ones that I am used to having here in Delhi. And what a wide variety- strawberry cinnamon, chocolate sundae and what not!

After walking for twenty kilometers in a day (which for a person like me is equivalent to six months of walking), we ended up going to bed at nine in the evening. (We stayed at a Youth Hostel which was nothing less than a luxury hotel. You go, Lybeer!). It proved to be our best decision since we woke up at six in the morning and were out in the streets by seven, when the whole town was still waking up. I must tell you how sublime the city looked in its morning glory. Exploring a city in the early hours of the day, with no destination in mind and a map in our hands and just figuring out where to go while going there was a feeling I wasn’t familiar with until that day.

Packing our bags, off we went to Gent. Now, my first thought upon entering Gent was: “This looks like any other metropolitan city”. Walking for half an hour with our luggage, following the rail tracks, we were all questioning our decision to leave Brugge and spend half a day here. As we reached the center, it was as if the whole city was laughing at us. Because there we stood, with our mouths open, confused about where to look because there were castles everywhere! Every direction you look, there stands a magnificent castle. And not a castle that you will forget easily; it’s one that forces you to turn your head again and again and look at it. The center, bustling with people, enjoying the sun in the otherwise cold weather, had a certain life to it.

The two days spent in Belgium remain one of the highlights of my trip. Maybe because it was the first place I visited and firsts are always special or maybe because these places really were extraordinary. I would love to go back to both these places but for a much longer time.





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