Europe 2013 #4 – Antwerp & Ghent

On the 4th day of Belgium, I decided to take a trip out of Brussels to Antwerp and Ghent. However, there wasn’t enough time for Ghent in the end so that had to be pushed to the next day. I honestly did not know what to expect from Antwerp and I presumed that it would be something like Brussels – run down and heavily vandalised. However, upon reaching Antwerp Central Station, I was greeted with this beautiful sight:

I’m glad to report that the rest of the city was as beautiful as the train station.

Antwerp feels more modern than Brussels actually. You can find many international brands here. It’s somewhat like London – they keep the beautiful traditional buildings, but with more amenities and shops.

They do have public transport in Antwerp but going everywhere on foot is fine too. You can obtain a map from the train station and that will come in very handy.

I did a quick check online on what restaurant to have for lunch. I wanted to try t’Fornius, as recommended by the Michelin Guide, but was told they were full. We had more luck at Sir Anthony Van Dijck. This restaurant is located in a backyard, which may be elusive to find. The main door is always shut, so I suppose most patrons already know about this place and aren’t passers-by. This exclusive feel alone has already set a good first impression.

I

I went for the 4 course Gourmet Menu for €52.

And a half bottle of Saint Emilion Grand Cru to pair.

Tartare of Salmon Trout with Green Herbs

Minestrone with scallops, lobster and red mullet

Breast of duck with rosemary, shallots and red wine sauce

Salad of red fruit “Bourguignone” with honey ice cream

I enjoyed everything I had here and it was a delightful meal. The ambiance was very comfortable and the food was up to expectations. It’s a pretty good place to dine at in Antwerp.

Sir Anthony Van Dijck
Vlaeykensgang – Oude Koornmarkt 16, Antwerp 2000, Belgium

Leonidas is a chocolate brand in Belgium and is somehow everywhere. However, I am not impressed by the quality of their chocolates. I’d say this is a tourist trap.

Antwerp was basically all about walking around and enjoying the view along the way. I like the vibe of this little town.

The next morning started with breakfast at the hotel. It’s always enjoyable to have a hearty buffet breakfast.

I like how cheese in Europe tastes so good. The breakfast selection at Pullman Hotel was not very big but it sure was decent.

I read about this place on Tripadvisor and decided to check it out – Cantillon Brewery. It’s located rather near Brussels Midi.

Basically, you get a tour of the brewery to understand the process of Lambic beer making. This is a small privately owned brewery and they were not making any beer at the time of visit. After the tour, you get to taste some of their beers. Their beers are non-gassy and it was quite weird to me, because I haven’t tasted anything like it before.

Overall, it is a nice place but I wouldn’t say it’s a Must Visit.

Cantillon Brewery
56 rue Gheude, 1070 Brussels, Belgium

After the brewery visit, it was time for Ghent! I’m so glad that Ghent was possible because it was a good place. Unlike Antwerp and Brugge, Ghent was bigger and going on foot only wasn’t a good idea. To get to the city centre from the station, you can take a tram. I wasn’t sure where to alight but when I spotted a market I knew it should be here.

Food markets makes me happy!

I don’t normally eat hot dogs because they are essentially processed food, but this one was worth all the toxins. Simply by looking at the charcoal grill you could tell it’s going to be good.

The sausage was so juicy and flavourful and of course the charcoal helps.

You can’t say no to oysters and white wine. They are never disappointing.

This is the Gravensteen. Admission is €4 for youths.

View from the top.

The castle isn’t anywhere as exciting as Windsor Castle, but it’s only €4.

Gravensteen
Sint-Veerleplein 11, 9000 Gent, Belgium


This is called Belfort/ Belfry of Ghent, one of the famous 3 towers.

You can go in admission is €3.75 for youths.

View from the top of the tower.

This tower is famous for the bell and they even have a video explaining the process of bell making, if you’re interested to know.

Belfort
Sint-Baafsplein, 9000 Gent, Belgium

The next thing for the afternoon was beer. In Belgium, the beers are generally good and it’s the best place in the world to have beer. You can have it anytime of the day, even for breakfast. Gruut is exceptionally famous in Ghent, appearing in several traval guides so I had to check what the hype is about.

They have 5 types of beers on the menu and eventually I got to try every one of them, because it was really good. I don’t normally fancy beers, but the beers at Gruut were exceptional! My favourite was the Brune (brown) beer. I’ve tried Brune from other beer makers but it doesn’t come close. I was so good; we had seconds and thirds of it. Gruut beer is really a Must Try!

Gruut
Grote Huidevettershoek 10, 9000 Gent, Belgium

When dining at The Ledbury in London, the waiter told us about a restaurant in Ghent called De Vitrine, which he highly recommended. I made my reservation online for dinner one day before and was able to secure a table.

The menu was in Dutch only (this is the Flanders) but the staff was able to explain it to us in English. They only serve one menu and its 4 fixed courses for €45 or 5 courses for €55. Cheese instead of dessert is at extra €4.

Basically, everything from this meal was very good. The mussels were better than those I’ve had in Brussels and everything else was simply creative and it worked. I understand why this restaurant was highly recommended and I highly recommend it too.

De Vitrine
Brabantdam 134, 9000 Gent, Belgium

And this marks the end of the Belgian leg of my trip. It was truly a memorable and underrated experience. The cheap beers, waffles, mussels, lovely food markets, Gruut Beer, De Vitrine, lovely buildings and the lack of crowd. If there’s one thing that isn’t good, it’s got to be the supermarkets. Things are more expensive here compared to London and Paris, probably because most of the items are imported. I realised that there aren’t really many things made in Belgium so perhaps that explains why. However, the Belgian brand of bottled water, SPA, has the best sparkling water ever and it’s very affordable in Belgium. Do give it a try if you happen to be there.

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