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Published: July 11th 2011
Bruges - Belgium
The main square, Markt
The decision to leave Prague was a difficult one to make, so much so that I only decided where I was going about 2 hours before the bus left. After buying bus tickets and booking a hostel, I headed to the station to take the bus to Belgium. It was an 11 hour overnight bus trip to Brussels, but because I didn't like the idea of arriving at 5am and having to find my hostel, I continued on to Bruges.
Going to Bruges was a bit of a gamble because I didn't really know anything about the place. It paid off though because luckily it turned out to be a really nice place. The buildings in the city centre are really old and charming. It's so well preserved because the city was quite poor and not doing so well in the 16-1800s so there was no money to modernise the buildings in the city.
On my second day in Bruges I hired a bike and went for a 50km ride through the countryside between Bruges and the coast. Belgium is set up perfectly for bike riding - it's flat, there are bike paths everywhere with special signposted trails to
Bruges - Belgium
There were swans everywhere i Bruges.
follow and car drivers are really aware of cyclists. The end point of my ride was the beach because after being in the landlocked Czech Republic for a month, I was longing to see the sea.
I was pretty disappointed though. Belgian beaches (or at least the ones I saw) aren't nice at all! The road along the beachfront was lined with really high buildings, with concrete all the way to the sand. Then the sand was covered in white bathing boxes and fenced off beach chairs that could be rented. There was hardly a patch of sand that didn't have these things on it!
All I wanted to do was go for a swim and then lie on the sand but it looked almost impossible because most of the beach was covered with swimming prohibited signs. I finally managed to find a spot to swim, although I was the only person anywhere near the water. There were even people who'd hired a bathing box or beach chair and sat there facing the road or the bathing box and couldn't see the sea or the beach at all. I'm not sure why they even bothered going to the
Bruges - Belgium
It rained a lot in Bruges...
beach... It was really nice to be at the beach though, even if it was a bit strange.
After spending a few days in Bruges, I headed to Ghent for a night. I'd never heard of Ghent before but decided to go there based on the recommendation of a guy in Bruges and the fact that it has the highest number of vegetarian restaurants per person in Belgium. Plus I found the coolest hostel that I just had to stay at. It was an ecohostel that had passive heating, recycled water, was built from recycled and sustainable materials and provided vegan breakfast. And it was on a boat! It was definitely one of the best hostels I've ever stayed at and the vegan breakfast was amazing. Hostel breakfasts usually mean that I can only eat bread and jam or maybe cornflakes with water but this place had more than I could have ever imagined - juice, chocolate, jam, bread, yogurt, soy milk, cereal, chocolate soy dessert, bananas, chocolate spread..... Yum.
Ghent itself was also pretty cool, I really liked the feel of it. It's a student city, so there were a lot of students around and it was
Bruges - Belgium
Aren't they cute?
also really multicultural, with some streets full of Turkish shops and restaurants. And there was vegetarian food everywhere! Ghent was also really colourful because there's a lot of graffiti on walls and buildings. Not just any graffiti though - huge, fantastic artworks! There are a couple of graffiti artists from Ghent who are quite famous and have graffiti in many different cities including New York and London. One of them does really big, colourful artworks full of cartoon creatures and vegetables and I loved finding them spread all over the city.
Unfortunately I only had one night in Ghent before I moved on to Utrecht, in The Netherlands. Lots of people asked me why I was going to Utrecht but I thought why not? I've never been there and I've heard a lot about it so I wanted to check it out. My time in Belgium and The Netherlands seemed to be about avoiding the larger cities and obvious tourist destinations, as I went to neither Brussels nor Amsterdam.
I liked Utrecht but the problem was that it never stopped raining. Ever since I left Prague and arrived in Belgium, it had been rainy, cold and windy. The
weather was worse than in Melbourne - problem was that it was winter in Melbourne and it was meant to be summer here! The weather meant that I hid indoors in my hostel quite a lot, where I was at least warm and dry.
The weekend I was in Utrecht was one of the Cultural Sunday weekends and the theme was perfect - Green. On Saturday night I went to a free screening of a film about green groups and green movements in the USA, which was super interesting. I was really impressed that the film was shown in English with no Dutch subtitles and all the Dutch people there had no problems understanding. The Dutch have very good English! Then on Sunday there was a big sustainability festival in the Cathedral Square, complete with towers made out of plastic bags and a percussion band playing music on frying pans, rubbish bins and wheels of cheese. It was just my thing!
My next and final stop in The Netherlands was Leeuwarden, which nobody seem to ever have heard of. It's not exactly the biggest tourist destination but I was going there to visit my friend Raldi, who I
met when she was working at the Melbourne Zoo last year. Liz arrived in Leeuwarden just before I did, from Bremen. It was really nice to be staying with a friend again - after being spoilt with a month of staying with friends in Prague, I was finding it a little difficult getting used to staying in hostels.
Leeuwarden was pretty laid back, we didn't do so much but I enjoyed just having time to relax and enjoy having my own space again. We went out to check out Leeuwarden's night life on the Monday night and became a big talking point for the bartender/DJ, who even played Land Down Under for us. The towns and cities in Belgium and The Netherlands all started looking a bit the same to me after a while, so I didn't feel the need to rush out and do a lot of sightseeing. They all seem to have canals, pretty buildings in similar styles and colours (mainly brown), pretty parks and small streets with very few cars.
I borrowed Raldi's bike one of the days and went on a huge bike ride in the country and through farms just north of Leeuwarden.
Bruges - Belgium
One of the places I visited on my bike ride.
I ended up riding a lot further than I had actually intended to, but it was a pretty ride, full of green fields, cows, birds and cute little villages.
I ended up staying just over 3 days with Raldi and Liz in Leeuwarden and it would've been nice to stay a little more but I had bigger and better places to move on to. On Thursday I left Leeuwarden and spent nearly my whole day travelling to my next destination. It was a long, tiring day but I eventually arrived and it was definitely worth the tiring trip!
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