Day 5- Tuesday March 14
At the suggestion of a friend, Bruges got squeezed into our agenda while planning our trip to Amsterdam. Then discovering ABS (Any Belgian Station) ticket is included in Thalys ticket, Ghent was wedged in also. Quite a busy day for us.
Thalys ticket bought few weeks ahead online via SNCF for €72 took us from Amsterdam Centraal to Antwerp Centraal then we took IC trains to Ghent and Bruges. The final destination for our Thalys train was Lille France and it departed from platform 15–located toward the end of Amsterdam Central station, closer to the riverside. We learned all this from a helpful train station personnel. Going up to the platform,we found a display showing where we should wait for our carriage. The train arrived timely and has a digital display on each carriage announcing train number and final destination. We of course got on the wrong carriage and the weird numbering of seats left us bewildered. We found our seats finally and settled in for the 1h13m ride to Antwerp. Very comfortable second class seats but no USB plug that we could find. A conductor passed by to check everyone’s tickets and passed around a survey. Meanwhile idyllic scenes of Holland countryside seen through the window kept us occupied. Arrived at Antwerp, the conductor pointed us upstairs for platform for Belgian Intercity train to Ghent. There was construction and walking took longer thus we missed the train. So we took the next train which was late, then was slowing to a halt a few stops from Ghent. Explanation was announced… in Flemish (?) We just observed and since no one moved, we took it as a sign that it was just a delay. Panic subsided as the train slowly restarted. Our planned stop was Gent Sint Pieters but we learned, from ÖBB Scotty app, that Gent Dampoort, the station closer to Gent’s city center per Trip Advisor, is just before that. So we hopped off at Gent-Dampoort. The helpful lady at the ticket office pointed us across the street for the bus to Ghent’ Korenmarkt. We also bought the bus daypass for €9 from her knowing we could also use it for bus in Bruges.
Ghent is a big bustling town that morning. As the bus made its way toward Korenmarkt, the architecture began to change. Older..more medieval…with many shades of gray which blended nicely with the sky that had swallowed up our sun. The bus deposited us by Saint Nicholas church fronting the square and we strolled slowly towards the St Michael’s Bridge. From here, fantastic Graslei and Korenlei buildings that we seen online materialized. This was where our heads swiveled to take in the beauty around us. Behind us gothic St Michael’s Church, at our feet romantic St Michael’s Bridge with its arched underbelly and tri-globed lampposts, on both side of us rows of historical buildings with its gabled roofs mirrored in the river Leie. A perfect “Welcome to Ghent” picture!
We meandered toward the 10th century Gravensteen castle with a moat made for selfies then backtracked toward Ghent Market Hall and the Belfry tower for more selfies. Definitely must come back to Ghent for overnight stay to see all these beauties thoroughly and at night. Our quick peek proved Ghent a worthwhile stop.
Back on the bus toward Dampoort station, then caught another Intercity train for Bruges. We walked to Bruges’ city center via Minnewaterpark. What a fairytale setting! Small canals with arched bridges weaved through the city, medieval buildings lined the waterway fanned by billowing trees. Only the people with modern clothes and cars jolted us back from our medieval reverie. We caught the canal cruise and fell deeper in love with Bruges as seen from the water. No licensed city planner can dream up this place in modern time.
Walking the narrow streets, we were thankful for small off-season crowd. Lots of shops and restaurants, but we have just 2 places in mind. Poules Moules served up hearty giant pot of mussels in fragrant broth braced with wines and herbs. Straffe Hendrik Belgian ale washed down the accompanying tasty fries. The 3-storied restaurant was conveniently next to Dumon chocolate where we smuggled several sacks of truffles back to U.S. Then it was time to say goodbye to Bruges. Direct train to Antwerp then waited for out Thalys to Amsterdam.
Antwerp train station is a magnificent structure. Multi-storied (5?), with trains coming and going on different levels, then there are shops and restaurant and diamond stores, and a beautiful fantastical “clock altar” with staircases leading to a clock tower encased under stain-glassed windows and columns and arches. It’s indescribable and must be seen!
What a fantastic day trip! Too short and rushed for time. Plus traveling by train is bewildering. The destination is not always posted on signs. Luckily we have trusted online resources and personnel on the ground to guide us. We saw 2 remarkable Belgian cities with fantastic landmarks. We got a taste of European trains and a lifetime of memories. We’ll definitely be back!