We began our day by making our way from our host families’ houses to Brussels Central Station, excited to see Bruges and Ghent while taking a break from the rapid pace of the week-long securities module. It was on this walk that I encountered a humorous campaign to promote Brussels through posting pictures of Donald Trump with the caption that Brussels is great, a backlash to his comments calling Brussels a “hellhole.” There were also pre-stamped postcards ready to be mailed to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with the message that contrary to claims by the President, Brussels is in fact great!
Once we arrived at the train station the journey to Bruges was only an hour, however, as it turns out Einstein’s relativity also applies to train travel in Belgium as the hour-long journey was a seemingly longer endeavor in the heat of the railway car with the broken AC. Nevertheless, once we arrived in Bruges, we were immediately taken away by the allure of the “Venice of the North”. The narrow streets, medieval buildings, flowers, and the vibrant wooden doors which were painted in all shades of red, yellow, and green made the city truly different than anything we had seen before. After making our way through the charming streets we got on the tour boat that guided us through the canals of the city. Although, contrary to our expectations, the “captain” was in no way short of puns and proved to be wittier than anticipated. While we were exposed to some of the city’s history, especially with the wool industry before the industrial revolution, the majority of the tour proved to be comedic relief from the heat of the sun!
After the tour we were allowed to explore the city for a few hours before getting on the train to Ghent. We took this time to grab lunch and enjoy the many parks and canals of the city, some of us even took a nap on the river bank!
The day continued with our trip to Ghent, which although different, was every bit as charming as Bruges. Ghent felt bigger, less touristic, and more habitable for everyday living and lacked some of the charms of Bruges that were subtle reminders of a different era. Once our group paraded through the city, we were greeted with what was perhaps the highlight of the day, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Hubert and Van Eyck. Many of us recognized the painting from the movie Monuments Menand it was intriguing to stumble upon it at St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent. We then dispersed into groups to enjoy Ghent, like many of the locals, by sitting next to the river and watching the city go by. After sufficiently replenishing our vitamin D reserves and soaking in the sun, we headed back to Brussels. In the span of a day we had been to three different Belgian cities, and yet each one had its own character and was vastly different from the others.
Upon arriving in Brussels, we saw the whole city getting prepared to watch the Japan-Belgium soccer game. While some of us watched the game, others just felt the trembling grounds, shouts, and screams coming from all corners of the city. Apparently, it was a very intense game.