Last Stop—Ghent

Ghent waterfront

Ghent waterfront

We’re already home, now, but I have to post about one more great day in Belgium. We had time for one more city in Belgium, so instead of the more popular Bruges, we chose the lesser known, but charming city of Ghent, also spelled as Gent. The old city center, once the heart of a thriving textile trade, is well-preserved with its ornate guild houses and impressive cathedrals. It’s just a ten minute walk from the Gent-Dampoort train station, which was on our route from Antwerp. If your stop is the Gent-Sint-Pieter station, it’s a short tram ride to the old city center.

Walking into the historic city center of Ghent

Walking into the historic city center of Ghent

As we entered the historic center, we were enchanted with the colorful buildings that bordered the canals and rivers that lace through Ghent. When you stand on the beautiful St. Michael’s Bridge, you get a great view of the old city center and its two rivers—the Scheldt and Lys. The word Ghent or Gent in Flemish means confluence— for the two rivers that meet in Ghent.

Ghent isn’t as popular as Bruges, so it doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed by that many tourists. The old town is very walkable with several pedestrian only streets. This is a city to wander around and explore the beautiful architecture and rich history.

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Images of Antwerp

Grote Markt

Grote Markt

We found an apartment in Antwerp, so we made it our base for several days so we could explore the northern and Flemish part of Belgium. This large city (over 500,000) is located on the Scheldt River, which flows out to the North Sea. It’s been an important port city since 16th century and it is currently one of the largest seaports in Europe.

Bikes at the Berchem Train Station

Bikes at the Berchem Train Station

Although Antwerp is a fairly large city, it’s very clean and organized. Public transportation is efficient—with frequent trains, busses and trams to choose from. There are two train stations that serve Antwerp. The central station is a beautiful Art Nouveau building in the center of the city. For our neighborhood in Zurenborg, we used the convenient Berchem station.

Similar to Holland, bicycle use is very popular thanks to the flat terrain and abundant bicycle lanes. The Antwerp website provides lots of suggestions for exploring the city and where you can rent a bike, too!

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Impressions of Brussels

Brussels

Brussels

Visiting Belgium is like experiencing France—without an attitude. In restaurants and bars, chocolate shops and boutiques—even the railway stations, the service is refreshingly friendly. Although the country is divided into two linguistic regions (French in the south and Dutch in the north), most of the locals speak very good English. This certainly helps with communication—but it’s more than the language. The Belgium people have a friendly and relaxed attitude that makes you feel welcome in their country.

St. Catherine Sqaure

St. Catherine Sqaure

Our first stop was Brussels, the capital and largest city in Belgium with a population of 1.2 million people. We found a good deal at an Ibis Hotel in the city center. The Ibis Hotels are usually a good choice for larger cities when you want a central location at a good price. They even have an Ibis Budget variety that offers tiny rooms with no frills, but good wifi and some great prices. Our hotel was located behind St. Catherine’s Church by the St. Catherine Metro Station—a short metro ride from the Central Train Station. It’s even walkable if you don’t have a lot of luggage to drag along.

 

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What about Geneva?

Pedestrian Bridge across the Rhone River

Pedestrian Bridge across the Rhone River

We rely on several guide books and, of course, the internet’s resources when we travel, but we also use our instincts. The Rick Steves Switzerland guide barely mentions Geneva. In fact, he advises one to “skip the big, dull city of Geneva” and use Lausanne as your base town. I disagree—and I’m glad we decided to spend some time in Switzerland’s “smallest of big cities”.

Anyone who flies into Geneva should make a point of staying at least one or two nights in this pleasant and walkable city. It’s very easy to take the modern and efficient train for a ten minute ride to the main train station in Geneva. There are plenty of decent hotels close to the station or, one could take a bus or taxi for a short ride to the more upscale hotels along the lake. We found a basic, but very clean hotel across the street from the train station and found it easy to walk everywhere. Continue reading

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Around Mont Blanc

Sunset View

Sunset View

Although the Matterhorn is the most famous peak in Switzerland, we were closer to Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps. This majestic peak is 4,810 meters (15,781 ft.) above sea level in the Graian Alps that border both Italy and France. It’s nestled among several other impressive mountains that are only a one hour and forty-five minute drive from Morges. While walking our boardwalk along Lake Geneva, we can often spot Mont Blanc, across the lake behind Èvian-les-Bains, France. So, we were watching the weather reports for a perfect day to get up there for a hike.

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En Velo—Biking along Lake Geneva

Vineyards & Views

Vineyards & Views

Lake Geneva, or Lac Léman, as it is often called here in Switzerland, is one of Europe’s largest lakes. Located in southwestern Switzerland, Lake Geneva also borders France and is surrounded by the majestic Chablais Alps on the southern side and the Bernese Alps on its eastern end. It’s possible to ride the lake’s 112 miles in one day, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There are too many beautiful towns and parks to visit along the way. Continue reading

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A Few Day Hikes near Lake Geneva

Bisse Walls

Hike near Sion

For our first week in Switzerland, we thought we’d start out with a few easy hikes near our base town of Morges. Located on Lake Geneva, in the southwestern part of Switzerland, Morges is close to many scenic hiking areas. The biggest challenge is deciding on which area you want to explore.

Chateau at La Sarraz

Chateau at La Sarraz

For our first hike, we decided to venture near the Jura Mountains, which are just a bit north of Morges. With our home exchange, we have the use of a car, which is very convenient for quick day trips into the countryside. In less than one hour, we arrived at the small town of La Sarraz, where we could hop the train to the start of our hike in Romainmôntier. We boarded the train with other hikers and bikers on a splendid sunny Sunday morning. Continue reading

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