Eurostar’s service to continental Europe departs just ten minutes from where I live. Having realised that I don’t make the most of this train, I booked a trip to Belgium and the cities of Antwerp and Bruges.
The train departed the magnificent St Pancras station and arrived into Brussels just two hours and ten minutes later. I transferred immediately onto a train to Antwerp and, less than six hours after I’d left my front door, I was checking into the Indigo Hotel in Belgium’s second-largest city. My Eurostar ticket allowed me to travel to or from any station in Belgium within 24 hours of arriving into/departing from Brussels.
I’d visited Bruges, Brussels and Ghent before, now I had two days to see the resplendent architecture of Antwerp. A free walking tour (tips strongly encouraged) showed me all the main sights. I was struck by the number of beautiful 16th Century buildings, many of which were topped with gold leaf. The city’s train station is also an architectural marvel – one of the finest I’ve ever seen.
I also sought out one of Antwerp’s famous brown cafes (so named because of the colour of the walls, stained from the days of indoor smoking). The drinks in the Den Engel cafe, on the corner of Grote Markt, are great value for money and the atmosphere is full of friendly charm.
Perhaps Antwerp’s most surprising delight is the neighbourhood of Zurenorg. Walk along the streets of Transvaalstraat, Cogels Osylei and Waterloostraat for a cornucopia of grand Art Nouveau buildings. To get a great view of the city as a whole, head to the fantastic MAS Museum. At the top of this is a free platform from where you can see for miles around.
Confession time; although I’d been to Bruges before and the key reason I wanted to go back was for the hot chocolate. Specifically, the hot chocolate in The Old Chocolate House, where you’re served with hot milk, a generous portion of chocolate drops (you choose the chocolate from an extensive menu) and a whisk. Delicious.
Of course, there are many other reasons to return to Bruges. There are the charming canals, the historic churches and the cobbled streets – all so incredibly picturesque you feel as though you’re walking through a postcard. I’d made the most of my Expedia loyalty points and stayed at the Hotel de Orangerie which had it’s own canal-side terrace and was once a nunnery – such a fascinating building in which to sleep.
With my Eurostar ticket covering the return journey from Bruges, I hopped on a comfortable SNCB train to Brussels Midi, made the easy transition to the Eurostar terminal and, within just a few hours, was unlocking my front door. My bag was, of course, laden with chocolate and my mind filled with thoughts of returning to Antwerp and Bruges.