Flight out from Orlando on Citibird. It's a new airline owned by CitiHotel group flying from Brussels to various vacation destinations. Kinda like Southwest Airlines. Planes are new (B767; Airbus), but seats are cramped and no pretense of good food. Offsetting advantage: fares are CHEAP (RT $266 + tax). Plane filled with Belgian, French, and German holidaymakers; very few Americans.
Left Wed. eve, arrived Thurs late AM. Train directly from airport to center of city <$3. Spent afternoon walking around old city. Next day visited various sites, museums, including Atomium, decaying relic/symbol of the 1958 World's Fair. It's a giant, shiny, steel atom/molecule with obsevation deck, restaurant and exhibits. A Jetsons period piece mostly ignored by tourists.
Saturday traveled to Bruges, one of the more picturesque locales in Europe. It was a wealthy center of the Flanders cloth trade, but in the late fifteenth century the river access to the sea silted up. Not having the benefit of HUD to keep the place on artificial respiration, the townsfolk simply moved away. leaving the site intact to be reborn as a medieval theme park. The city has a network of canals, and every direction one looks is a postcard view. It's very nice in early Spring, but I shudder at the though of summer crowds. It's just a hop and a skip from the Channel, and the English come over in droves.
Sun afternoon I went on an organized bike tour. Route ran along canal tow paths, past windmills, German bunkers, and smaller towns. Very scenic, but not solitary. While the English tourists were clogging the city streets, all the Belgies were out in the countryside. We were supposed to go as far as the Dutch border, but turned back when it was getting late.
Monday was a whirlwind tour of Ghent (AM) and Antwerp (PM). Ghent was the largest city in Western Europe in the 1400's. Looks a lot like Bruges, only less concentrated. It developed into a large modern city, but the old stuff is still there. Antwerp is a very large city and the modern port of Belgium. Its core of churches, town hall, and guildhouses compares favorably.
Tuesdays was back to Brussels for a bit of shopping and return Wed. AM. WIth a couple more days I would have visited the WWI battlefields and gone to Luxembourg.
Weather was unseasonably warm and clear. Ideally suited for Eurocrats to sit around in cafes and drink beer, soaking up the atomoshere, sunshine, and everyone else's tax dollars. Didn't rain at all in the week; only one day of overcast.
Belgium was a pleasant surprise. I expected it to be modern, expensive, and dull. The Eurostuff is, but old quarters are well preserved (or reconstructed after WWI damage). It's pretty like France, same great food, but friendly like Holland. People (even the Francophones) are all very nice. Excellent tourist infrastructure and support. Everyone speaks excellent English. Price level not cheap, but manageable. A strong recommendation.
Trip date: March 1999