Travel & Places Other - Destinations

Belgium: The home of chocolates

Unlike the title, Belgium is much more than just the chocolate-box of the world, but that is not something coming as too much of a surprise to tourists, particularly to those who have been there. The country is more than 175 years into its independent existence, and is hardly showing signs of ageing! True, there have been valiant attempts to alter its downtrodden image, but the change has taken shape in a most natural manner. There are quite heavy impressions of medieval architecture uncannily preserved here. Coming to the cities, Brussels and Antwerp lead the pack, followed by Bruges, which is pleasant despite, and also because of, the fact that there are scores of tourists perpetually present here at every single day of the year. Ghent, on the other hand, is a slightly scaled down version of the more dynamic cities of the country, so to speak. Once a city that rivalled Paris in its splendour, Ghent is today happier playing second fiddle to cities like Brussels.

Belgium is an undisputed leader when it comes to moral freedom. Gays and lesbians have been given equal rights compared to heterosexuals, while Euthanasia, a concept that is condemned and criticised in most parts of the world, was legalised in 2002. The topics of discussion over a couple of Duvels, the country's signature pale ale produced in the town of Breendonk, are aplenty, which is also one of the reasons why the country is having one of the most social environments in the world.

Brussels certainly has a split personality in every sense of the word. The competition rages on in many forms – Flemish v/s French, unique v/s boring and happening v/s historic. Eurocrats and red tape set aside, the point of conflict, so to speak, are not just limited to the predictable ones. However, it is this healthy disparity in the times of globalisation that sets the mood for a tourist's unforgettable sojourn in Brussels. The city is also known for its café culture, Art Nouveau architecture and fine dining options. Surreal art also comes to life here, in the northern suburb of Jette, to be specific. The variation in architecture ranges from the age-old Grand Place to the new-age Art Nouveau façades. In the midst of all this, the quality of life is superb – great shopping, numerous choices for eating, 'out of the world' chocolates, and an enviable pub culture.

Known as the unsung city of the Flanders, Ghent is situated between Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp. A canal city that is as visually spectacular as it gets, it has more often than not been ignored by tourists, and that is why those who choose to tread the road not taken are rewarded handsomely. Sitting on the junction of the Scheldt and Leie rivers, the crowning glory of Ghent is the Het Gravensteen castle. Having an illustrious history, thanks to King Charles V, the city today is the capital of the Oost-Vlaanderen province, and also Flander's biggest university town.

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