In Ronse, we were staying with our friend Linda, who we had met over a year ago on our travels when we were in Kenya and she had since moved to her husband’s country Belgium. With her newborn, Lucas and now 2 year-old Lexi, along with Edward, we headed to Lille just over the French border about 30 minutes away. No passports, no barriers, nothing except a sign welcoming us, I wonder how long life will be like this in mainland Europe.
The large plaza marking the centre of the city bustling with locals out shopping for what I could only see as fashion shops galore with the usual spattering of French street cafes lining the streets and avenues. A thriving city bustling with life somehow seemed very chaotic and noisy after we had become accustomed to the gentle pace of Ronse.
We took the train to the medieval city of Gent and with a wry smile sat in the correct carriage, which is any carriage on this particular journey and arriving at Gent St Pieters we were welcomed by the fabulously old castle which stands proud on the river.
Gent has a wonderful feel and layout with an old cathedral, a huge abbey and a modern tram system connecting the university students from the train station to life in this rather cool and chic old city.
Ronse itself is a peaceful town with two old churches, a thousand-year-old crypt and a huge market square. Most of the people speak Flemish and you will hear the odd French here and there. Most people look, well, just a bit miserable, nobody is rude, they just look a bit sad with their expressions, I link this to the weather and the fact that it was still winter, but hey Spring was on the horizon folks.
Oudenhaarde meanwhile, is an 11 minute train ride away, yeah no mistakes this time around again, and though this is a university town, it’s a bit quiet the day we visited. The usual old church in the centre and the market square with fashionable cafes surrounding it, probably quite picturesque in the summer time. We had walked around and seen most of another Belgian town in one afternoon and of course, it would be rude not to sample the local cake and tea shop.
Brussels is one of the 3 capital cities of the EU and stands proud as the capital of Belgium, this thrown together nation from the Netherlands and France, with a strange culture of Flemish and Walloon, which means they like lots of different flavoured beers and don’t seem to smile so much. The architecture of the palace and park and old town of Brussels are definitely the highlights in this modern capitalistic hub of the European Parliament.
Linda had discovered this cool and funky African district where mainly people from the African continent have made a life and brought their vibrant culture to this somewhat clinical capital city. Nothing beats a bit of colour, a tiny bit of chaos, some noise, the totally out of place African restaurants, it feels like an African version of Chinatown that reside around the world. The girls blend in and palefaces Edward and myself stand out in this district.
No European capital would be anything if it did not boast some famed building or a war or two and Brussels and surrounds can boast many, from the Battle of Waterloo about 10km away, where poor Napoleon got his butt kicked, the stunning royal palace and church with spires that simply touch the sky, it’s an interesting city for a casual visit.