Two weeks in Belgium

Oct 9th, 2019, 09:37 AM
  #1  
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Two weeks in Belgium

My husband and I (early 60s and mid 50s) spent the last two weeks of September in Belgium. We stayed in Brussels, Brugge, and Antwerp; even though we could have stayed in a central location and done day trips, we wanted to get a feel for the different areas by settling in for a few days. I won’t go into lots of detail, but please ask if there’s something or someplace specific you’d like to know about.

We booked flights and the hotel in two nights in Brussels through United Vacations, non-stop from IAD to BRU. We got much better pricing by doing so, and had no problems with the flights or customer service. This was the first big vacation that I had to deal with limited mobility due to a worsened disability. I knew I would need to use a wheelchair for some of the sightseeing, and experienced varying degrees of accessibility, but none that were unexpected. This did, however, impact what and how we saw some things.

In Brussels, we used the hoho bus, going to the Atomium (photos only), Parlamentarium and EU hemicycle, and the Museum of Musical Instruments, which we particularly enjoyed. We also spent time in and around the Grand Place, and went to church at St. Nicholas. Brussels was the worst for wheel-ability.

We then took the train to Brugge. I really enjoyed staying there, as opposed to day-tripping. Our hotel was right on Burg Square, and it was lovely to meander around the town in the evening or early morning, when far fewer were around. We did the canal tour, city hall and courthouse, Cathedral of Our Lady, and spent some time wandering around the beguinage, as well as attending mass at the Basilica of the Holy Blood.

Brugge was where the only hiccup in the trip happened: I ended up admitted to the hospital for one night due to an issue caused by blood thinners. All was well, but we lost a day or so. We also missed the last day that the Lace Center would be open during our visit, and I really wanted to see the lace being made, so that was a bummer. I once attempted to learn bobbin lacemaking, which was an utter failure!

From Brugge, we took a day trip to Ieper for a tour of some of the WWI sites. While getting there via train was a bit of a hassle, it was worth it to have a small group tour (8 total) rather than a larger tour that would have picked us up in Brugge. The tour was excellent.

Our last stay was in Antwerp. We stayed on Groenplaats, which was a very good location for us. We went to the Plantin-Moretus Museum, the cathedral, Chocolate Nation, MAS, and the Red Star Line Museum. The Plantin-Moretus and Red Star Line were our favorites, we really enjoyed both museums.

From Antwerp, we took a day trip to Ghent, that had originally been planned from Brugge but had to be scuttled due to the hospital stay. It was fairly cold, rainy day, and we were frankly a little tired and churched-out by that point. We took a canal tour, did the obligatory photo on the bridge, and saw the Mystic Lamb altarpiece.

Antwerp was the best for wheelchair use; many of the sidewalks weren’t cobbled, and even those that were had far better cobbles than Brussels.

All in all, a fantastic trip! I still haven't gotten around to getting my photos together, or I'd tried to add a few.

dreamer320 is offline  
Oct 9th, 2019, 01:07 PM
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Nice TR, easy to follow. Yes, Brussels has lots of cobblestones. It's havoc for strollers (need the big rubbery grippy wheels), can only imagine how bad it is for wheelchairs! Interested to hear your opinion of the EU district - were you able to get into many buildings or was there maximum security?

Lavandula
lavandula is online now  
Oct 9th, 2019, 04:05 PM
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Interesting how you did everything with a disability. My husband has four ruptures disc and the shots have not worked and the surgeon has no appointments till Nov 26th. We leave for Europe two and half weeks after so no surgery till after the NY. I think it takes a lot of patience for the spouse. I just changed hotels to make it super easy in one city. I think if he can go back and rest we will be ok. Did you do ok with public transport? The train platforms can be killer. I loved Ypres/Leper. Our tour was so interesting. We did see Pompeo come into Brussels one day with a huge escort. So sorry you missed the lace making. I was looking in one window at the very old lace. Just beautiful.
Macross is offline  
Oct 10th, 2019, 03:39 AM
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Originally Posted by lavandula View Post
Nice TR, easy to follow. Yes, Brussels has lots of cobblestones. It's havoc for strollers (need the big rubbery grippy wheels), can only imagine how bad it is for wheelchairs! Interested to hear your opinion of the EU district - were you able to get into many buildings or was there maximum security?

Lavandula
The Parlamentarium and hemicycle were the only buildings we went into, and we knew to expect security. Both had pretty thorough examination of IDs; the metal detectors at one were more cursory than the other. The information presented at both was good, and gave us non-EU citizens a nice overview.
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Oct 10th, 2019, 04:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Macross View Post
Interesting how you did everything with a disability. My husband has four ruptures disc and the shots have not worked and the surgeon has no appointments till Nov 26th. We leave for Europe two and half weeks after so no surgery till after the NY. I think it takes a lot of patience for the spouse. I just changed hotels to make it super easy in one city. I think if he can go back and rest we will be ok. Did you do ok with public transport? The train platforms can be killer. I loved Ypres/Leper. Our tour was so interesting. We did see Pompeo come into Brussels one day with a huge escort. So sorry you missed the lace making. I was looking in one window at the very old lace. Just beautiful.
I found it essential to be in hotels close to what we wanted to see, and did a good amount of research ahead of time. In the areas I had to walk instead of using the wheelchair, it was actually nice to *have* to find a bench and rest for longer than we normally do. In addition to just general people-watching, we could observe the flow of locals mixed with the tourists. At some places, particularly Brussels, I pushed the empty wheelchair so I could have a place to sit when necessary, since benches or other places to sit were few and far between.

The Belgian trains were a bit tricky, particularly when we were traveling with luggage. Two of the trains we took had no or minimal steps, but kind of wide gaps for gimpy short-legged people. For the ones with harder-to-maneuver steps, we just tried to pick cars with fewer people rushing to get on, and were thankful for good handles to pull up on!

My husband was great with pushing the chair. The worst part of it was my lack of ease in being pushed: it can be quite scary to not be in control, and he didn't quite understand that going too close to the curb or down a grade made me so nervous, as did not being told when he was going to speed up, go backwards, wait, etc. It was a learning curve for both of us.

Of note is the fact that there was a big difference between using the chair and using my cane. Without fail, we were treated very courteously when moving in the wheelchair, with pedestrians yielding with a smile, pointing out a smoother part of the sidewalk and switching with us, etc., and saw little impatience with us. However, when I had to walk with the cane, it seemed everyone wanted to play chicken with me, barreling towards me, bumping into me. In both situations, we always tried to be as little of a nuisance as possible, such as waiting for ebbs in foot traffic.
dreamer320 is offline  
Oct 10th, 2019, 07:37 AM
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The Belgian national railway, and the SNCF and as far as I know every other national railway company in Europe, offers free wheelchair assistance for every train at every station. Usually, these have to be arranged in advance, though we once turned up at the station in Bordeaux and found a wheelchair volunteer on the spot. It's really helpful to both passengers to have this type of assistance. Some railway companies also offer reduced fares for persons with limited mobility.
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Oct 10th, 2019, 08:13 AM
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I'm glad you had a good time in Belgium. It is overlooked by too many visitors to Europe, possibly because people think they will get the same experience by going to Paris and Amsterdam. The cobblestones of Brussels are brutal even for those of us who don't use a wheelchair, yet at the same time it is sort of the way it should be. Smooth pavements are not authentic in such places.

Bruges is wonderfully beautiful but overpriced because it is such a tourist magnet. That is a reason I only consider it for a day trip and not an overnight stay. The Belgian coast is delightful, but I don't think I have ever seen a non-European tourist mentioning a visit there. Okay, it's true that just about everything along the coast was destroyed during the war, so you won't see any historical sights, but the coast itself is great, and the people are very friendly, especially out of season.

If you ever return to this part of northern Europe, I highly recommend a visit to the lace museum in Calais, one of the most extraordinary industrial museums that I have ever visited.

Cité de la Dentelle et de la Mode - Calais Lace Museum | Any Port in a Storm
kerouac is offline  
Oct 11th, 2019, 02:13 AM
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@ dreamer320
If only I had known that you are interested in lace, I would have suggested the magnificent Lace Event in Aalst: PiKANT.
https://www.pikant.vlaanderen/en/pra...al-information

For anyone still in Belgium - or coming to Belgium - and interested in lace history, the event lasts until November 3rd.
MyriamC is offline  
Oct 11th, 2019, 02:20 AM
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Originally Posted by kerouac View Post
The Belgian coast is delightful, but I don't think I have ever seen a non-European tourist mentioning a visit there. Okay, it's true that just about everything along the coast was destroyed during the war, so you won't see any historical sights,
Whenever you go back to the Belgian coast, visit De Haan aan Zee (Coq sur Mer). It has a very nice residential area with belle époque villas, called 'De Concessie'. Some of the villa's have been protected as a monument since 1981. Really very pretty and very different from the highrise along the boardwalk and in other coastal towns.

*
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Oct 11th, 2019, 03:14 AM
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Kerouac- I'm sure lodging is expensive, but early morning and late night are when Brugge is at it's best...subtle lighting on the buildings and canals, and few people. The picture above my desk is a night one I took last year, with a hazy full moon over the buildings.

I wouldn't have picked Brugge for 3 nights, but it came as an included post trip extension after a river cruise. I'm so glad we went. We stayed in Poperinge 2 nights and Ghent for 3 after that. So I really agree with your comment on how night Belgium is.
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Oct 11th, 2019, 03:18 AM
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Originally Posted by StCirq View Post
The Belgian national railway, and the SNCF and as far as I know every other national railway company in Europe, offers free wheelchair assistance for every train at every station. Usually, these have to be arranged in advance, though we once turned up at the station in Bordeaux and found a wheelchair volunteer on the spot. It's really helpful to both passengers to have this type of assistance. Some railway companies also offer reduced fares for persons with limited mobility.
Sorry, I should have been clearer. I used wheelchairs provided by our hotels, so didn't use them on the trains. The only day we would have would have been to Ghent, but since our plans had gone awry, there wasn't time to make advanced arrangements.

Bruges is wonderfully beautiful but overpriced because it is such a tourist magnet. That is a reason I only consider it for a day trip and not an overnight stay. The Belgian coast is delightful, but I don't think I have ever seen a non-European tourist mentioning a visit there. Okay, it's true that just about everything along the coast was destroyed during the war, so you won't see any historical sights, but the coast itself is great, and the people are very friendly, especially out of season.
We had tentatively planned a trip to the coast, but just ran out of time. My friends who were sure that we were planning too long a trip to too minor of a destination were surprised when I told them the things that we didn't have time to do.
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