Belgium by Train

Belgium by Train
From, by Leah Walker

Imagine you have a week-long trip. The starting point is Paris, and you’re armed with a first class Eurail Global Pass. With 28 European countries at your fingertips, where do you go? Perhaps it’s a different country each day, riding the rails and watching the continent pass by. Maybe it’s a tour through the Alpine countries or a Mediterranean-hugging itinerary. Really, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

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When Rail Europe approached me with this exact scenario, I was ecstatic, but overwhelmed. Seriously, I felt like Augustus Gloop the first time he laid eyes on Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory—so many delicious options, I didn’t know where to begin. As much time as I’ve spent in Europe, there are plenty of places I’ve not yet visited. And now that I live in Paris, I’ll have ample occasions for a weekend jaunt to Amsterdam or Zurich.

But for this opportunity, I needed the most bang for my buck, so to speak. I wanted to see new places, but not spend my entire week on the train. The thought of dragging my luggage all over creation wasn’t something I relished. Thus, with those parameters, the choice was clear: Belgium.

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Don’t ask how Belgium has eluded my grasp. It’s so close to my beloved Paris, and part of the country speaks French {even if the French don’t think so}. There’s plenty of chocolate, frites, waffles, and beer. Those treats are enough to whet my appetite, not to mention the country’s history, culture, and storybook towns. Yes, with the help of Rail Europe and a host of Belgian tourism boards, I would explore Belgium by train.

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Belgium is about the size of Maryland, which makes it ideal to travel by rail. The stations are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen, and their national trains are modern and tidy. And except for a one-day train strike, my itinerary went off without a hitch. Hey, it’s Europe; so if there’s not a strike of some sort interfering with your holiday, then consider yourself lucky.

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For eight days, I discovered a descent-sized chunk of Belgium, though once my trip was complete, I realized that I only scratched the surface. How can a place so small have so much to see? Kudos to you, beautiful Belgium.

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In a matter of two hours, I was whisked away from Paris’ Gare de Nord to Brussels’ Midi station. So quick was this train, I barely had time to utilize the free wi-fi. For four nights, I based myself in the capital city, which made this weary traveler as happy as a clam at high tide. I had two full days in Brussels and followed by a day trip to Liege.

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Days four and five were spent in Mons, the 2015 European Capital Culture and just forty-five minutes from Brussels. On day six, I caught the train back to Brussels, where I hopped on a bus to Ghent and Bruges. Rail Europe also books tours, so I sampled that service as well. For day seven, I took the hour and fifteen-minute train from Bruges to Antwerp. On day eight I left Antwerp loaded down with beer and chocolate on the hour and twenty-minute train back to Paris.

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All in all, I saw six Belgian cities, took seven trains, and rode in one bus. I fell off a bike; made chocolate candy; accidentally damaged artwork in front of the European Parliament building; witnessed a 700-year-old festival; met the former Prime Minister of Belgium; tasted a litany of beers; and met a whole bunch of friendly Belgians.

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Basically, these eight days taught me that I’ve been a fool by not visiting the country sooner. There’s no doubt that I’ll return, where I’m sure to be dripping with diamonds in Antwerp or walking along the canals in Bruges. Maybe I’ll get to Waterloo or visit friends in Brussels. The options are plenty, and you can bet I’ll do it again by train.

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Stay tuned for more forthcoming posts on what to see and do in Brussels, Antwerp, and Mons.

I was a guest of Rail Europe, Belgian Tourist Office Brussels/Wallonia, and Visit Flanders. In no way was I swayed to write a positive review based on the delicious mussels in Brussels, the nice employee that made sure I was at the correct train track in Antwerp, or the tasty latte I drank in Ghent. As always, opinions are mine.

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