Ehingen – a little gem in south Germany

When a city is a called a ‘beer culture’ city, it of course piques our interest.

We are always on the look-out for German craft beer and it’s not too common especially in the neck of the woods where we live, in south Germany (yes, where Munich, the land of great beer and Oktoberfest is). If you are a craft beer fanatic, you’ll know what it is to crave beyond the traditional German Pils and Weizen (which is your dominating beer of choice in the Oktoberfest by the way). Anyways, during one such hunt, we chanced upon this ‘beer culture’ city called Ehingen and were thrilled to see that one of their breweries had a great craft beer collection and the city was just a 30 minute drive from Ulm (where we live). Ecstatic, we made plans to visit the place.

It’s surprising how late-risers like us can rise and shine quite early when there’s a good pint of beer beckoning. It was a beautiful sunny day with blue skies and green fields. Spring is almost here; the temperatures are getting higher but the trees are still barren and we were pleasantly surprised to see the lush green meadows.

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A crisp and clear day

We had the most wonderful short drive to Ehingen – we passed by gorgeous little forests with the Danube river playing hide and seek every few kilometers. We saw a bunch of deer running (Steve didn’t believe me and said it must have been foxes and in just a few meters we saw a sign board indicating deer in the area. Ha!). It was unexpected as we usually find plenty of cows, sheep and horses grazing but never deer, not so close to the expressways. There was also a splendid Christmas tree farm along our route and it was fun to see the teeny weeny Christmas plants sprouting.

In no time, we were in Ehingen parking our car (we parked at the Tiefgaragen Lindenplatz Parkplatz 2 – very accessible to the town square and it’s free of charge on the weekends). We walked up to the Marktplatz (city center) in just a couple of minutes (it’s a small town). It was market day in the town square and they had little stalls selling a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, and some local beer and snacks too.

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Saturday (farmers) market in the town square

The market day happens every Saturday in every little to big German city – it is basically a farmers market. We still haven’t made it to the one in Ulm and it was good to finally see one of these.

The market square features a fountain with some interesting characters.

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Some close-up shots
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Chicken anyone?
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He was getting ready to hose them all!
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Care for a drink from the frog prince’s crown?

On the other side of the marktplatz is the Rathaus (town hall).

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A more modern Rathaus than we expected

We then headed over to the Schwanen Brauerei, one of the 4 breweries in the city. The Berg brewery seems to be quite a reputed brewery especially in this region but if you’re into ales and craft beers, you should head over to the Schwanen brewery. These guys as well have a good collection of traditional brews but we were there just for their craft beer collection – the Schwanen guys don’t brew any craft beers themselves but have a great collection of kick-ass ales from some of the well-known German craft breweries. Our favorites include Camba, Braufactum and Riegele. We’d not had Braufactum before and we thoroughly enjoyed their hoppy pale ales. We had a mighty crate of beers hitching a ride back home with us!

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If you are a craft beer drinker and you find yourself in the Baden Wurttemburg state of south Germany, you should make your way over to this brew-pub. If you’d like to explore all 4 breweries in Ehingen, check out the historical sights of the city, and don’t mind a good hike, you could opt for their Bierwanderweg (beer culture trekking).  Or, if you’d rather hop on a large bike with friends or family for a short countryside tour enjoying your beer at the same time, you should check out the beer culture bike that Ehingen offers. The city is quite a popular stop for hiking and biking trips along the Danube river.

Our next stop was the St. Blasius Church. This small church is sheer beauty – the baroque style, the exceptional ceiling art, the unique paintings on its wall, the large courtyard – simply awe-inspiring. There are two other main churches (the Church of our lady and Sacred Heart church) and these three church spires dominate the Ehingen skyline.

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St. Blasius also includes a lovely Grotto (cave-like shrine)

We spent the next hour exploring more of the sleepy little town. We passed by several half-timbered buildings which is a signature feature of small German towns.

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Ehingen Museum

You should visit the Stadtgarten which includes a little lake called Groggensee, a lovely play area for the kids, a large walking/cycling trail and some interesting art in the midst of all of this. What we loved the most is the little Schmiech river flowing through the park making the place magical.

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Our last stop was the Schloss Mochental. It is a relatively new castle featuring modern works of art.

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At the castle entrance

It is 10 or so kilometers away from the Marktplaz so we got our car out and drove there. If you are traveling by public transport, note that you’ve got a bit of a hike to get to this place but we can assure you that it’s worth the trip. They have some extraordinary contemporary art works on display and a pretty rad Basen (broom) museum.

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Intriguing
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Seemed like a popular art form
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Tin man says hello
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This one would have taken some effort to make!
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This was just one section of the broom museum – they had tons of all types of brooms and even an ancient vacuum cleaner on display on the other side

The views from the castle rooms are quite lovely as well – all in all it was a wonderful visit to the castle.

It was time to make our way back home. We left the little town with a big stash of beautiful memories as everlasting souvenirs.

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It is sleepy little towns like Ehingen that make Germany the spectacular country that it is. Their half-timbered houses, their baroque churches, their old world charm, their fascinating culture, their little rivers and streams – this is where the magic of this beautiful country unfolds.

Füssen and Schwangau – a little piece of heaven

Two little picturesque German towns surrounded by the mighty, stunning Alps.

There’s nothing like the Alps to fill you with child-like glee and make you squeal with delight at every little sight of them. We just cannot seem to get enough of them and have been very fortunate to see the extensive, breath-taking range of the German, Austrian and Swiss Alps.

Füssen and Schwangau are located in the midst of the Allgäu Alps – which extend across Bavaria in south Germany and Tyrol & Vorarlberg in Austria. The little town is about an hour from where we live (in Ulm). After an exhilarating drive, we arrived at our Scottish/Irish themed hotel where we had a fabulous night of whisky tasting. It had been so long since we had drunk good whiskies in this beer-famed land. We lost count of how many whiskies we’d had – each one better than the last. They had SUCH an amazing collection of whiskies from all around the world! This was our primary motivation to book this hotel of course. The hotel itself was quite nice – friendly staff and located very close to the Hopfen am see, one of the many lakes in the region.

The lake was frozen of course, considering the sub-zero temperatures we’d been having through January. And, in just a minute we were away from the hotel and on the lake, taking a walk on the ice sheets. We were just blown away by the beauty that surrounds this small town.

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Hopfen am See, Füssen

It was our first time walking on a frozen lake and we weren’t sure how far out we should venture especially considering there were some sizable cracks across the lake and we were the only souls on the lake!

We then headed over to the Tegelberg mountain in Schwangau. This was just a few kilometers out from Füssen. Tegelberg is known for its winter sports and you can find a whole bunch of people skiing including teeny kids. They all row up in their groups, all padded up and carrying their ski gear, looking super excited with no trace of fear – ah, they were such fun to watch!

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Foothills of Tegelberg, Schwangau

We took the Tegelbergbahn or cable car up the mountain. It was a beautiful but somewhat suffocating a ride. The little cable car fills up nearly 45 people standing shoulder to shoulder with their noses almost touching the glass door! It was such a surreal experience compared to our cable car rides in Switzerland. But when we got out of the car, the views took over everything else. The Alps oh, the gorgeous alps .. they were everywhere.

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Meet the Allgäu Alps

We decide to hike up the snow-covered Telgelberg mountain to get to a higher point. It was a steep, slippery climb but with the prettiest views all along the way.

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All we could feel was a deep sense of bliss and contentment

We make way for skiers, young and old.. we also make way for a dog, a cute labrador that climbed up the hill so effortlessly wagging its tail ever so cutely.

Huffing and puffing, we make it up to the top, and are rewarded with breath-taking views. And, excited to take a peek down the big mountain, I take a few steps dangerously close to the edge.. and I am washed over with the sweetest rush of fear and joy.

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We could have stood here forever…

We just stand there in amazement with all the other guys that made the climb.. just soaking in all this wondrous beauty. After a bit, we make the descent. Going downhill is always tricky and going down a snow-trodden mountain is even more tricky.. keeping our balance and taking small careful steps, we make it down to the restaurant. We get some grub and beer and sit down to have our lunch by this gorgeous view.

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Brew with a view

Reluctantly, we make our way back to the cable car and down to Schwangau. We then drive over to Füssen.

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Hello beautiful

Füssen is such a pretty little town. It is known for the Neuschwanstein castle which technically is actually in Schwangau.. People stay at Füssen when visiting the castle and are just rushing through to their next destination and barely explore this gem of a little city. Not only is it picturesque with the lovely Lech river flowing through and with the Alps in the background, it is rooted deep in history and tradition and was luckily untouched by the world war destruction.

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Füssen has a little castle of its own – Hohes Schloss

We got to the Hohes Schloss / High Castle a little late and we couldn’t check out the inside but were able to walk around the inner courtyard and admire the unique art decor of the castle.

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Courtyard of the Hohes Schloss – this unique artwork is replicated all over the little town

On the way to the castle is the Basilika St. Mang – the interiors and ceiling art of this abbey church is simply beautiful. And, they have the most embellished church organ I have ever seen. And we were in love with their cherub pulpit – so intricate and unique! Simply loved the church. Germany has some of the most beautiful churches.

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Basilika St. Mang, Füssen

Not too far from the town is the Lech Falls. This is just the prettiest little falls ever in the midst of surreal alpine beauty. The gorgeous emerald waters of the Lech river fall down and flow around the city of Füssen.

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We just walked around the area of the Lech Falls taking in all the beauty.. Slowly, we make our way back to the town centre – Altstadt.

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Pretty little streets of Füssen lighting up as dusk approaches

We make a short stop to pick up some Schneeballs  a delicious local pastry that has been around for 300 years or so! It’s available in a multitude of flavors and being coffee lovers, we went for one in a cappuccino flavor.

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After a few more strolls around the little town and a couple of local beers, we arrive at the Schlossbrauhaus in Schwangau. The two little towns are just a few kilometers apart and we sure did some back and forth in this one day.

This seemed to be a popular brewery in this neck of the woods and they claimed to serve some craft beer as well. Now that definitely got our attention and we were excited to try out their beers. Unfortunately, we were quite disappointed in their so-called “craft beers” which were really just the traditional German Pils and Weizens. We don’t mind the traditional German beers especially the wheat beers but their beers were a disappointing version of the traditional beers even. That said, it wasn’t all wasted time as they served some finger-licking local food! And, they had some sort of a local event that day and there was a whole bunch of locals dressed as kings, queens, soldiers etc. and it was fun just watching these finely dressed people gather around a few beers. We were just minutes away from the famed Neuschwanstein castle and no wonder we had royalty flocking the bar.

If you’d like a good pint in the area, you should visit the Allgäuer Stüberl or Hotel Hirsch (both serve some delicious Bavarian brews and lip-smacking local food). Not being a huge fan of the Pils, we usually stick to the Weizens when it comes to traditional beer in Germany.

The next morning, we visited the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles. So, to be honest, it was our last item on the things to do in Füssen. The Neuschwanstein is a pretty looking castle, inside out. But, the insane crowds that throng to it even during the coldest of winters and take a trip all the way here just to see the castle is beyond our understanding. Blame it on Walt Disney for making this “Sleeping Beauty” castle such an obsession with tourists visiting Germany. And no, this is not all that this beautiful country is about. Well, nevertheless, it is a beautiful castle with splendid architecture and is worth a visit if you’re in the area. And do take the short trek to the Marienbrücke, a little bridge not too far from the castle that offers a full view of the castle and some beautiful views of the surrounding area.

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View from the Marienbrücke

Note that visiting the castle has to be carefully planned. You simply cannot be late for your reserved time slot – if you do, you will not be allowed to enter at all. We reserved our tickets online (we took the king’s ticket) and skipped the long queues to purchase the tickets. We took an English guided tour; the guide was friendly and did a decent job of recounting the life of King Ludwig II (known as the mad king). King Ludwig led a fascinating although lonely life and died under mysterious circumstances. He was obsessed with castles and swans among other things. The Neuschwanstein (new swan stone) castle has lavish and beautiful interiors and the art that adorns the walls are spectacular. The castle tour itself felt way too short and rushed; well, it had to be this way so it could accommodate the crowds that visit the castle everyday.

Our guide for the Hohenschwangau castle was more impressive, giving us some interesting, humorous anecdotes of King Ludwig II and his family. The interiors of this castle is just as lovely, may not be as extravagant and rich in its decorations but quite exquisite nonetheless. The artwork and the Turkish inspired designs are admirable. The Hohenschwangau stands on the ruins of the old Schwanstein castle and the  Neuschwanstein stands on the ruins of the original Hohenschwangau. They sure mixed the heck out of these castle names!

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The new Hohenschwangau

The castles are close to the Alpsee which like the other lakes in the area was frozen. There were many more people out walking on this lake (some were even running and jumping) and this time around we ventured farther into the lake and had the most wonderful time.

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Headed to the Alps – one slow step at a time on the Alpsee

For us, the castles were definitely not the highlight of Füssen and Schwangau. They are worth a visit for sure but you’d be missing out on SO much if you do not check out the sights in and around Füssen.

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The dreamy Bavarian countryside where time stands still

Füssen and Schwangau are fairy tale towns even without the castles and we have some of our most cherished travel memories from these two little towns.

Ghent – rustic and charming

A medieval, little Belgian town filled with incredible history, art, and architecture.

When we were planning our visit to Belgium over the Christmas holidays, we knew we had to make time for Ghent (also known as Gent). It is less than an hour away from Brussels and is often overlooked for the neighboring, more popular Bruges. Bruges is of course simply amazing and we as well are absolutely in love with the city but Ghent is a Belgian gem you don’t want to miss if you are in Belgium and have a few hours to spare. The crowds are lesser, there is no insane queue to go up to the Belfry, and it has pretty canals too. While there are some striking similarities between Ghent and Bruges, they couldn’t be more different.

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A cloudy day at Ghent

And, Ghent, like Antwerp is an architectural marvel, although in different styles. Antwerp being a much bigger city has mostly contemporary styles whereas Ghent is full of older, medieval buildings. But both cities, Bruges, most of Belgium, and parts of the Netherlands all have the same distinctive crow-stepped gable style.

We got to Ghent as early as we could (considering the late risers we are) and it was a short, pretty train ride. We passed by a bit of the Belgian countryside which is nice but not as mind-blowing as the Swiss countryside or even the German countryside but appealing nevertheless.

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Gravensteen, medieval castle/fortress, Ghent

Our first stop was the Gravensteen or the Castle of the Counts. Much to our dismay, it was closed. Not sure why we were surprised considering it was the day of Christmas Eve. Although some of our plans are spontaneous, we are usually prepared at least in terms of checking out opening hours etc. but it was Christmas and let’s just say the Belgian beer and the Christmas spirit got the better of us. There were many others like us who went to the castle door, read the notice, and left disappointed. We felt bad that we’d missed it as it has a pretty cool torture chamber that we were intrigued about and wanted to see. But, we realized this would happen during our holiday as we were traveling during Christmas after all. Lifting our spirits, we headed over to the Belfry.

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Belfry of Ghent

Like the famous Bruges Belfry, Ghent has its own Belfry too. What’s cool about the one in Ghent is that it has an elevator to take you up to the top so you don’t have to struggle like poor Ken (from the movie ‘In Bruges’) to climb up those winding stairs like you’d have to in Bruges. You can also get off the elevator at each level to check out their awesome bell collection and take a look at the intricate workings of the bell tower.

The first level is the secrecy room which as the name suggests served as a hiding ground for valuable records which were kept in heavy, chained trunks. This place also served as a hideout for some of the Germans during WW II.

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The Keepers of the Belfort, guarding the tower since 1339

The construction of the Belfry is said to have started in 1313 and finished in 1380, when the first dragon was placed atop the tower. A few centuries later, the dragon was made to spit fire during big events – ah, this would have been a pretty cool spectacle. Many a dragon went on the tower and were brought down weather-beaten. You’ll find one of these former dragons at the second level.

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Dragon in action at the Belfry, Gent

Also, at the second level is the Roland bell – the rockstar bell of the Ghent Belfry, which was installed originally as an alarm bell and then became an hourly bell. This bell kept the show going until the carillon (a musical instrument comprising of multiple bells to produce a melody) was built in the 17th century. The original Roland was melted to be used as bell metal for the new carillon. A new Roland came about soon after.

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This is the third Roland from 1948 weighing 6200 kilograms!

In the next level, you’ll find many of the older bells of the Belfry – they range from little bells to massive heavy-lifters.

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In the same level, just a few steps higher, you will find this antique music box with 17600 holes in it!!

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This copper drum dates back to 1659 and is still being used today to play 54 bells
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The parent clockwork which is connected to the drum and moves it every 15 minutes

The bells sound for about 5 minutes and the entire mechanism is fascinating to watch. You can go up one more level to the see the actual bell room with all the 54 bells in action with the hammers pounding on them as the levers attached to the drum below are moving. It’s quite a riveting show! The Belfry not only served as a bell tower to announce the time and issue warnings of imminent danger but also served as a watchtower keeping an eye out for approaching enemies and offering some great views of the city.

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The St. Nicholas Church fills up the view
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Gent city view from the Belfry

We then headed on to the St Bavo’s Cathedral or Sint-Baafs Cathedral.

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View of St.Bavo’s Cathedral from the Belfry

The cathedral is most renowned for its 15th century altarpiece – the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb – a masterpiece from the Van Eyck brothers. It’s amazing that the painting survived all those fires, wars, and thefts and it felt wonderful to be able to admire this brilliant piece of work. The piece has 12 front panels and each of them has a religious significance. The painting is a polyptych and has a beautiful closed view of the back panels as well. You cannot take any pictures of the original piece however you will find a smaller copy further down the cathedral.

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A smaller copy of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb

The interiors of the gothic cathedral are were quite impressive as well displaying other art works including one of Peter Paul Rubens. We had seen some of his stunning work already in Antwerp and he definitely seemed to be revered in the Flemish region.

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A unique, modern representation of the birth of Christ

Now all this excitement had gotten us very thirsty and it was time to make a beer-stop. The Christmas market was still open and in spite of it being the eve of Christmas, both locals and tourists flocked the stalls.

Boy, were we pleased to see the beers in the Christmas market! Only in Belgium did we find awesome beer in the Christmas markets. It was so good to drink La Chouffe on tap. So fresh and bursting with flavor! And since it is so close to Bruges, we had some of the local Brugge beers too. We had still not visited Bruges – we’d been saving the best of Belgium for the last.. and we knew we just had to get there soon. Steve had visited Bruges before; he’d had the beers and had already set high expectations for me and I was pleased with the little I’d had in Gent. Gent has some lovely local breweries and beer bars.. we had time to visit just one as most of them were either closed or soon closing. Luckily the Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant was still open but just for a bit. It’s located right in the city centre with the backdrop of the canals for a view and has a great collection of Belgian brews. Being Christmas eve and all, they were shutting down early and we had time for just one beer. If you do have time, you should also check out the t’Dreupelkot which is located right next door and the Gruut Brewery (these guys brew their beers with herbs instead of hops and being hop lovers, this one majorly piqued our curiosity but we have to wait for our next trip to Ghent to explore this one).

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Yet another beer from Bruges – this one was a decent tripel

We spent the next hour or so just walking around the city, taking in its beauty and indulging in some local bites.

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Looked like a fun ride – it went all the way up to the top of the tree – too bad it was only for kids 🙂
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View of the St. Nicholas Church, Belfry, and St. Bavos Cathedral from the St. Michael’s Bridge
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The purple noses of Ghent or the  Gentse neus – these Belgian cone-shaped candies filled with raspberry liquid are simply delicious!

Our final stop was the Graslei and Korenlei. This was the most loved and popular spot in Ghent. With its historical buildings, quaint little cafes, and people kayaking down the Leie river – Graslei and Korenlei have a delightful rustic, romantic charm to it.

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A view of the Korenlei
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Graslei view as dusk approaches

Some of the buildings in the Graslei date back several centuries and have been heavily renovated over the years. This place would surely be a different scene in summer – sprawling with people on the riverbanks.

We look forward to going back to Ghent in summer. We just could not get enough of this charming little city – a day is just too short a time to explore this incredible, historic Belgian city.

And, yet, sometimes in just a day, you experience so much beauty that you are filled with a deep sense of gratitude and contentment for all that life brings your way.

Antwerp – fashionable and artsy

A beautiful city in Belgium with gorgeous medieval buildings, a large port, a great sense of fashion, a diamond market, and an outstanding art scene.

You are hit with the architectural wonder of the city right from the minute you arrive at their central train station. They definitely have one of the prettiest train stations. You can see trains arriving/departing at 3 levels. It’s a beautiful big train station.

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Antwerp central station
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The train station is an architectural marvel

As soon as you step outside the central station, you can see several diamond stores. Antwerp is known for its diamond market and apparently more than 70% of the world’s diamonds are traded here!

We had just a few hours in Antwerp and wanted to make the most of our short time and decided to just walk up to the city’s main square. We walked past a whole bunch of cyclists – definitely more of them here compared to Brussels and Bruges. We passed by medieval buildings that were an architectural delight! We walked past numerous stores of the big brands Gucci, Armani, Prada etc. – Antwerp is quite a fashionable city!

In just a few minutes, we were in the centre of the town where they had the Christmas Market – the stalls displayed a great variety of well-crafted artefacts unlike the Brussels market.

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At De Veemarkt; used to be a cattle market

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Since we got to Antwerp somewhat late and well into the lunch hour, we had to stop for some grub and beer first.

Unfortunately, the Kulminator which is one of the highly recommended beer spots was closed the day we were visiting. We settled for the next best thing. They had a nice selection of restaurants just behind the Christmas market and we found a cosy one with a good selection of beers. The city’s most famous brew is the De Koninck, locally known as ‘bolleke’. While it was not one of our favorite Belgian brews, it quenched our thirst. Their other popular beer is the Seef Bier, a pale ale – liked this one better.

Post lunch, we walked around the city centre just exploring the place. Antwerp is filled with some creative, interesting monuments – you should especially check out Sleeping Nello and Lange Wapper.

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Sleeping Nello and Patrasche (Dog of Flanders

), covered by a blanket of cobblestones

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The giant trickster Lange Wapper
  • a local legend in the Flemish region of Belgium

One of the main attractions of Antwerp is the Cathedral of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwkathedraal). It is said to be one of the largest gothic cathedrals in Benelux. The cathedral is most renowned for its display of Peter Paul Rubens’ masterpieces. It also includes the works of some other well-known Flemish painters. It is a huge cathedral and a giant, mesmerizing art gallery.

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Cathedral of our Lady featuring Ruben’s paintings

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One of the first things you notice as you walk in is this amazing 14th century marble sculpture of Madonna and Child (Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus). The gentle gesture of the child and the mother’s smile as she looks upon her child affectionately just warms your heart. There’s no greater bond than the one between a mother and her child!

We continued to be spell-bound as we walked on admiring Ruben’s paintings. Most of his works are altarpieces and a reflection of famous scenes from The Bible. Ruben’s masterpieces ‘The Descent from the Cross’ and ‘The Raising of the Cross’ are simply mind-blowing. You can stare at it for hours.

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The Rising of the Cross – by Ruben

While the exterior of the church is gothic style, the interiors are filled with Ruben’s baroque art. Although the artwork is definitely the main attraction, the cathedral itself is quite spectacular with its carved woodwork and sculptures.

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We were the last ones to leave the church – we had completely lost track of time in here. As we were getting out of the church, we heard beautiful music. Intrigued, we walked out to see a choir full of youngsters. They were such a talented bunch, singing some really high-pitched phenomenal melodies.

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It was just a day before Christmas Eve and the place looked so festive!

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Grote Markt

We strolled around the Grote Markt or Groenplaats, the city’s main square. The square is filled with ornate guildhalls similar to that of the Brussels’ Grote Market (or the Grand Place). Also adorning the Grote Markt is the city’s Stadthuis (town hall) and the Brabo Fountain.

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Brabo’s Fountain, Grote Markt

This sculpture of Antwerp’s hero, Brabo, depicts him flinging a severed hand.The legend goes like this – There used to be a giant called Antigoon who used to take a toll from those who crossed the Antwerp river, Schledt. And, he cut off the hands of those who refused to pay. So, Brabo cut off the giant’s own hand and flung it into the river. And, that’s how the city got its name Antwerpen – meaning hand werpen or hand throw or throwing hand(s).

Antwerp definitely had the best Christmas Markets we’d seen in Belgium. It had stalls all around the centre of the city and some near the port as well. There was a huge ferris wheel and ice skating which seemed to be a trend in Belgium and Netherlands. The ferris wheel ride was so much fun. I hadn’t been on one in years and the views from up there was lovely.

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Antwerp is also well-known for its jazz clubs and we were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t catch the jazz band in action at De Muze, a hotspot for great jazz music in town. The last train back to Brussels was at 11 ish PM and the band doesn’t start until after 10.

There’s so much to do in this beautiful Belgian city and we know we’ll head back there someday and stay a few nights.

Despite being bigger, fashionable and modern compared to the other medieval cities of Belgium, Antwerp has a charm of its own with its amazing collection of art, cobblestoned lanes, riverside castle and splendid jazz culture.

Prague – an old-world charm

Prague is this dreamy, old-ish, culturally-rich, architectural wonder of a city that you’d ache to go back to for more…

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We visited Prague during Easter and the city was beautifully decorated, especially the city centre or Old Town Square where they had the Easter markets. Majority of the stalls were filled with gorgeous Easter eggs (with unbelievably intricate designs) and other exceptionally handcrafted decorative items. Some stalls also sold some mouth-watering local delicacies. Traditional song and dance shows were also part of the festivities.

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Trdelnik – a local pastry – grilled and tossed in some cinnamon sugar
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The bustling Prague Old Town Square

The Old Town Square is the heart of Prague. The church you see in the background with its twin distinctive Gothic spires is the Church of Our Lady Before Týn. Prague is filled with churches and lovely, old buildings that are all adorned with some or the other piece of art.

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You’ll see horse-drawn carriages and vintage cars lined up to take you around the city.

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The square is also filled with lovely restaurants serving local beer and food. Prague is known for its beer and you’ll find loads of good beer everywhere…

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Where are my hoppy ales!?

We craved for ales in a city known for its pils and lagers. But, like they say, ask and you shall receive.. we did some quick research and found a neat little place which was swarming with hopheads like us. The Prague Beer Museum has some really good ales and some very unique lagers. Prague made us very happy that evening. Through the Old Town, you will also find little cafes or bars playing live music – we especially enjoyed the blues scene the city had to offer. We visited Jazz Republic – a cosy live music club where the Alice Springs Blues Quartet was playing that evening. These guys put on a great show – this is one of our cherished moments from our trip.

The Square also features the renowned Astronomical Clock which is part of the Old Town Hall. Every hour, crowds gather to watch the clock in action. The four figures beside the clock represent Vanity (with the mirror), Greed (with his money bag), Death (the skeleton), and Pagan Invasion (represented by a Turk). On the hour, Death rings a bell and inverts his hourglass and the twelve apostles parade past the windows above the clock. It’s a pretty sight. Not as beautiful a parade put up by as the Munich Glockenspiel but still a good one to stop for.

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We spent a lot of the day just walking around the old town area exploring the hidden alleys which were filled with little treasures.

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In a store window

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Another hugely famous landmark in Prague is the Charles Bridge – definitely worth a visit despite the insane crowds.

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If you are determined to see the full bridge in its true splendor instead of a crammed bridge with hundreds of people, you should muster the will to stay up thru the night or rise and shine in the wee hours to catch the breath-taking view at dawn. Well, laziness and sleep got the better of us and we went to see the bridge at dusk. It was packed with hundreds of visitors and locals just using the bridge to cross over from the Old Town to the Mala Strana. It was a beautiful sight nonetheless.

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The bridge was filled with caricature artists and folks selling junk jewellery

The views from both sides of the bridge are absolutely gorgeous! You get a wonderful view of the Prague Castle and the St. Vitus’ Cathedral which is the most popular side of the bridge while the other side presents a pretty picture of the city in the backdrop of the Vltava river.

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View of the Prague castle district from the Charles Bridge

The best way to experience the beauty of this charming city is to do a boat tour sipping on some delicious chilled beer.

The next day, we visited the St. Vitus Cathedral . The cathedral is in the Prague Castle area (or Pražský Hrad). It is magnificent, both on the inside and outside. The stained glass windows have wonderfully depicted scenes with a beautiful fusion of colors. The walls on the inside of the Cathedral as well showcase intricate paintings from a bygone era.

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 The Prague Castle area also features the Golden Lane – a wonderful little street filled with modest, little houses that used to be inhabited by the workers at the castle – goldsmiths, blacksmiths etc. One of the houses has been converted into a little museum of sorts displaying ancient torture tools.

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The Rack – no escaping this mean machine
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If you can’t get them with a bullet, slice them.

One of the houses in the Golden Lane was briefly occupied by Franz Kafka, a well-known German writer born into a German-speaking Jewish family in Prague. The city views from all around the castle area are simply beautiful and it was a day well-spent and definitely worth the steep climb.

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At the Jewish Quarter

Our next stop was the Prague Jewish Town. A visit to the Old Jewish Cemetery leaves you feeling melancholic especially when you see the graves of the little ones.

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The cemetery is piled with 12000 tombstones, most buried on top of one another due to the lack of space.

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The Spanish Synagogue

The Prague Jewish Quarter also has a bunch of beautiful synagogues – the notable ones are the Spanish Synagogue with a remarkable interior design and the Pinkas Synagogue which was turned into a memorial to the ~80,000 victims of the Shoah (or Holocaust). The names of all these victims are inscribed on the walls of the synagogue. The synagogue also has a permanent exhibition of pictures drawn by the children in the concentration camp. Some of these pictures will make you smile but some of these will also make you cry thinking of the shattered dreams and tortured lives of these young children.

Prague is an amazing city that is wondrously rich with history and culture – you simply cannot stop exploring all that the city has to offer. We left knowing that we will surely go back someday to soak in more of this incredible place.