My Trip to Belgium
My Flanders tour in Belgium.
I participate in the TA Rewards where they give away hotel stays, etc to travel agents ranging generally from 2 to 4 nights. In March, I receive an email from TA Rewards informing me that I had won a 7 night trip with Visit Flanders with air furnished by Jetairfly Airlines flying from Miami. Since I had never hear of Jetairfly Airlines and not familiar with Visit Flanders, I was not sure that this was on the up and up or something that I should be concerned about. After researching Visit Flanders website and seeing Marco Frank as the Trade Manager, I finally purchased my air to Miami on September 6th for a September 10th departure from Miami to Brussels.
There are a group of 8 people on the fam to Belgium courtesy of Visit Flanders and Jetairfly airlines with 6 from Florida, 1 from Minnesota and myself from San Antonio. Jetairfly Airlines has 3 classes of service which are economy, economy plus and business class. We all were assigned economy plus for the flight from Miami to Brussels. The legroom in economy plus was about the same as you experience with American and Delta in economy which is tight. I hate to think what economy legroom was. Jetairfly is a budget airline from Belgium. We flew on a Boeing 767 with a 2-4-2 seating in economy and a 2-3-2 seating in business class. I had the good fortune to be upgraded to business class for the return flight which gave me legroom equal to most Southwest flights and not anywhere close to what economy plus seating would be on United or American.
We left Miami at 1:50 pm for our flight to Brussels arriving at 5:15 am on Sunday morning. We met Marco Frank at the airport and we were transferred to Mechelen for breakfast. Following breakfast, we visited the Kazerne Dossin Museum that is a unique place to remember the Holocaust in Belgium where over 25,000 Jews and Gypsies were imprisoned and put onto trans and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau where less than 5% survived. It was a sobering visit to start the Belgium adventure followed by a walking city tour of Mechelen before lunch at the Het Anker Brewery restaurant with sampling of the 9 beers that were brewed there before doing a short brewery tour. Following that, we were transferred to Ghent where we spent 2 nights.
Upon arrival in Ghent, we checked into our hotel (Sandton Grand Hotel Reyof) and had dinner at Graslei 10 including more fine Belgium beer before walking back to our hotel. On Monday after breakfast, we meet our guide for a walking tour of Ghent historical district including sampling of chocolates and Belgium pastries and doing a site inspection at the NH Gent Belfort hotel. We had lunch with more fine Belgium beer before having time to explore Ghent on our own. In the evening we had a boat tour through Ghent including snacks and Champagne to enjoy while viewing the beautiful building on the river.
On Tuesday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and were transported to the romantic city of Brugge where we dropped off our luggage at the Pand Hotel. We did a guided walking tour of Brugge before lunch including more Belgium beer. We had the afternoon to explore Brugge on our own after checking into our hotel. We had dinner at a small family restaurant called Kurt’s Pan which is normally closed on Tuesdays but was opened just for us where we had great food and wine. The restaurant only has 8 tables with the wife being serving the food and the husband being the cook. I highly recommend this restaurant if anyone is in Brugge.
On Wednesday, we were transported to Antwerp where we dropped off our luggage at T Sandt. We took taxis to MAS Museum where we went to the roof top for a panoramic view of the city and harbor of Antwerp. From there, we walked to the Red Star Line Museum. The Red Star Line Ships were the ships that carried most of the Europeans from Antwerp to Ellis Island in the early 1900’s before World War I and during the 1920’s after the war. The museum focus on the stories of the families that sailed to America plus showed what the passengers had to go through such as physical examinations before they were allowed to board the ships. Lunch was at a restaurant overlooking the harbor including more Belgium beer. After lunch, we took taxis to Grote Market for a guided walking tour through the historic center. We had a short time to explore Antwerp on our own before checking into our hotel. We had dinner and short tour of Brewery t Parkhuis which is a small craft brewery enjoying more fine Belgium beer.
On Thursday after breakfast, we took taxis to the Koninck Brewery for the De Koninck Beer Experience Center followed by tasting of 3 beers. We had lunch at a restaurant owned by the brewery next door including more Belgium beer. After lunch, we took taxis back to the city center for City Golf which consisted of a 7 iron and a soft golf ball hit off a pad toward a target such as a water fountain stature. Our golf guide explained the historical buildings while we went from area to area playing golf followed by a stop for more beer. We had a short time to explore Antwerp on our own before checking into our hotel and walking to the restaurant for dinner including more Belgium beer.
On Friday, we checked out of our hotel and driven to Brussels meeting our guide at the Atomium for a 2 hour bus tour of Brussels. We drove by the King of Belgium residence plus the various offices of the European Union Headquarters before dropping off our luggage at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Brussels. We had lunch at Bozar Brasserie including more Belgium beer before walking to a Chocolate Tasting/Making Class where we sampled fine chocolate before making our own chocolate squares topped with our choice of nuts and fruits to take home. Following our chocolate experience, we did a guided walking tour of the city center of Brussels. We had a short free time to explore the area before checking into the hotel and walking to dinner at the Belga Queen for fine dining and wine. Dinner was a 3 hour experience before going back to the hotel.
On Saturday, we had a 4:30 am pickup time for transfer to the Brussels Airport for our 7:00 am departure flight back to Miami.
My impressions of the airline and the Belgium trip. Jetairfly Airlines is a Belgium budget airline with a round-trip airline from Miami to Brussels of 399.98 Euros equal to $447.04 USD. I would recommend this airline for someone on a tight budget. Like most budget airlines, you pay for your luggage and almost everything else plus your carry-on luggage is limited in allowable weight if you are trying to save money by strictly using carry-on. For economy plus and business class which are considerably higher in cost, luggage is free up to 23 kilos. The plane was nice and the crew was very professional and friendly.
I loved Ghent, Brugge and Antwerp for the beauty and friendliness of the people living there. Brussels in a large and busy city while beautiful cannot be compared to the slower lifestyle of the other cities. Brugge is a very romantic city while Ghent had more nightlife especially on the river. Antwerp had a beautiful harbor and history just like the other cities. Many of the buildings are 300 to 400 years old. Ghent and Brugge would be great for a pre-stay for a river cruise going from Amsterdam to Basil. All of the hotels that I stayed in were in the city center with easy walking to great restaurants and bars. I stayed at small leading hotels of the world but compared in pricing to Paris or London, the hotel in Belgium are far more affordable plus the history of Belgium especially in the Flanders area is great. While Dutch is the official language of most of Flanders and Dutch and French in Brussels, English is spoken by almost everybody so communications is not a problem. While it was a 10 hour flight from Miami, it is only about 5 to 6 hours from New York City.