Sivan Askayo has taken her passions for photography, writing, and travel and combined them all to become a successful photojournalist. AFAR recently sent her to explore Flanders, Belgium and here she shares some of her favorite insider tips and highlights from her trip.
Where in Flanders were you able to get the greatest perception or understanding of what their culture is about? Why? I was lucky enough to be in Ghent right in the midst of Gentse Feesten (the Ghent Festival). In fact, Ghent was my first destination in Flanders and my first impression of the Flemish people. I’ve learned that the origin of the festival was in 1843, when the municipality of Ghent decided to do something “for the people.” The festivities have always been free of charge, and everyone celebrates for days without being forced to get back to work on Monday.
I know that Gentse Feesten doesn’t represent the daily life, but through the festivities I could learn about the beer culture, the social atmosphere, and the pride the people take in their origin.
Did you have a favorite dish or meal from your trip to Flanders? I’ve eaten in de Vitrine, a really nice restaurant in Ghent. It serves high-end cuisine based on local, high-quality products. However, as someone who LOVES chocolate, my favorite thing was chocolate. Any kind!
Flanders has an impressive art scene, what are the must-see art museums in Flanders? My favorite museum was Magritte Museum, maybe because Magritte is one of my favorite artists. I had no idea the museum existed. The element of surprise was great. The museum is not that big, but it keeps lots of the originals and tells the history of the life of the artist.
Another great museum is MAS. I’ve visited it twice: daytime and nighttime. Both different experiences. I loved its architecture and interiors. I highly recommend visiting it at night (check for days and hours), and take the escalators to the top floor to see a beautiful view of Antwerp.
Flanders is also well known for their chocolate making. Where can travelers indulge in genuine Flanders chocolate? My best chocolate experience in Flanders was in Bruges. I love chocolate, and Bruges has 54 chocolate stores. If I had more time in Bruges, I would check each and every store.
My favorite stores were Dumon, which sells artisan chocolate and handmade pralines, and Dominique Persoone’s The Chocolate Line where I had the chance to sniff chocolate!!! The chocolate is a powdery substance (I was told it was created especially for the Rolling Stones when the band visited Bruges) that comes with a tiny plastic catapult. The device shoots a bolt of mint chocolate powder into your nostrils, finding its way to the farthest corners of the brain.
It was definitely a great experience.
Can you tell us a little bit about the locals in Flanders and any specific memories or stories you have from your visit? One of the most distinctive things I’ve noticed about the locals in Flanders was that they were all very proud of their origins. When I talked to people about their professions or other facets of their lives, the majority told me they were maintaining a family tradition. Many were the “next link” in the family business and heritage. They were all quite friendly, easygoing, and in love with their beer.
Can you tell us about the Fashion in Antwerp? Oh, wow! What a great scene! Unfortunately, when I was in Antwerp, both Dries Van Noten’s and Ann Demeulemeester’s showrooms were closed—they were changing collections, and I couldn’t visit these stores. However, I compensated by visiting other great stores, such as Graanmarkt 13 and Seven Rooms, both concept stores that have high-end fashion, home accessories, and great food. The days I spent in Antwerp were apparently some of the warmest in the summer, and the people in the streets were wearing mostly shorts and light clothes. I can’t say I noticed a specific style or fashion trend. I’ve learned more about the fashion in Antwerp from visiting the stores or seeing the store windows than from seeing the fashion on the street.
Can you tell us about some of the hotels that you stayed in? I’ve stayed in two great and fun hotels. In Ghent I’ve stayed in the Hotel Harmony. Right on the canal on a main street called Kraanlei. The room was facing the back, which was good because Kraanlei Street was quite busy with all the partygoers from the festival. The staff was great and friendly—very helpful. The breakfast was good, especially the coffee. For me it was a great experience.
The hotel where I stayed in Antwerp was Les Nuits. Right in the fashion district of Antwerp. Very stylish. Super comfortable beds. A fun and young atmosphere and a very helpful staff.
If you had just 24 hours in Flanders, what would be your top must-see spots? MAS Museum, The Chocolate Line, WasBar (either in Ghent or Antwerp), and the Park Spoor Nord on a summery afternoon.
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