A Lesson in The Unknown: Belgium

 

I wouldn’t have known two months ago that Belgium currently has no government.  The extreme ease with which we freely hopped on public transportation with no ticket to show proved this quite well, I think.  Or maybe it was the fact that sidewalks seemed kind of non-existent.  Or maybe it was the Chi Chi’s in the center of Brussels….one of the few remaining in the world.  Whatever it was, it was cool, and hardly as unnerving as it may seem, to explore a country you know basically nothing about…especially one with no government.

Why we chose Belgium…I’m still not quite sure, but my thirst to see as much as possible in this world leads me to crave any form of travel, touristy or otherwise.  To be completely honest, I enjoy wandering places that are seemingly mundane, because I think there are always beautiful things to find hidden within them.  Belgium is my example.

Kath, Ali and I took the Eurostar train from St. Pancras (186 miles per hour AND through an underwater tunnel), arriving in Brussels just a couple hours later.  The ride may have been more pleasant, though not at all as entertaining, if it hadn’t been for a rowdy group of middle-aged men in the car behind ours, celebrating somebody’s birthday with bottles of champagne, and by singing Happy Birthday in French every time someone passed from another car into theirs (more times than I thought were funny by the end of the ride).  The train spit us out in a cold, dirty, dark land of different languages (mainly French and Dutch), and we managed to take the overground tram to our hostel, called 2GO4. I’m still not positive why it’s called that.  I had been assured by the hostel manager that we would be able to check in and retrieve our room keys from a machine outside the hostel, even though reception was closed when we got there after 11 PM.  As is predictable with my poor luck, no matter what I tried I could not get the lock box to open so we could get the keys out.  We were almost ready to search out a cheap hotel, which I really, REALLY didn’t want to have the experience of doing, when the reception guy opened the door for us and explained he hadn’t gotten a chance to put the keys outside yet.  Thank. God.  One awkward tour of the hostel later, and we were left on our own in a very dark 14 bed dorm room with numerous people asleep in the bunk beds.

We figured it out pretty quickly, fumbling around trying to put the sheets on our beds, and pull out enough stuff so we could get to sleep.  The hostel was nice and clean, quiet despite the number of people in the room with us, and the beds were comfy.  I should say, there was one person who snored like I have never heard before, and that is saying a lot considering my father.  I actually lay awake in my bed scared for my life.  Maybe that’s what it’s like to be woken up from an earthquake.

In the morning, we organized our stuff and got ready for the day.  We had little direction or ideas of what to do, so we just set out to see what we could find.  The city is really nothing special, but it has it’s redeeming points: the buildings in the Grand Place, and many other smaller squares, were so ornately decorated; the storefronts had many interesting names, most notably “Drug Opera,” which we figured was probably anything other than what it turned out to be: a restaurant we ate lunch in.  The place-mats looked something like the picture to the left.  I made sure to take one, and it’s now sitting elegantly on our bedroom mantel.  Probably most importantly, Belgium is known for a couple staples of my diet: chocolate, french fries, and waffles.  I was not disappointed in any department.

There are hundreds of chocolate shops along the streets, some chains, like the famous Leonidas, some local shops.  I made a point to walk in almost every one, just for the sake of doing so.  The waffles we got from Belgaufra, a little chain stand on the street, were so sweet I think I would have burst having eaten any more than the one waffle I managed to put away.  There are actual sugar crystals within the (only partially cooked) batter, and I had them put hot fudge on mine as well.  Obviously these aren’t the AUTHENTIC Belgian waffles, but I prefer the more exciting, you-might-die-this-is-so-sweet kind.

We walked around for a few hours and eventually made our way back to the train station to hop on a one hour local train to Bruges.  As soon as we stepped outside, I could tell there was a big difference in this city from the last.  At least when we got there it was still somewhat light out this time, and we were able to check in to Snuffel Hostel and unpack with no issues.  For some reason, this hostel just made me feel like I was at summer camp.  Aside from a pretty obnoxious group of kids who thought it was okay to turn the lights on in our room when others were sleeping, Snuffel treated us well.  There was even a bar in the lounge area where we watched a concert the last night.

Bruges is beautiful.  Most of the streets are cobblestone, little waterways flow through the city, and there are hundreds of small shops lining the streets.  Horse drawn carriages go by every couple of minutes and the sound of them adds to the busy atmosphere.  Even though it was dark, cold and rainy, it kind of seemed to suit the area well, like it doesn’t care the weather sucks.  Thanks to a wonderful map given to us at the hostel, we had much more direction than in Brussels.  Direction: Chocolate Museum, Friet Museum.

We had seen a brochure for the Chocolate Museum in which they boasted a “chocolate Obama.”  Naturally, this was enough for me to hear to buy the ticket and begin our tour.  The museum was full of tourists, Lego dioramas, and informative panels with typos.  But hey, I got to witness the afformentioned Choc-o-Bama and even got a free chocolate sample at the end.

Obviously we had to also experience the Friet (French Fry) Museum a short walk down the road, just as informative but missing the Lego dioramas.  The tour ends in a fry shop where you can purchase an overwhelmingly large cone of french fries, but be warned you have to pay extra for ketchup or any other toppings you may want.

We spent the rest of the day exploring, I had some of the best chocolate gelato of my life in Da Vinci Gelateria, and we got to see Michaelango’s Madonna and Child.  We searched for a place for dinner in the rain, finally landing on some little place called Humpty Dumpty which had a large Betty Boop statue on the counter.  I ordered a ham sandwich because they were out of turkey and was then told they were out of baguettes, but settled for plain bread.  My ham sandwich (or sandwiches because there were two on the plate) were literally ham on bread, nothing else.  Nevertheless, they were the most delicious pieces of bread with ham between them I’ve ever had.

We then went back to the hostel to get a good night sleep and woke up way too early to walk all the way to the train station when it was still dark out.  Maybe not the safest idea, but our trusty little map got us there pretty easily.  From there, we took a train to Brussels and then got on our Eurostar train back to London.  Needless to say, we were exhausted when we got home.

It’s taken me two weeks to find the time to upload all the photos and think about what I wanted to write about that trip.  I can’t wait to see more of the world and explore as much as I can.  I wish I had all the time in the world to travel, but I’ll make the most of this time I have.  Tonight, we leave for Prague, all 7 of us.  I’m predicting this trip will be a little more stressful, but I’m going to try and not let it get to me, since it’s my birthday.  Time is moving way too fast.  It’s so sad to think that we’re just about halfway through the semester

…so no more thinking of that.

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