This past Weds-Fri I went to Belgium. First on the agenda was Brussels. We took a train from Leiden to Brussels but on the way there a minor fiasco happened. When purchasing the tickets many of us clicked that we had a discount card but we noted that we had free travel within the Netherlands instead of discounted travel thinking it was the same thing because the names of the two cards are the same. So, we ended up having to pay 20 euro for the ticket after one of the workers checked out tickets and told us they were invalid for the trip we were on. After that mishap we arrived in Brussels and walked to our hostel. All 18 of us were on this trip so we split up into a couple of rooms. Diana, Isabel and Dorien and I were all in a room together. The rooms were relatively nice. Just two bunkbeds, shelves and a sink. After getting situated we ventured out into the city. We walked through a park that at one time was intended for royalty. Supposedly wild animals were released in that park for the royalty to hunt. There was a big beautiful fountain and lots of trees.
We saw the building that houses the American Mission to the European Union. There were security guards outside who kept an eye on us as we walked past. Next we went to the complex where the European Union Parliament is housed. We had a lecture about the EU and then were able to see the room where Parliament convenes. I love government proceedings like that so I was intrigued.There are 26 languages spoken in the EU Parliament so it was cool to see all the translation booths and to learn that they sit according to political party not nation.
After the EU we walked back to the hostel. On the way back we saw the royal palace where King Albert lives. It was gigantic and had a beautiful garden.
Once we got back we had some down time. A few girls and I went shopping in a shopping district. I bought an orange dress for Queens Day (which is quickly approaching)! Then we had dinner at the hostel- lasagna. It was… hostel food I suppose. Afterward we went downstairs to check out the hostel bar. It very much so resembled a frat house basement. When we walked in the only person there was the bar tender. Most people got beers (not me, I was saving money) and we sat down and hungout. At one point some people started singing karaoke which was hilarious and the bartender (and now his friend as well) seemed to get a kick out of it. I, being the party pooper I am, went to bed before the rest of the group that went to the bar.
The next day we ate breakfast at the hostel. It was just typical toast, cereal and then there was spaghetti lol. It was 8 o’clock so that was a little unusual but the Czech sports team staying in the hostel seemed to like it. Then, once again, we walked around Brussels. I realized how beautiful it really is there. French architecture is evident throughout the city. We went into St. Michael’s Cathedral which reminded me of Notre Dame.
Then we ventured to the city square. I had no idea that Brussels was such a tourist destination until I visited. There were SO many people in the streets. The city square was beautiful. There are chocolate shops everywhere you look not to mention Belgian waffles! We saw the infamous Manneken Pis, peeing boy statue. And you can’t see the peeing boy statue without seeing the peeing girl statue so we ventured to find it.
We learned that the peeing girl statue is right next to a world famous bar that has over 2004 beers called Delirium. (http://www.deliriumcafe.be/)
This part of town was full of cafes. The waiters would stand outside trying to get you to come sit down at their cafe. One of them said “you too beautiful” another said “too much Lady Gaga.” Which I’m still not sure what that even means. The men in Brussels are a whole lot more forward than Dutch men. We were honked, whistled, gawked and hollered at many many times. The group split up at lunch time and we all went out separate ways. A couple girls and I went to a small cafe outside of the city center called Zebra Bar. I got a tuna salad sandwich which ended up being very good. The vibe of the cafe was artsy and ambient- I enjoyed it a lot.
After lunch we walked back to the city square where we went to the Broodhuis museum. It housed art and other artifacts. The top floor had an exhibit of all the costumes the peeing boy statue has been dressed up in. That was my favorite part. After the museum we walked around the shopping district again- surprise surprise. We did a little window shopping. One of my favorite stores to go into is Zara. They have the cutest clothes and accessories. I got my first European milkshake- strawberry. It was more milky and less thick but delicious nonetheless! The weather for this trip was so perfect. We were all able to wear dresses, t shirts and shorts. There was a park near our hostel that had wooden lounge chairs. It would be a perfect place to lounge during beautiful weather like we had. After walking around the city a bit more most of us went back to the hostel to rest. Brussels is a large city so we did a lot of walking. After dinner a few of us decided to venture back to the city square. We saw our two professors and another student who were going to a local microbrewery so we met up with them there. We sat and talked there for a while. After it got later we decided to go to the famous bar Dillerium. I had not intended to go out that night so I was wearing jeans and a NC State t-shirt. The bar was packed and it was relatively early when we showed up. I had initially intended to hangout and not drink but you can’t go to a bar with 2004 beers and not try one! So I did. I REALLY wish I could remember the name of it because I really enjoyed it. I am going to have to ask the professor who recommended it to me what it was called. I ended up staying at the bar a lot longer than I thought I would. There was live music- even a French rapper! We met some brothers from Philadelphia. They introduced themselves because they could hear our American accent and anytime you spot an American it can be rather comforting. They ended up being a lot of fun! After the bar we went with them to get fries- they got fries we didn’t. Then they decided they also wanted a kebob so we walked with them to get them one of those as well. It was a lot of fun to be silly and hangout with fellow Americans who understand our ridiculous humor. That was such a fun night. And funny thing is the girls I was with and I got in relatively early compared to many of the people in our group. We got in around 2-2:30 and everyone else strolled in around 4-4:30! Brussels night life is crazier than we had imagined!
Brussels is a lot more multicultural than the cities I’ve been to in the Netherlands. There was more variety in dress and ethnicity. Another thing is the amount of homeless people. In the Netherlands it is very uncommon, even in Amsterdam, to see a homeless or nomadic person in the streets but they were everywhere in Brussels. It is also cool to hear them speaking in French. Many of the signs were in both French and Dutch. I definitely enjoyed Brussels a lot more than I thought I would.
Next day, bright and early, it was off to Brugge! Brugge is a smaller city near the coast of Belgium. Walking around the city I instantly fell in love. It was quaint and historical. There were baby ducklings everywhere which was also a plus!
We visited an old church, like always. However, it was Good Friday so the church had a little more special meaning for me. There were a lot of flowers, gardens and boats in the canals. After walking for a bit we ate lunch in the city square. We sat on the steps of a church and enjoyed the sun. After lunch we went to the Church of the Holy Blood which houses a relic of the blood of Christ that is available for viewing.
Last time we did was go to an art museum. By this point we were so exhausted it was hard to enjoy the museum but we did our best. There are a lot of chocolate shops in Brugge just as in Brussels. Brugge reminded me in some ways of a colonial settlement. Brugge has a very romantic feel to it. I enjoyed it a lot. When we were free to go our separate ways at the end of the day Dorien, Diana and I headed to the train station to begin the second phase of our three country adventure which I will write a separate blog about in the near future!
^Link to my Belgium photo album.