Brussels was beautiful. There was a very laid back vibe to the city, probably because there wasn’t much to do besides eat and drink. But with all of the Belgian beer, waffles, and chocolate, why would you want to do anything else? The beer 100% lived up to the hype. I sampled 12 beers while I was here, and in my opinion, Belgian beer is superior to German beer. The waffles were also delicious. I read before coming that the easiest way to spot a tourist is if they have a bunch of stuff on their waffle. The Belgian way is to have it plain or with sugar, so that is the way I had it. I’m glad I did too, because it was probably some of the best street food I’ve had on this trip, and it only cost 1 euro. Belgium is also known for their French fries (which are only called French fries because people in Belgium speak French). They were very good, but without Matt, I couldn’t finish them all. There were so many! Finally, I had to sample some Belgian chocolate. While it was good (most chocolate is in my opinion), I didn’t think it was anything spectacular. To me it didn’t taste much different than high end chocolate back home. However I did get a tip from a local to skip the shops and just get it from the grocery store, where I got the same chocolate for only 20% of what they charged in their store!
Believe it or not, I did do more than just eat in Brussels. I saw the famous Manneken Pis, a tiny statue of a little boy peeing. For some reason, it is Brussel’s pride and joy. He has hundreds of little costumes, one of which I got it see on my last day. (Fun Fact: On the 4th of July, he wears an Uncle Sam costume!) He is such a big deal, that a couple of bars got together and installed the female version on the same alley as their bars, knowing people would go to see her and then they could get them to come buy a drink. I also went to the European Quarter, where all of the EU administration buildings are. I lucked out in exploring it the one day it wasn’t closed due to Trump’s visit to Brussels. I visited my last European museum, the Musical Instruments Museum. I spent an afternoon wondering among some very old and very exotic instruments from all over the world and some dating back thousands of years. The best part was that the entry ticket came with a free audio guide that played samples of many of the instruments, so I just walked around listening to different music for the afternoon.
My two favorite things about Brussels were the Grand Place and all the street art. The Grand Place is the main square and is lined with beautiful gold-trimmed buildings. The architecture in the square was unlike anything I had seen in Europe, so it was a beautiful place to hand out durning the day and eat a waffle. However the Grand Place was best after dark, when the whole square was lit by the illuminating buildings. I was lucky enough to be there when it was lit up in rainbow due to the Gay Pride celebration that had happened the weekend before. While I knew about the Grand Place and was excited to see it, I had no idea about all the street art that I would find all around Brussels. Most of the art featured TinTin, an old comic book character from pre-WWII. Even when the Nazis controlled the city, TinTin continued to be printed in the papers and has become a city symbol. You just never know where you are going to find him! Another surprise I stumbled upon my last day was a statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Coming to the end of my trip, it was nice to be reminded of the very beginning back in Spain and thinking of all the places I have been since.
While in Brussels I decided to take a day trip to Bruges and Gent. I was a little nervous at first because nothing at the train station was in English and I was never really sure if I was on the right train, but I was able to get it all figured out and had a really nice time exploring other areas of Belgium. Bruges is absolutely beautiful with its canals, old buildings, and windmills. It kind of reminded me of Door County in that it is a common place to visit for shopping and just walking around. It was probably a good thing Matt wasn’t here for this part because I stopped and took a lot of pictures. In the afternoon, I went to a free harp concert being put on by a local musician who performed only his own compositions. He had 2 harps, but also instruments from around the world and some he even created himself, like a 12-note monochord. It was far more entertaining than I had anticipated!
After the harp concert, I went to Gent. Gent has a much younger feel than Bruges. It is a lively and hipster town filled with young people. As I walked around the city, there was a lot of street art and people just sitting out by the river enjoying a beer. I ended up grabbing dinner at a food truck festival going on nearby their main square. The festival and over 30 food trucks, live music, and and a great atmosphere to just eat and people watch.
While at the food truck festival, I met a local couple from Gent. One had already graduated college and the other was taking his finals this week and would then have one year left. They were both pretty well traveled so we talked a lot about our experiences in different places and where it is we would like to go next. As Trump was in Belgium at this time, we talked about him as well. It really has been fascinating to hear how much everyone knows about American politics, and to talk with them about different politicians and policies. I had similar conversations and then some with a girl named Natalie I met from Ukraine. She grew up in Ukraine, works in Germany, and was just getting back from a trip to India. Probably the only person I hung out with in Brussels and didn’t talk politics with was Mia, a fellow solo-traveler from Ohio. She was only there my first night, but we hit it off and ended up getting 2 flights of the famous Belgian beer.
I am glad I met so many cool people in Brussels, because the boys there were the worst I’ve encountered so far. I never felt unsafe, but was just really annoyed and irritated by the never-ending passes and sometimes just vulgar comments that were made. A couple even came and stood behind me while I was sitting on the curb and had thier friend take a picture of them with me! I’m not sure if they thought I wouldn’t notice, but they definitely weren’t expecting the tongue lashing they got from me and the woman nearby who had noticed and came to may aid. Yes, the boys were annoying, but it doesn’t change the fact that 99% of the people I’ve met and encounters I’ve had have been positive. I am still very glad I went to Belgium and was able to meet such cool people to share beer and waffles with.
Getting to the airport was an adventure, but it ended up being no big deal as my flight to Geneva was delayed anyway. In Geneva I’ll be meeting up with 2 of my cousins before I head back home. Just one more country to go.
Peace, Love, and Waffles,