My two days in Belgium were very possibly the highlight of my trip so far. An unexpected highlight, too. That’s not to say I was expecting it to be unenjoyable or underwhelming. But having visited Paris, and having only just been in Amsterdam, there was a tendency for it to be overshadowed. I have to thank my Dad for being so persistent in urging me to go to Belgium (particularly Bruges) while I was here. Let me tell you why it was so wonderful.
The adventure began early on Wednesday morning. Not like 6 or 7am, but 4am! That was a little difficult, but the excitement got me right out of bed. Sabrina and I met at the station, where we took the Eurostar to Brussels. The train trip was a little over 2 hours – so easy.
The first thing we did in Brussels was visit a comic strip museum. Belgium is famous for comic books, among other things. The author of Tin-Tin was from Belgium, and a large part of the museum was dedicated to Tin-Tin. I loved it, because it was very different to the sorts of museums I’ve been visiting in Europe. I don’t know a whole lot about comics, but it didn’t matter at all. The museum was colourful, intresting and lots of fun!
Map in hand, the next stop was the famous Grand Place. A square in the city framed by the gothic style ‘Hotel de Ville’ and ancient guildhalls. It was amazing to see, and on such a sunny day, swarming with people.
Another thing Brussels is famous for is the ‘Manneken Pis fountain.’ It’s a statue of a little boy urinating happily into a pool. It’s one of those things that are famous just because. It’s nice enough, but it’s not that big or spectacular. Like the Mona Lisa. If you ask me, there are more impressive paintings. But there were so many tourists visiting the fountain, it was next to impossible to get a photo without somebody else in it!
What I liked most about Brussels was all the street art. Walls and buildings everywhere were cool and colourful. We spent a lot of time walking the streets and getting a feel for the city. Partly because the map we had was not so good, so we got a little lost. And partly because we kept coming accross little streets that looked interesting to wander down.
Everyone knows Belgium is famous for having the best chocolate in the world. And rightly so – the chocolate there is amazing. There are chocolate shops everywhere, all with a wide selection of any kind of chocolate you can imagine – and more. A chocoholic’s fantasy come true. And if that’s not enough, there are always Belgian waffles to be had. Yum.
By the end of the day, we were exhausted. We made our way to the station to get on a train bound for Bruges. The train ride to Bruges was enjoyable for a couple of reasons. First, it was satisfying to just sit and rest for a while after a day on our feet. And secondly, I really enjoyed seeing some Belgian countryside. Once we got a little way out of the city, there were wide green expanses, animals, and quaint little country houses. The stations where the train stopped were hardly stations; the train pretty much stopped on the track where there were a couple of signs, and 10 metres accross the road were houses. I kind of wanted to live there.
The train took about an hour and a half, and it was still light outside when we arrived in Bruges. We took the bus from the station and got off at Markt, the main square. Like the square in Brussels, it is framed by beautiful old buildings and there are alfresco dining options all around.
After a nice dinner, we made our way to our hostel. It was a really cool place, called Snuffel Sleep In, for anyone planning to travel to Bruges. There were friendly, helpful staff who gave us maps and advice on what to do. The reception area doubled as a happening bar, and breakfast was provided in the morning. We were in a colourful six person dorm with girls from all over. Interestingly, staying the night at the hostel cost less than our dinner! Hopefully on the rest of our travels we will always have such good luck with the hostels we’ve booked.
And hopefully we’ll have such good luck with the weather, too. Our day in Bruges, like our day in Brussels, was warm and sunny. We started by visiting the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The concept was unfamiliar to me, but the church in which it was housed was certainly something to marvel at. A few coagulated drops of Christ’s blood are kept and cherished there.
We spontaneously decided to go on a canal tour after that, which gave us more of a feel for the little medieval city. The boat driver/tour guide gave us audio commentary in English and French about the history of the various landmarks we passed. Everything was so picturesque; the amount of photos I took is a good indicator if how much I enjoyed it.
Something high on our itenerary was the chocolate museum. It provided a history of chocolate, explanations and videos about how it’s made, and so forth. It was really well done. I didn’t know there was so much history behind chocolate! And there were lots of big sculptures made out of chocolate – incredible. But the real highlight was the live chocolate making demonstration at the end. Although there was a bit of the ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’ thing, it was great, and we even got to try the finished product! My mouth is watering just thinking about it…
I could tell you every little thing we did, but it could get tedious. So I’m going to skip the next church, and lunch, and tell you about our bike ride. Everyone in Bruges rides bikes to get around, and we decided hiring bikes would be a nice thing to do. We rode along the canals and bounced through the cobble-stoned streets. It was a little scary at first (I haven’t ridden a bike for about 5 years!) but as they say, you never forget how to ride a bike.
One of the good things about travelling with someone else is they suggest things you perhaps wouldn’t do if you were on your own. Sabrina wanted to go to the lace musem. Another thing I learnt – Bruges is famous for lace. The museum itself was quite small. But at the end, we got to see lace-making demonstrations. I guess they’re into demonstrating things in Bruges. It was quite an experience, for us young travellers to be in a room with several elderly ladies working diligently and skillfully on lace patterns. The oldest lady there was the most impressive; her hands moved so quickly and so precisely. It was really something else.
After stopping by a souvenir shop (and possibly another chocolate shop…) it was time to take the train back to Brussels, to go back to London. After a fantastic couple of days, I was excited to have Belgium stamped in my passport. Unfortunately, the guy at the desk had run out of ink on his stamp! So you can just make out the date, but you can’t see that it says Belgium. Totally ripped off. But I promise, I was there!
In other news…
- I went to see cousin Jason’s band, ‘The Sleeper Effect,’ play a gig last night. They were really good and it was a lot of fun!
- It’s really warm in London now! Close to 20 degrees and sunny every day.
- I’m halfway through my trip… wow.
- I’m going to Ireland on Monday.
If you reached the end of this long post, thanks! I hope you liked it. Until next time…