When planning the trip to Belgium I never realized all that Brussels has to offer. The trip started by waking up at 5:30 to catch our train. It was a 2 hour train ride from Leiden to Brussels. The thought that I could be in a different country in two hours was unbelievable. The train ride was very eventful. We took the train from Leiden to Rossendal (A small town in Holland). Our train was a little late and it left us with three minutes to transfer trains. It was one of those moments where we ran from platform 6 to platform 1. Running to the next platform, I felt I was in a movie and everything was in slow motion.
Thankfully, we made it. When we finally arrived to Brussels, I was filled with excitement. It was my first time traveling to another country since I’ve been here and all I could do was just smile.
During our first few hours there we ate Belgian waffles and went on a walking tour. We began our walking tour at the Grand Palais, or Grand Place. It was exactly what the name says. Absolutely grand. All the buildings were gilded with gold. And each building had a story behind it. They were centuries old and each one was sculpted to perfection. We walked to many places including the Stock exchange, the Royal Palace, a park, St. Michaels Cathedral, the Manneken Pis (Which translate to “peeing boy”), and this garden on the top of a hill where you could see all of Brussels. The view was unlike anything I have seen yet.
Brussels was one of those towns where around every corner is something different. It is a mixture of modern and century old buildings. The beauty is indescribable. We met so many people on our tour. We met Australians, Israelis, English, and even people from the U.S. It was so crazy to meet people from all over the world that were on our tour. The tour ended on these steps that over looked a view of Brussels. We stayed there for an hour more, just sitting there taking in the moment.
Our next adventure was trying Belgian fries. Belgians are quite upset about the coined term french fries. French fries actually originated in Belgium, and they are not at all french. Even though Belgians speak french, this is one thing that they strongly believe to be strictly Belgian. One thing I know is that the Belgians have perfected fries. We went to this place called Fritland and tried our first order of Belgian fries. These fries are incredible. The way the man explained it to us was they cook the fries at one temperature, take them out, let them cool and then put them in again. This allows the outside to be nice and crisp, while the middle is still smooth and soft. This theory proved to be right. The fries were better than delicious. They don’t eat them with ketchup. They have a variety of sauces, ranging in tastes. We tried all of them; American, Brazilian, Samurai and others. These sauces honestly have nothing to do with their names, but they were so good it didn’t matter.
After the fry excursion, we went to go find our hostel. We thought leaving Holland, we would leave the rain, but the rain followed us. We walked around lost, looking for our hostel in the pouring down rain for 30 minutes. By this time we had been up for hours, we were tired, had been walking forever and just wanted to find our hostel. We finally found it and to our surprise, it ended up being one of the nicest places I’ve stayed. We napped and rested up for the pub crawl we wanted to do.
As we walked to the pub, we found out that the city’s beauty enhances during the night. The streets are lit up, along with all the buildings. We met at an Irish pub, not something you would normally do in Belgium, but that’s where it started. We met the guy that would be taking us to all the pubs, and all the people on the tour, some from the walking tour early in the day. We had five bars that we had to go and free Belgian beer. So basically the tour guide was just a babysitter for people wanting to get drunk on Belgian beer. We had our first Belgian beer, La Chouffe. I learned all about beers and why they were served in the glass they are, I learned about the color of the beer, and the alcohol content. My dad would be proud to say the least. There are over 250 types of Belgian beer. Sadly, I only tried two. Out of all the bars, the last bar and the one before the last were my favorite. At the third bar, we all were dancing and enjoying ourselves and the song girls just want to have fun came on (our group consisted of 11 girls out of 13). We all got on stage and began to sing. After the fifth American song, Pan (tour guide) came up and said, “Yeah, the DJ is my friend and I told him to play those songs so I could see what fools you Americans could make of yourselves.” It’s quite appalling the joy he got from seeing us be fools.
We had experienced so much in so little time, but all of it was so worth all the fun we had.
The next morning we woke up and, of course, we ate more waffles. In the two days that I was in Belgium my food consisted of waffles, chocolate, and fries. I loved every minute of it. We went and walked around an open flea market in the square. Not quite as great as the market in Holland or in Madrid, but it was still nice. We didn’t really make plans for the day, we thought we could just get lost and explore. We found a small cafe, Salon de Chocolat (Cafe of Chocolate) and decided to try the hot chocolate. I felt like I was at a giant tea party. The way the Belgians do hot chocolate is very different. They bring you fresh, melted belgian chocolate. Our chocolate was 70% dark cocoa with hazelnuts from Turkey. They give you the melted chocolate with a tea cup of warm milk and it was toped off with a basil macaroon. Just sitting in the cafe and enjoying our Belgian hot chocolate was enough for me.
On our tour, we had stopped at St. Michaels Cathedral. It was a cathedral built in 1047. The church was modeled after the gothic theme that was popular during that time. On our tour we had only stopped there briefly. My friend Michelle and I had been taking about how we wanted to attend a mass service at some point in Europe. As we walked up to the church on our last day, we walked in and a church service had just started. It was meant to be! Although it was all in french and I could not understand the language, I felt like I understood it all. It was an incredible experience to have.
After church, we went to the garden stairs again, the place where you could see all of Brussels. We just sat there enjoying our last few hours in Brussels. When you go some place you have never been before, its quite entrancing. As I looked around soaking in as much culture, history, and as many memories as I could, from my favorite view of Belgium, I just felt so grateful. It sounds so cliche, but I never understood how lucky I am to have this experience until then. Before I left to come here, I was listening to my sister talk about how the cities you visit just captivate you. Belgium, being my first trip, simply captivated me. I’ll probably say this about every place that I visit, but being in a new city, on a new continent, with all your friends, is something so memorable.