Hello from the waffle adoring crossroads of Europe : Brussels. What a beautiful, at times shocking, place! I am sitting in the hostel, adorned with wood carved moose and neon plastic chairs.
It was difficult to say farewell to the joviality of the Irish Isle, but at the same time unspeakably exciting to get on a plane for mainland Europe. My plane took off at 8:00 in the morning, meaning I had to wake up at 4:00, walk down a series of sketchy Irish alley ways, wave down a bus, and make my way to the airport cast in a delicious dose of sleep deprivation. This usually would not have been such a problem, except for two unpredicted variables: 1. I had not forgotten to mail a good deal of my things and 2. made the miraculous decision to wear my new leather boots to the Guinness Factory the day before. Both making the journey to the airport much more difficult due to a slew of random objects strung to my backpack and some delightfully large blisters on my feet. Hahaha. It was quite the trip, but needless to say I made it with plenty of time to spare and a sense of confidence with my accomplishment.
Flying over Belgium was worth the trip alone. Surprisingly the entire way was cloud free, rendering peeping out the side window a successful endeavor. The coast line was lined with hundreds of windmills sticking out of the sandbanks in the ocean. I had to take about 6 double takes before I realized that they were indeed windmills, so large they were distinctly visible from a plane. WAAAAY cool! The Belgium country side was also beautiful. Thick, tree laden rolling hills, fecund fields outlined by a lattice of dark green bushes, and little red roofed cottages snuggly fit in between it all.
I flew into the airport 45 minutes away from the city center, meaning not only were my hostel directions wrong, but I had about 3 buses, one train and 30 minutes of walking in front of me. The fact I can only say “cheese,” “duck,” and “grapefruit” in French only compounded the problem. I honestly had no idea where I was going, and ended up assuming that the word “nord” meant north, or at least praying that was the case as I jumped on a train headed in the direction. Eventually I found my way to where my directions began, which read: go out of the train station, see the large traffic circle, cross the stop lights, and go down the boulevard. Easy enough right? Right….except for the fact Belgium is basically a network comprised of roundabouts, stop lights and (especially) boulevards. Haha. It took me another 50 minutes or so to finally Sherlock Holms my way to the boulevard situated hostel.
Right when I checked in I met a group of Americans who had just got accepted to a PhD program for (of all things!) neuroscience. It was like a dream come true. We immediately became friends, and they invited me to go out on the town with them. They had been there for 8 days already, so it was nice to finally have someone to talk to and who knew their way around. To make a long story short, what I thought was going to be a few hours outing, turned out to be an all night extravaganza of neural debates, singing, dancing, roaming the streets, climbing buildings, peeing on churches (It is LEGAL, don’t worry!) and coming back to the hostel just shy of sunrise. It was a lot of fun. Laying with my back against the cobblestone at midnight, watching a massive light show synced to the “Final Countdown” in the Grote Markt square, I have rarely been so happy.
Today I woke up with the mission to 1. Eat a Belgium waffle (not the tourist ones, the real ones that old Belgium grandmas flock to in the morning), 2. Wander aimlessly throughout the city, 3. Sit in the Grand Palace relishing world class people watching, and 3. Find the best chocolate shop in town. I can proudly say I have accomplished them all, if do say so myself. I got to the Grand Palace early, grabbed a hot waffle and sat against a pillar to watch the square populate itself by tourists from all walks of life. That is the great thing about Belgium (besides the beer and chocolate of course), is that it is the capital for the EU, with a population comprised of 170 nationalities. After forcing myself to leave my prime location, I ventured out into the city to come across an African drum circle on the steps of a church. They had a line of gourd-like instruments with a group of guys performing an intricate martial arts dance in the center. It was so cool, I had a hard time not laughing out loud with excitement. The rest of the day I spent meandering in and out of cathedrals, listening to a classical organ concert, and buying a bag of assorted chocolates.
Tomorrow I plan on taking a train out into the country side to get out of the city for a bit and see some authentic parts of the country….and then I am off to Venice. It’s weird, because I feel like this trip is simultaneously going by faaar too fast, yet incredibly slow. There is just so much packed into one day, it feels like years since I’ve been on the road.
Anyways, love you all and thanks for reading!