I’d heard mixed reviews about Brussels – everything from it’s horribly dirty to it’s my favorite city in Europe. Of course, a place that promised outstanding food and boasts an affordable partnership with Ryanair deserved a chance, in my book. So, a few weeks ago a fellow Fulbrighter and I made our way to Belgium. This trip was different for a couple reasons: for one, I was traveling with someone new; and, for another, we had people to host us!
Traveling with someone new was a lot of fun for me. I love all my travel companions thus far, but traveling with someone new allows you to explore different parts of yourself. When you consistently travel with the same people, you fall into a routine depending on ideas of who is good at what. On this trip, I got to be free from certain perceptions of what I can/can’t do. It was liberating.
The friend I traveled with was an all-around great networker pre-Brussels. She reached out to a friend of a friend who is from Belarus, and currently living in Brussels through Erasmus. We met Victor at the famous Manneken Pis statue, dropped our bags off at his place and began our exploration of Brussels. As Victor was still fairly new to Brussels himself, we wandered more or less like tourists minus having to check a map every five minutes. We ate waffles, took lots of pictures, tried the Brussels mussels, and explored Parlamentarium.
Later that evening we met up with Nathan, a Fulbrighter in Belgium. Nathan lives an hour outside of Brussels in a cute and peaceful town, and agreed to host us in his beautiful home for the weekend. We met up with him at the Fulbright Commission in Brussels, where he works for part of the week. The four of us wandered some more, grabbing dinner and drinks along the way. It was a welcome change to have people with a good handle of the city and local language showing us around. We are super grateful to our new friends!
Let’s talk about food for a moment. I had been dreaming of Brussels food for basically the entire month leading up to the trip. You know, Belgium! Known for its waffles, fries, beer and chocolate! Paradise, amiright? I was. Everything we had was delicious, including the mussels – which I didn’t even realize was a thing Brussels was known for. Also the Thai and Greek – which Brussels isn’t know for but which was still pretty awesome. Moving on…
On day two, Veronica and I woke early with the best of intentions. We wanted to spend a day in Bruges and needed to get any early start in order to fit in all we had planned. Of course, that plan went out the window when it took us an hour and a half to make the twenty minute walk to the train station in Mons, where we were staying. Yea, we got lost. I would have bee fine with a map! Of course, this was also the only time we got rained on in Brussels.
We asked for directions in our broken French, and Veronica accidentally scared a man by asking him the whereabouts of a war rather than the station. Pronunciation matters, kids.
By the time we finally made it onto the train we were cold and tired, but glad to finally be on with our day! Once in Brussels, our first stop, we hunted down a much-anticipated Ethiopian coffee shop called Aksum Coffee House. We warmed up, drank coffee and bought some grounds to bring back to Madrid. Next, we headed to the gorgeous Grand Place and ate waffles! Our worlds were happy again as we hopped back on a train and finally headed to Bruges.
Bruges was cute and charming. We immediately came across a market, where I finally bought some studs for my double ear piercings! Then we wandered, ate and took pictures. We sampled chocolate and even lucked out by getting to witness a Carnaval Parade! Apparently, due to inclement weather, the parade had been rescheduled for the same day/time we happened to be in Bruges. I love when these things work out! We got showered with confetti and candy as we bobbed along to the music and admired the impressive floats.
Before departing from Bruges, we also did some shopping of the speculoos biscuits and chocolate bars nature. Exhausted, we hopped on our train back to Brussels. Despite a run-in with an incredibly rude ticket checker on the train, the ride was a smooth one. When we got to Brussels, we made our way to the Atomium. There were signs all over telling us this was the symbol of Brussels, so of course we had to check it out.
As our metro pulled out of a bridge and we were slapped with the sight of the structure all sparkly in the evening, we let out audible American “WOWs!” What’s done is done. We got a closer look, snapped our pictures and then hopped right back on the metro. We headed back to Grand Place for another round of waffles! We were great about spoiling ourselves this weekend; however, if I’m honest this was about the time every cell in my body was calling out for nutrition.
We hopped back on the train, this time going back to Mons to meet up with Nathan for dinner. Veronica and I tried to get some veggies in our system at the Greek restaurant we went to. I couldn’t even finish the cheesy pastry thing that was my main course, just all the veggies!
Next, we thought we’d check out the nightlife in Mons for a bit. After just a couple of places, I started to show my true age when I started falling asleep with my head leaned against a wall. In my defense, we had woken up early and been traveling all day. Not to mention, we had planned to leave Nathan’s place at 5 am to catch our flight back to Madrid from Brussels. In the end, I got to nap for about 45 minutes that night and that was it. I was dying by the time we made it back to Spain, but it was a great trip overall!