One of the (many) expectations I had and others had for me when I decided on doing my semester abroad in Europe was that I would be traveling and seeing EVERYTHING. I’ve had a couple of countries checked off my list by now, and I am definitely in a position to say that every country is absolutely amazing in its own right, and there is no way possible that I will be seeing all the things worth seeing. But you know what? That’s okay. Because this opportunity to be here, living a dream, is more than enough in itself.
My first trip out of Germany involved a 5:48 train from the Vallendar station, bound for Bruges, Belgium.
5:48. In the morning.
As you can imagine, I barely had sleep that night. Not that I stayed up packing (well, to a certain degree I did), but I was so paranoid I wasn’t going to wake up in time that I just couldn’t fall asleep. We all made it to the station on time, though we did have a few scary moments when we were missing two of our party—even as we saw the train approaching. Just as the train was slowing down to a stop, we heard them running to the platform. Talk about getting there in the nick of time!
Bruges was a very quaint town—old, small, cozy. We stayed at a hostel about 15 minutes by foot from the old city center, which made a really nice walk as the weather was pretty nice. My heart was stolen by the beautiful and old architecture, and of course, the chocolatiers. They call Bruges the “Venice of Belgium,” and we could see that for ourselves. The canals were pretty prominent and visible from almost every main street. I think my pictures can speak more about Bruges than I can, but I was absolutely charmed by this city.
The only damper about the trip was when we went looking for a restaurant for dinner. Many of the sit-down restaurants in Bruges were quite sophisticated and very nice—which also means they were very expensive. The town got very quiet as we continued to search for a place, and many small diners were closed already, so we settled on the cheapest place we can find before long, which was an Italian eatery that was still open. The cheapest thing on the menu was a margherita pizza, for 9 Euros. It was…decent. What we also had to deal with was that our server would not let us NOT order anything to drink, otherwise we couldn’t sit down and dine in the restaurant. I forced myself to get a tiny bottle of Coke (or cola, as the Europeans call it) for 3 Euro because I did not want to pay 2.50 Euros for a glass of tap water.
Thinking back, even though I almost regretted eating at a restaurant that night, since it was the night of Chinese New Year, I suppose it turned out to be a good thing. It was an okay meal, but I shared it with great people, in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There are so many things that can be improved, but I wouldn’t have it another way. 🙂
It’s hard to say which I prefer: the whimsical charm of Bruges, or the historical glamour of Brussels. But holistically speaking, if I had to pick a place to return to, it would be Brussels.
My highlights of our trip to Brussels were pretty much all of the below, in no particular order:
– The majestic and beautiful Grand Place (or Grand Square)
– Becky burgers – A Brussels specialty with one of the best sauces I’ve had. Even more amazing on a cold day. But great anytime.
– Being serenaded by a wonderful cellist in an old, nearly empty stone courtyard.
– The Rene Magritte Museum. Surrealism is the closest thing I’ll ever get to modern art, and it was a wonderful museum. One of the best 2 Euros I have spent. Probably ever will.
*Pictures are probably not allowed. I say probably because we were allowed to bring cameras with us. And I told quite a few pictures by the time one of us got told to not take any.*
But here are some of my favorites:
– Seeing a HUGE chocolate Mannekin Pis, directly across the narrow street from the actual Mannekin Pis.
– The best pralines, tiramisu truffle, and salted caramel chocolate I have ever tasted. Ever.
– BELGIUM FRIES. Oh my goodness, we lived on that stuff. 3.90 Euros for the best combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, special cocktail sauce, perfectly caramelized onions and the best golden fries you will ever see.
– Seeing the European Union Parliament. It’s a beautiful building with recreational open spaces surrounding it. There’s even a basketball court, where we saw children shooting hoops. It must be quite a life, just to say, “Let’s go shoot some hoops today at the EU.” Yep.
– My Liege waffle with Speculoos—this amazing cookie butter spread that I never knew I would like. Yay for trying new things!
– Finding out that our hostel was actually a hotel, and a hotel chain at that.
– Getting to the beautiful Museum of Military History at the perfect time. We took great pictures with the columns illuminated by the setting sun.
– And more fries.
– Our Brussels excursion that turned into a karaoke jam sesh when we joined with the other Tauschies staying at the same hotel.
– Seeing the bright sun for the first time in days! It was beautiful!
My first trip out of Germany was quite a success. Including my gifts and food and chocolates, I spent about 35 Euros for the whole trip, thanks to the amazing (and filling) Belgium Fries. I couldn’t wait till my next trip!