The nice thing about Dublin and London is that the people there speak English. Sure it is a bit different than American English, but at least I could understand some most of it. I landed in Belgium and had two language options: Dutch and French. How much Dutch and French do I speak? None!
I often find myself thinking about this traveling experience as a game. The main objective is to get where you’re going without getting too lost on the way there. The difficulty of this game just increased dramatically. Game on!
Luckily some of the signs were in English, but everything else was in Dutch or French. I saw a sign in English that said “City Centre Bus Tickets.” That looks promising! I walked over, purchased a ticket, and went to find the bus I was supposed to get on.
The only issue with this was that I didn’t know where the City Centre was or where the hostel that I was staying was in relation to the bus stop. I hopped on a bus and asked the bus driver a question. He didn’t understand anything I said, the bus was leaving, so I got off before I ended up some place I shouldn’t be.
I went over and started looking at a map searching for some sort of information that would help me get where I’m going. I overheard a group of young travelers speaking English. I had been in Belgium for 15 minutes at this point and simply hearing words I understood was quite relieving.
I struck up a conversation with them and asked where they were headed. We chatted for a bit and realized we were headed to the exact same hostel. Yes! They also had no idea how to get to the hostel, but we decided to figure it out together. They mentioned a train that would take us there.
We went down a couple of levels in the airport to where the trains are at. We looked at the prices and they said there was no way they are going to pay that, but they are going to get on the train anyways. I didn’t want the first thing I do in Belgium was to get caught riding a train without paying a ticket. I decided to go back to the bus station and figure it out myself.
After a few minutes I see them walking around again. There was a guard checking all the tickets so they couldn’t get on. In the meantime they had figured out how to get to our hostel. After a bit of traveling and walking around like some lost tourists, we eventually arrived where we were supposed to be.
I checked in, dropped my bags off, and washed up a bit. The hostel was super nice. It was way better than the previous hostels I was in. Everything was clean, there were personal night lights, individual lockers, and outlets right by the bed.
I headed down to the lobby to meet up with my new friends.
We took a few steps down the cobblestone street and we were right in the main square called the Grand Place. We stood in the square, listened to jazz music (there was a jazz festival going on), drank Belgian beer, and appreciated the intricate buildings around us.
We were hungry. Time to search for a restaurant. After 15 minutes we ended up at an overpriced restaurant.
I ordered chicken parmesan noodles. “We don’t have that,” said the waiter.
So I ordered spaghetti and meat sauce. “We are out of that too,” he said.
So I ordered lasagna. I don’t even like lasagna!
We waited about 20 minutes and ate some bread. Then the waiter comes over to our table and told us that they actually don’t have any of the food we ordered.
What?! We just waited twenty minutes and you’re just now finding out that you don’t have the food we ordered? I’d never been at a restaurant that didn’t have food before.
We grabbed our things and headed back out into the city. Good thing that happened because this is when we discovered one of Brussel’s gems: delicious Belgian waffles that only cost 1 euro each.
I had two. So much better than lasagna!
We went to a bar afterward, had a beer, and then headed back to the hostel to call it a night.
After a great night sleep I woke up a bit hungry. Can you guess what I had for breakfast?
This is when I realized I would probably only eat waffles the entire time I was in Brussels.
I went back to the hostel to write a blog post, but I wanted some coffee. Coffee is an essential ingredient to any blog post that I create. I grabbed a coffee and headed back to the hostel.
Instead of writing the blog post I decided to make some notes on everything I’d been doing the past few days. This is one of the most time consuming things I’ve been doing, but when I go back and write the blogs its extremely helpful. As I was finishing this up a fellow traveler walked in with a huge backpack. I made a comment about her backpack and we chatted for a bit. She was doing a round the world trip in a month. So awesome!
I put my things up stairs and then headed out on a walking tour. Our guide was originally from Venezuela and he had lived in Brussels for about a year and a half. He showed us all of the sites around Grand Place.
We learned about how the the Grand Place started as a simple market square where merchants would sell their goods. All of the houses around the square were owned by the different guilds. The only guild that still owns their original house is the brewery guild. I guess beer never goes out of style!
I saw the house where Carl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto at which point he got kicked out of Belgium after he published it. I learned that famous cartoons such as Tin Tin and the Smurfs were created in Belgium as well!
Then we arrived at one of Brussel’s main tourist attractions… a statue of a little boy peeing. So I got a picture with it! Its been there for 600 years, but has been replaced a few times since people steal it. the last time someone stole it was in the 1970’s. Some kids got drunk and decided it would be a good idea to take the statue. They eventually got caught and their punishment was to sew outfits for the statue. What a great punishment!
We stopped at the king’s “office” which was a huge building. Apparently it wasn’t big enough for the king to live in so head a building 4 times as big built outside the city.
After the walking tour I went to Fritland with a friend I met on the tour. He is from Canada and was in Europe for a wedding. We decided to go on a day trip to Ghent and Bruges together the next day.
We added each other on Facebook and decided to figure out the details later.
I went to a bar for a bit since the beer was only one euro and I figured it would be a good place to meet some people. I sat there and watched a soccer game for a bit before I met a large group of Spanish students studying abroad in Brussels. We all talked and joked around for an hour or so before they had to go back. It was a school night after all…
I got some more waffles and headed back to the hostel. My friend from the walking tour wasn’t getting my Facebook messages so I decided I was still going on the day trip even if we couldn’t get a hold of each other.
I woke up the next morning, walked to the hostel check in office about 10 minutes away to let them know I booked another night and was just curious if I could stay in the same room. He said I had to switch rooms so that means I had to check out of the hostel, and then check back in later on in the afternoon.
I didn’t want to carry around my backpack all day so I asked if there was somewhere I could store everything in the meantime. He said I could leave all of my belongings in a storage closet at the hostel and then come back and check in later. He told me to speak with Izelda who will be cleaning the rooms. “Does she speak English?” I asked. “Of course she does,” replied the guy working at the front desk.
I headed back tot he hostel to find Izelda. I founder her cleaning the room across from mine. “Are you Izelda,” I asked. She nodded. I explained my situation and asked for her help.
Then she said “Spanish” or “French” and said she doesn’t speak English. Uh oh. This wasn’t Izelda. She had absolutely no idea what I just explained to her.
Technology to the rescue! I got out my translator app, spoke into it, and then it read back what I said to her in French. She understood and helped me out. I thanked her and off I went to the train station!
I still couldn’t get ahold of my friend that was going to go on the tour with me so it looked like it was going to be a solo mission. The guy that lead the walking tour said it would only cost 12 euros to get to Bruges and back. I went to the ticket kiosk to purchase a ticket. It was 29 euros.
Nope. Not doing it!
I didn’t have internet at the station so I went back to the hostel to use the wifi. I purchased my ticket online for 12 euros to Bruges and decided to skip Ghent since it was already getting late.
I hopped on the train and off I went.
I arrived in Bruges and started walking around. I felt my phone vibrate so I glanced at it and saw that my friend also just arrived in Bruges. Perfect! We decided to meet up for lunch.
We ended up chatting with a couple from the UK that was traveling across Europe on a motorcyle. The husband was an engineer and used to work at Qualcomm so we talked about San Diego for a bit before they took off.
After lunch we decided to grab some Belgian beers from a grocery store. We saw a sign that said 10 cents above the beer. Nice! So we grabbed a couple and walked up to the counter. It wasn’t 10 cents.
“I thought these are 10 cents each?” asked my friend.
“No, we aren’t that cheap!” the lady said as she laughed at us dumb tourists. So we paid more than 10 cents for our beers and walked around Bruges for a bit. We wandered around the cobblestone streets in awe of the canals, old buildings, and great scenery.
I had a map that locals made and one of the points of interest on the map was a hike. Awesome! We eventually arrived at the “hiking” spot. It was simply a windmill on top of a grassy hill about 15 feet up from street level. It was by far the easiest hike I’d ever done!
We headed back tot he train station and went back to Brussels. We found a really cool local restaurant and ate some delicious food. I went back to the hostel office, got the combination to get my things out of the locker, and checked into my new room.
Then we ran into the group of friends I met the other day at the airport. We all hung out in the lobby for a bit with some other Americans and played some card games. After awhile I headed to bed.
Belgium was a really fun experience filled with Belgian waffles, beer, chocolate, and frites, but it was time to head to the next city… wherever that might be.
I woke up that morning without a clue where I was going to go. Antwerp sounded interesting so I booked a hostel there. I then realized that it was going to be too expensive to get there. So I cancelled the booking, booked a hostel in Amsterdam, looked up the train times, packed up my stuff, bought a ticket, and off I went to Amsterdam!
This post was written on the upper level of a train from Salzburg to Vienna. There are some VERY talkative teenagers behind me, two ladies to the left of me that are annoyed with the teenage girls (one actually just got up and moved), the incredible Austrian landscape out the window to my right, and a big smile on my face =]