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Bruxelles, la capitale de l'Europe

Begonias, Waffles and Bier

overcast 70 °F

“Remember what Bilbo used to say: It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
– JRR Tolkien

Not that it's necessarily a bad thing. Brussels has always been one of those cities that was never conveyed to me in a positive light. They'd say OH! Its got churches and homeless people and beer like anywhere else. Not really worth the trip. Quite the contrary. My quick trip to Brussels, Belgium is proof that it is one of the most underestimated cities in Europe. Sure, it has a lot of what other major cities have to offer, but each city is unique and intriguing in its own way. I don't think its fair to judge a place on someone else's experience. Its not fair to the city, nor is it fair to the traveler. A major part of an outlook on a new adventure is just that.. the adventure. Everything that you as a wanderer get out of the experience. The only opinion of a new place that is true is of the one who has personally been there. So who was I to judge? Hence despite all the haters on the capital of Europe, why not hop on over across the pond and check it out for myself? Done and done.

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For me, that initial step into a new place can be pretty nerve-racking. The excitement, the confusion, the variety of languages you hear, constantly in search of one that sounds familiar.. just to simply be pointed in the right direction so you can get the show on the road. Public transportation directly from an airport into a city center is gloriousness in itself. A+ for Belgium in my book already. Two escalators down from the arrivals terminal took me to the friendly attendants for the train, who gave me my ticket, platform number and sent me on my way. About a 20 minute train ride took me from BRU to the Main Central Station, which dropped me off about a 10 minute walk away from my hotel, Hotel Saint-Gery. With the festivities going on in the heart of Brussels that weekend, it was a bit difficult to find a hostel at the last minute. We all know that's usually how my travels are, so I basically had no choice but to book this hotel. That being said, I would absolutely stay here again! The staff was so friendly and helpful, the room was fabulous and the location was perfectly ideal, close to anything and everything.

After dropping the backpack off, I set off towards the Grand Place square. Little did I know until a few days prior that Brussels hosts whats called a Flower Carpet. It is a carpet made of approximately 750,000 begonias beautifully laid out in front of the majestic Town Hall in the main square. This event is only held every two years. Crowds are inevitable in any major city, but oh my goodness. The carpet was a hit. Absolutely worth the trip. My attempt at selfies around varies angles of the carpet was a failed cause. Incredibly thankful for bystanders understanding my lonesome travel struggles! While waiting in line to view the carpet from the balcony of the beautiful Town Hall, I met some friendly Canadians and Parisians who, like most others I meet during my travels, do not even attempt to hide their surprise at my ability to hop across the Atlantic for a long weekend. I do envy those folks as well though. A short bus ride away from all these amazing events and experiences.. I would be so broke from constant travel! Anyways, one of the best 5 Euros I've ever spent. Although it was slightly chaotic making my way up to the balcony with all the other crazy tourists, the view of the entire square was absolutely breathtaking. Don't worry, I won't just leave it at that. More details of what I actually saw in that square follows!

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.
- Seneca

Guys, the weather in Brussels was so perfect that day. This Carolina girl in mid-August is usually fighting to hide the pit stains, so the 60-70 degree weather was welcomed. Since my eye had been on the highlight event of the visit, I had completely disregarded my need for food. I plopped my jetlagged bottom down in a small brunch restaurant adjacent to the square,. My nose immediately filled with some familiar smells. I saw the waiters pass by with waffles (duh!) eggs, french toast, pastries, cheeses, sliced meats, COFFEE. I NEED COFFEE, screamed my inner exhaustion. The entres seemed stupendous, so the fat kid in me convinced myself I needed one of everything. Do not limit yourself on the colorful and delicious wonderful goodness that can be added to your Belgian waffle. The options are endless. Belgian waffle shoppes were scattered about the main square, so I know a fancy waffle would be in my near future. I have to hand it to them.. just a plain waffle with some powdered sugar sprinkled on top sufficed just fine for breakfast. Afterwards, I proceeded to ask one of the waiters where I could find the little girls' room and after some simple banter, he pointed me upstairs in the right direction. Once I made my way down, I politely thanked him and wished him a good day. As I made my way out of the restaurant, I heard a distant "MISS, MISS!" The friendly waiter was attempting to catch up with me to simply jot down his phone number on my receipt! How freaking precious is that. Of course I have no phone that would work over there, so he asked if I would meet him around 2pm when he gets off work so he could show me around the city. Its about 10am at this point, so I say sure! Why not. I have plenty of time to set off on foot and explore some before then. Way to make a girl feel special, sir who's name I do not remember!

As beautiful as the flower carpet was, it was time to venture out of the centre and explore what other wonders Brussels had to offer. Just on the outskirts, the all great.. the all powerful.. the all not-so-giant Manneken Pis awaited. Now, don't get your hopes up with this one. There are people EVERYWHERE. More people than I've seen at the foot of any popular tourist attraction ever. And they are all surrounding this itty bitty bronze statue of a baby peeing into a fountain! All cultures of the world are fighting the crowd to get up close to take a selfie with the costumed statue. Gosh life is funny sometimes! Now what I stumbled upon next are one of my favorites to see.. those random markets that house all kinds of random goodies! From vases to statues to pottery to jewelry, its so cool to see the locals' masterpieces and how they will haggle for them. The market laid just on the footsteps of a gorgeous cathedral Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon. When approaching this church from the square, you don't quite realize the enormity of it. Its a fascinating sight to immerse yourself in, just taking in all of its splendor surrounded by not-so impressive neighbors. But don't worry. Brussels has its own way of surprising you sometimes, just around the corner. Cross the street towards the large patch of greenery and springs. You'll find Petit Sablon Square. It puts me in awe seeing the color green in such an urban setting. Trucking right along.. unfortunately the Palace of Justice was under some serious construction. But just beyond the huge building was a nice, simplistic view of Brussels from above. I hadn't quite realized how far UP I had walked! Not that that's a bad thing.. I needed the workout after that breakfast! Speaking of breakfast! By the time I made my way back towards the Grand Place, it was a little too late to catch my somewhat new found friend. I proceeded to the hotel to check in and freshen up.. there was a beer tour to be had! You all know that this was going to be an inevitable experience while in BELGIUM. DUH!

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Sandemans New Europe Beer Tasting Experience was next on the to do list! There are worse ways to spend a Friday evening. At the meeing place, I befriended a Canadian who moved to London and a Brazilian couple doing a quick European tour. Our guide was an Irish woman and her knowledge of beer was pretty impressive! Not that we should necessarily be surprised.. she is Irish after all! We learned all the blood sweat and tears it takes to perfect the Belgian brew. There is a reason their beer has been put on the map! We went to three different bars/pubs and got to try their specialty beers. God bless this tour because it introduced me to two of my new top favorite beers, Westmalle and Chimay. Holy heavens, they are a craft beer lovers dream. We wrapped up the evening with some frites.. fries.. side note, french fries were actually created in BELGIUM. The story goes that American troops during the war got these fries from folks who spoke French (that's what a majority of Belgium speaks FYI) so they assumed it was the Frenchmen! And so came to be the name French Fries. But Paris sure didn't have Fry Shoppes on every corner like Brussels does!

The next day was a smidgen more gloomy outside than the day before. Clouds were rolling in and the wind was picking up. Good thing I packed my umbrella from Dublin at the last minute! Ironically this was the day for the free walking tour as well.. but like I'm going to let a little rain stop me! With the flower carpet going on, we had to meet behind the stock exchange building. It sounds like it would be a hideous depressing place, but its actually quite beautiful. The hustle and bustle of a weekend morning was among us, so we fought to keep our group close as we moseyed towards the Grand Place. Now, going back to what I was explaining before about what I saw from the balcony of the Town Hall. The building directly across (of the top pictures on this blog, the one on the right) called the King's House, was apparently the old Nazi headquarters in Brussels. Its one of the most hated pieces of architecture in the city and surpringly one of the lower "must see" attractions on Trip Advisor. On the contrary, I thought this building was remarkable. I can imagine given its unfortunate past, it wouldn't be one of the most sought out after visits. My tour guide noted that as far as tourists are concerned, not many people are even aware of this fact. I would think the Belgians do not care to share this piece of history with its visitors, but WWII had such a tremendous impact on the world. Unfortunate or not, I think its very interesting to learn its truth and history, regardless of the reason for its infamization. Surrounding this building, along with the Town Hall and flower carpet, were beautiful Guild Houses. Thankfully we were able to visit the fabulous peeing baby once again and then made our way to the Cathedral of Saint Michael. It is nearly a spitting image of the Notre Dame in Paris. The lovely ringing bells welcomed us as we approached the inclining entrance steps. Just one of those sights that puts you in awe and makes you appreciate the moment.

“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do –
especially in other people’s minds.
When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then.
People don’t have your past to hold against you.
No yesterdays on the road.”
– William Least Heat Moon

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At this point, I'm chatting up some folks in my tour group. Two Americans going to business school in Madrid (Hi Sarah and Ryan!) who were just doing some Euro hopping during their month off. I'm always so grateful when folks take me under their wing when I go on these sporatic adventures. We wrapped up the walking tour together before finding a quaint bar off the main square. Food was certainly in the cards for us kids. Naturally in the touristy district, there were plenty of restaurants to choose from. Apparently, mussels are also a huge crowd pleaser in Brussels. Embarrassingly enough, being from coastal NC, I had never had the slimey shellfish before. Well, when in Ro...Brussels.. right? We ordered a huge bowl for ourselves, alongside a heaping pile of fries with a goblet of Chimay to wash it all down. Not too shabby! Gotta spoil ourselves on our last night in town! We decided on a round about around the square to walk off the grub before we moseyed to the bar.. big surprise that was next on the agenda right? We sure did go out with a bang! Of course, everyone who goes to Brussels has to visit the Delirium cafes. However, I would hardly call them cafes. They serve almost 2500 different beers from around the world! Proof that there is a little piece of heaven on earth. Naturally, the bar is packed full of wild, intoxicated tourists. And who do we share a table with? A bunch of American dudes! Well.. and one crazy Austrailian. Good Lord were they the epitome of American tourists! But naturally a big ol ball of fun. A 10am flight was going to kick my butt the next morning! I wish I could remember the name of the cherry flavored beer they had on draft. If any of you make it to Brussels, just ask which one it is, then order one, then tell me what it is!

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I was actually pretty heartbroken to leave Brussels. It was pleasantly surprising how much fun I had in such a short amount of time. Its awesome when just a mere long weekend can bring you such joy and adventure. When you get home.. or even before then.. sitting in the airport to leave, reality can't even kick in immediately. The heart is still streaming through the alleys of those unfamiliar streets most don't even care to know about. As usual, each trip is just what you make of it. The people, the food, the shenanigans ensued.. destinations can't be judged by others' opinions. The only one that really matters is your own and the experience you make it into. Brussels was a great on-foot excursion, easy to maneuver around and people as friendly as any other place I'd traveled to. Don't judge a book by its cover!

Posted by Courtster 09:16 Archived in Belgium

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