Travel - Europe

Gardens and Seas

05. Brussels, Brudges, Oostende – Belgium

[Actual Trip Date: August 28 – 29, 2010]

Before traveling to Belgium, I’ve heard numerous amount of things about the country, mostly along the lines of ‘boring’ and ‘can be explored in two hours’. I have to say, they’re all wrong.

I haven’t been to many places yet, but Belgium is by far my favorite country I’ve seen. In contrast to Amsterdam’s sullen mood, Belgium is filled with blithe and colors and a sense of tranquility. There aren’t a great amount of tourists overwhelming your senses and the fact that we traveled through there with sunny skies and barely a hint of a rain cloud aided our mood and outlook.

We went to three cities in Belgium: Brussels, Brudges, and Oostende. Here I discovered the addiction that comes with backpacking: freedom. While it was lovely having a friend show us around Amsterdam, the ability to arrive in an unknown city with everything in a different language and being able to navigate around to attractions, parks, ordering off menus in different languages, and figuring out the train system is absolutely empowering. I can see why all my cousins rave and rant about their adventures and desires to go back.

Brussels was all about beauty and sunshine for me. Despite the few minutes of rain when we first arrived, the rest of the day was beautiful. Every corner was turned was refreshing with delicious breezes and simplistic nature. The intricacy of architecture and history were woven together into one in the magnificent Cathedrale, Palais Royal, and the Park van Brussel.

If anyone knows anything about me, they know that I love the contrast of colors and I received plenty of that walking through the gorgeous gardens leading to lively streets and light green statues.

Brussels was a blast of religion and nature appreciation entwined. Being in the Cathedrale was breathtaking with the detailed statues and multi-colored glass pane windows. It’s a wonder how we busy and loud humans can just melt into silent, pensive ones with a change of scenery.

Well. Europe is a more quiet place than America.

The only disappointing but expected part was hiking all around town to find the little statue of Mannequin Piss. Quite funny.

If there’s anything I enjoyed the most in Brussels was the waffle truck. Cheap Belgium mouth-watering waffles with sugar crystals inside andΒ  a scoop of icecream on top. I had strawberry ice cream which tastes nothing like strawberry ice cream in America. It’s better since the strawberries in Europe are the best [small and ever so decadently sweet].

What was the best thing about traveling in my group of friends? We did things in baby steps so we adjusted. Had a friend took us around first in Amsterdam and then we decided to navigate ourselves in Belgium [also helped that my room mate is an excellent navigator] and staying in a two-person “hotel” in Belgium before moving onto an actual hostel later in France. Our group also adjusted into certain roles. It’s quite amusing. We have three great navigators, leaders of the maps and routes, a comedian to keep us light on our toes, a photographer with an excellent camera, and the pharmacy person which is me [I, despite being the smallest person, holds all the medications and first aid kit].

Traveling in groups of friends teaches you many things. Being in the proximity of each other twenty-four seven and seeing things you wouldn’t normally see with other people makes the bond special. I mean, we’re all going to get irritated at some point with one and another, but the thing about friendships is that we accept and move on and apologize. It’s a journey of trust.

Brudges is a wonderful, quaint town. Less touristy than Brussels and more quiet with cobblestone, winding roads and small houses decked with colorful pots of flowers. I think it’s a weird, humbling experience looking out onto the roads and then picturing a world many years ago of world wars and gun shots firing and people too timid and scared to come out of their houses. Then here we are walking through a calmer time in history. So many times I’ve experienced these moments where I feel like I’m walking through a dream and I’m not really in Europe. I can’t seem to wrap my mind around it.

I’m so thankful to be here.

Brudges was where we had our fill of Belgium chocolate. Mhm. Mhm. Delicious. I prefer the milkier, lighter types of chocolate to the darker ones but one of my friends managed to pick a dark one that melted in my mouth perfectly without wrangling a grimace out of me. There was chocolate in many different shapes and pictures, chocolate over fruit, and just large hunks of chocolate made from different countries. Amazing.

Another great thing about backpacking? The spontaneous decisions. Like ours when we decided to get near the North Sea, taking a train to Oostende. It’s not really a city where tourists would visit, but it was worth it! I’ve never lived by a sea and every time I’m next to one, I enjoy every single moment. Being on the extremely windy pier with the salty smells whipping around your face, throwing your hair in every possible direction and having the intensity of the wind literally force tears out of your eyes – woah. It was incredible.

And the plus side? Besides picking shells and laughing with friends, the fresh seafood. Made my mom pretty jealous when I showed her the pictures.

This is a country I wouldn’t mind at all returning to.

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