Monday, February 1, 2016

When you go to Belgium and they're famous for waffles but you only eat half of a waffle

You can kind of get a feel for what a country is like by learning about a) what it's famous landmarks are and b) what food it is famous for. I guess that's why I liked Belgium so much. Landmarks - a statue of a boy peeing, named one of the most underwhelming monuments in the world. Food - waffles, fries, beer, chocolate. Belgium was cool (like -6ÂșC cool).

Arrived - got food. Ashamed to say it was McDonalds because there was literally nowhere else to go. Impressions: 
  • Why are there so many soldiers carrying guns around? 
  • Pyjama pants are not warm enough to wear outside for long periods of time
  • New Balances (they only shoes I had) are very unwaterproof
  • Puffer jackets are also unwaterproof ---> it still took me 2 days to buy an umbrella
  • Cobbled streets are not ideal to walk on
Walking tours are the way to go - our tour guide was from Slovenia and happily chatted away to the Argentinian psychologist in our tour group in Spanish, then turned to us in English. We met in the square (aka tourist metropolis #1) and she gave us a run down of the history there. Interesting fact - the Communist Manifesto was written in the square where we were. Little evidence of communism here though - most of the (circa 1600) buildings were gilded in gold and Starbucks was prominently vending its 'coffee' nearby.

Walking tour then led us to some famous monuments which were very close by each other. Mannekin Pis was one of them - there are many stories behind the fame, including the fact that a small boy saved the country by accidentally peeing on a bomb (or something). In the picture you can see some of the people from the tour group posing for photos, which is what tourists do. The Indian man on the right kindly gave us an Indian treat at the end of the tour, it was like peanut brittle, and very yum, so he deserves a special mention. Also it shows the perspective of how small the statue actually is.

Swedes from the tour group in front of the statute of the boy peeing
Obviously someone had to copy the famous statue, and #equality, so the owner of a bar replicated it, this time of a girl popping a squat. Not as old as the Mannikin Pis. What other country would have that as a monument? It was also across from Delirium, a famous beer bar with many beers, of which the menu is something like 1000 pages long. We went there expecting it, and only got a double sided A4 page.

Janneke Pis
 The Galerie du Roix was the first undercover mall in the world (I think). Good work, because it rains a lot in Belgium! It hosted beautiful window displays of chocolates and goods, and also a lovely cafe which we visited twice because the omelettes were delicious and made for a very budget-friendly brunch.
Galerie du Roix
 Belgian people were very friendly and welcoming - nobody seemed to be tired of the fact that you were just another tourist. They're also very adaptable - this king allowed a law to be passed making him not the king for a day, so the government could pass legislation allowing abortion. Good on him - and the statue is right in front of a church.
A cool king
The Belgian flag is also supposed to be sideways, as it is shown here in front of the Royal Palace.
The sideways flag
 The tour ended with a view of the city - no skyscrapers (the tallest building was the cathedral), just tiled rooftops and gloomy grey sky.
Gr8 weather
 As it was a few weeks after Christmas, some of the streets still had their pretty street lights up, and here you can see Mollie and a new friend #yayfortravel Ria appreciating the beauty of these lights.
Appreciating the pretty street lights

They're so rich they paint their buildings in gold

Somewhere super close to where the communist manifesto was written

Rooftops in Ixelles
The tour on the first day finished with some new friends made, and we went and got fries at a place recommended by the tour guide, then later on, responsibly sampled some of the Belgian beers and then shared some waffles. Belgian waffles definitely take the cake, they're gooey and crispy and not too sweet and nutella is the ideal accompaniment. It's a pity I could only eat half because I am craving one now!

I was really looking forward to catching up with some friends while in Europe, and one of the first people I got to see was an exchange student my family hosted several years ago. Maud is Swiss but studying in Brussels, and I was lucky to be able to stay in her apartment for a couple of nights. We went to a weekend market and a comic book store, and got to see the cool view from her apartment. In reality, there really wasn't enough time to catch up properly because I was heading to Bruge the next day and to an old friend of Mum's that afternoon. But hopefully there will be another chance!

I had been in touch with one of Mum's friends who lived near Belgium, and managed to take a train south to Brain-le-comte to meet her and her lovely family. I somehow managed to get lost in the centre of town while searching for wi-fi and directions. Getting lost means seeing things you don't expect to see. Right in the town square, there were two groups of people dressed up in crazy costumes - animal onesies, and fluorescent clothes, with brass band instruments, who began marching up and down the street. It was quirky and cool, and I would have missed it had I not got lost. Just a few minutes walk out of the city centre was her home. I was recognised instantly as my mother's daughter when I knocked on the front door, and spend a cozy afternoon talking to her friend and her family about travel, Europe, New Zealand, etc. I absolutely love the chance to meet locals when I travel, and it was well worth it. 

Brussels might not have been on my list of travel destination originally, but I really loved it and would definitely go back. 

Next up on the blog - Bruges!

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