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 -6ºC 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|
|Galerie du Roix|
|A cool king|
|The sideways flag|
|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|
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.
Next up on the blog - Bruges!