When we first started this trip, Belgium was one of the places I was most excited about, and Amsterdam was the one city I wasn’t as excited about. In Belgium, I expected a clean, quaint and beautiful country with everybody drinking the greatest beer in the world (because I think Belgian style Abbey and Trappist beers are the best beers in the world because I’m a bit of a beer snob). On the other hand, I wasn’t as excited about the Netherlands and what Amsterdam would bring as Amsterdam had such a reputation about it, I had made up my mind that the city would be dirty, dark and dank, and all of the tourist/citizens would just be going there because of the coffeeshops and red light district or any of the other devilish delights that Amsterdam has to offer.
Well, as you might have guessed, my opinions were unfounded and wrong. Amsterdam was clean, relaxed, friendly, and nothing I expected it to be. I loved it. But with Brussels (that’s where we spent the vast majority of our time in Belgium), the opposite was true. While the part about the beer was mostly true (the Delirium Cafe was fantastic, and I really really wish there was one in my neighborhood selling over 2,500 beers from around the world), the rest of Brussels was, on the whole, dirty, disappointing, and so overwhelmed with immigrants that both Kelly and I couldn’t get a sense of a Belgian national identity. While it seems like a trivial or stupid bone to pick, in each of the 8 different countries that we had been to thus far, each had a specific national identify. Whether it was it’s language, look, food, countryside, coffeeshops or world war history. But when we got to our 9th country, Belgium, there really wasn’t anything specific to distance it from any other country or make it unique (except beer maybe).
But even if it was a little dirty and the majority of its inhabitants were immigrants/gypsies, don’t think that Brussels isn’t a city worth visiting and without great things to see or do. I already mentioned one of the greatest “bars,” the Delirium Cafe which is basically its own street with several different bars such as the original Delirium Care, Hoppy Loft, Delirium Monastarium, and Tequila House that had over 500 tequilas from around the world. In addition, the Grand Place was beautiful and the “Mannequin Pis” (a fountain of a naked little boy peeing) that has become a symbol and source of pride for the city of Brussels was entertaining if not all that underwhelming.
The best attraction we saw by far was on the edge of the city. The Atomium. A relic of the World Expo that was held in Brussels in 1956 (or something) that was too popular to remove, the Atomium is a 95 meter tall massive model of a collection of atoms. In each of the different balls (“atoms”) are lookout points, restaurants, and other great things all connected by lit up passage ways that you can walk through with a main large restaurant in the top atom/ball. We didn’t have the time/patience/money to go up in it, but the awe inspiring sight of it from the outside was good enough. If you’re ever in Brussels, you’ve gotta make the subway trek out to it (its not very far).
So after two nights in Brussels, the original plan was to head over to Bruges for a night. Unfortunately, we had completely forgotten to book where we would stay in Bruges in the scramble to figure out where we would stay in Paris. So we compromised and stayed in our nice “hostel” for another night and decided to take advantage of our Eurail Passes and take the free 45 minute train over to Bruges and spend the day walking around the picturesque town. Bruges is amazing. Bruges is beautiful. Bruges was exactly what I had imagined and expected all of Belgium to be like. While the weather was not very cooperative, Bruges was the perfect place to spend the day after two in the disappointing city center of Brussels. There’s no better way to talk about Bruges than to let the pictures do the talking.
All in all, while Belgium was the disappointing part of our trip so far (in my opinion), I’m still really glad we went and if it is ever on the way in your next tour d’Eruopa, go (to Bruges). Our next stop was our most expensive: PARIS!
-Cameron & Kelly