On Belgian Waffles, Beer, and Chocolate
And on the kindness of French people and how the Gardens of Versailles are something else.
Or: Why I shouldn’t title blog posts.
So by this point I am assuming that you have seen the blog photos and eagerly anticipate any and all stories that come with it.
Basically what I mean to say that I really, really, really hate early wake up calls.
But guess what.
There are still two to three more early wake up calls, the soonest of which being this coming Monday when I have to say and wave my final goodbyes to Paris and start the next chapter of my Eurotrip life and consequently of this blog.
But for now, let us start with Belgium. Or specifically the two-day trip my sister and I took to visit Bruges and Bruxelles. And yes it is Bruxelles, and not Brussels, because maybe I have been here for too long. (or not long enough, as the case may be)
Travelling by train really is the best way to travel, and there is nothing that can compare. The longer that I stay here and the more travel that I do via train, the more I come to appreciate it. Absolutely quiet smooth fast and fine, it makes me sad that trains are not more popular state side. So we slept a little on the train, myself engrossed in this fantastic book – which I highly recommend you all to read called The Night Circus. Trains leave and arrive promptly on time, and there is no headache to get through customs or security. While I’m no fan of being in confined spaces by many people for prolonged periods of time, trains are about as accommodating as one can get.
Bruges – made more famous among American tourists by the 2008 Colin Farrell film In Bruges – is as much a gingerbread cookie house paradise as it is The Venice of The North.
While yes, the air does smell a little different there – I’m not sure why at all – once it settles in your nose, it’s not so bad. Christina was absolutely amazed by the amount of bicycles they have in Bruges, but I told her that it’s nothing. She needs to see Amsterdam. But we did almost get run over once or twice by bicyclists.
We were lucky, the sun decided to come out and play bringing the weather up to a warm 25 degrees and sunny, perfect to spend the day taking hundreds of pictures and lolligagging between plazas looking at bad postcard designs and simply taking the sun as we enjoyed our Belgian chocolates. (Which are not as hideously overpriced as they would make you believe)
Christina had never been in a hostel before, so when I told her that A) she needed to bring a towel and B) we would be sharing the room with 6 other strangers, she looked a little aghast and grossed out. She quickly got over it however when I showed her our hip new accommodations. Hostels are for the youth, and while yes they can be a little out of the comfort zone for some, it provided a place to hang out and be in a different environment.
Bruges is a Dutch speaking place, and Bruxelles French. While they both speak English, and I was happy to try my hand at French (they spoke back to me in French! Success!), I find that Dutch makes this adorable-English like language and I want to learn how to speak it eventually, even if they do throw in 5 vowels next to each other.
Being first-timers to both cities we had to do the most touristy terrible things, and that meant buying the chocolates and the beers and anything in between. Both Bruges and Bruxelles have enough to do to keep a person occupied for a day easily, but I wouldn’t dare suggest that anything beyond 2 days would keep a person riveted.
(Not like, say, Paris, but I may be biased on this particular subject)
Bruxelles was raining, but that doesn’t much surprise me, as Paris rains every day. It was wise to bring a raincoat, however. And of course we had to see the Manneken Pis, because if anything makes Bruxelles famous, it has to be that. So when you see the crowd of Asian tourists with cameras out, you know you’ve made it.
By contrast Bruxelles is mostly ugly to Bruges, but it is bigger and a more lived-in city (it is the capital of the EU) than Bruges. However when the light hits the trees (trees in a city, imagine that) there is a certain charm to it. Bruxelles however, possibly is more expensive than Paris, and that in and of itself is a hard pill to swallow. I’m not sure where or how the money comes in, or how the ordinary Joe lives his life, but I never saw graffiti in Bruges, and only in the skate park we happened to stumble upon in Belgium.
Bruxelles is quite an artsy city, and there was a thriving artist lifestyle, bohemian in some sense, running right along the bureaucrats. It’s a strange juxtaposition.
Bruges supposedly doesn’t like tourists, but I found that to be a lie. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we weren’t French. I didn’t sleep much the evening we spent in Bruges, many people coming and going at all hours of the night makes it difficult for sleep – but that might be the charm of a hostel and the energy one only has in their 20s to be able to function the next day. I would say that a stuffy head makes it a little harder, but two heads are better than one and we managed to leave with everything we arrived with.
The chocolate was delicious, and even though I didn’t get the chance to try a Belgian beer in Belgium (I had caught the sniffles – something I am still dealing with, and with such good timing too) as I had a stuffy head, I’m pleased to say that I have had a fair share of the more famous ones. (I like Belgian White’s okay?) We did take plenty of pictures of them though. And any hour seems to be fair game to enjoy some of the world-famous Belgian beer.
Overall, I would say that Bruges is more beautiful, but Bruxelles is filled with more life. I read somewhere that in Bruges, tourists significantly outstrip the local population, and while interesting to meet people, feels a little more particle board and glitter. The people everywhere are tall and super polite, to the point of “please thank you enjoy your meal, please” and I in turn try to do good-by them.
Bruges has many horse carriages, and you can always hear the clip clopping of the horses shoes as they walk down the wide allies of Bruges. Bruxelles significantly more cars, but because this is Paris everyone walks everywhere. And neither city is so bit that you cannot fairly easily navigate it.
We made friends here and there, stumbled upon old men playing Pétanque, smoking cigars, and watched them for the better part of an hour and learned the rules of the game. (Quite simple, really) Christina tried to get on a skateboard in Bruxelles and amidst the flailing stayed still long enough for a picture while I was doubled over in laughter.
We got lost with the maps, and asked directions only to find out that North on the map is not North at all, and up is down. Makes sense. The days are long, as the sun rises at 6 am and doesn’t set until close to/past 10 pm, and the days were spent in the street taking us where ever we felt we needed to go, amidst the sea of tourist destinations.
It was raining and then cold, then sunny and warm, and when we were tired we took a respite inside a hard-searched for cafe – clearly not Paris with cafes on every corner – looking at where we had walked in zigzag patterns and looking for the reccomended Chinese place.
We ate fries with mayo and the potatos were perfect.
And then it was Thursday and we were back in France with aching shoulders from lugging backpacks on our backs all day and it was my final fencing practice.
Thursdays are always quieter than Tuesdays, but we had a fine crew of about 10 people, and somewhere halfway between practice they all call me over, standing in a semi-circle and Renee speaks slowly enough for me to understand him with only about a 15 second delay – an improvement from not at all – and they are presenting me with a signed shirt from nearly everyone in the club and the president comes and kisses me twice on the cheeks pressing the shirt into my hands.
I felt like hugging them all. I know that there is this weird double-standard of touching – bises are perfectly acceptable for example, but otherwise please don’t get into my personal space except when we’re crammed into the metro – but I really felt like hugging them all.
Goodbyes are sad and hard, and so Phillipe spent the practice taking pictures best as he could, of the people so that I wouldn’t forget them.
As if I could.
They have been some of the nicest and gentlest folk, accepting and warm, and while I’ve the bruises to show that I am indeed NOT an epee fencer, it really touched me that they would offer something as simple and honest as a signed shirt with a promise that I would always be welcome and to please come back soon. I know I didn’t have any gift to return to them, and as I struggled to hold myself back from hugging them and tripping over my tongue to express my gratitude, I am glad I gave my time when it was needed or asked for.
I only hope they know how special my time with them has been to me.
They didn’t have to become my friends, they didn’t have to let me join their club (and at such a discount too) but they did, easily and warmly, and I looked forward to spending my 2 nights a week working myself to the bruises and aching muscles just to spend 2 hours a practice with these people.
I also like to think my epee fencing has improved.
Tomorrow I promise to write more on the last few days of Paris; we went to Versailles today and my good friend flies in tomorrow – as it will be some of the last Paris posts for this blog.
However, it is 1 45 am and I too even need sleep from time to time.
That and we start the packing process tomorrow.
How sad I will be to leave Paris, I am already planning my return.