When I enter the bus parking lot behind the train station in Amsterdam, a lot of people are already waiting in the misty grey of the rainy autumn night. The weather doesn’t seem to disturb them at all: despite looking a little bit tired, they all seem really keen to start the trip and explore Belgium. It’ a short get-a-way from the hometown, just for a day. The bus driver has some trouble to squeeze the coach around the narrow turn at the station, fifteen minutes later we are finally all checked in and seated in the cosy warm bus. Soon after, everybody is asleep, and some don’t even wake up when the bus stops in the different cities to load in new travellers and continues to glide through the night.
When I open my eyes there is already daylight shining through the windows of the bus. A short word with the driver confirms we are still on the highway, but getting close to our first stop: Bruges. When we roll onto the parking briefly after, the sun is shining outside and we immediately leave the bus to make it on time for our amazing boat tour through the canals of Bruges. The slightly rushed walk to the dock wakes us all up; the sun is shining and the boats are already waiting when we arrive. As soon as everybody has taken their seats on the narrow and long boats – perfect for the little canals and low bridges of Bruges- the cruise begins. The water is peacefully reflecting the morning sky, here and there are some ducks swimming between fallen leaves. We glide through the beautiful scenery of Bruges, past gorgeous individual houses and alongside trees, churches and short landing stages that belong to cute private homes with garden next to the water. The boat driver is providing us with some interesting facts about Bruges and the buildings we are passing by. Sometimes we need to duck our head in a little to fit under the bridges, we laugh a lot and enjoy the early sunbeams on our faces.
Way too early the boat trip ends and we move on to explore Bruges by foot and in little groups. Everyone is free to explore where and what they want. Next to the boating spot is a nice flea market that sells antiquities. We stroll through the stands, buy some nice earrings here and a glass vase with cute ornaments there. While leaving the market behind us, the first chocolate stores come in sight: already outside we notice the delicious smell of chocolate and our mouths start to water. The fight for the choice of the best chocolate store starts. Criteria taken into account for the choice are: creative design of the pralines, nice décor of the store itself and price of the delicious little chocolates. In the end we discover a store that not only sells pralines, but also offers real melted hot chocolate in huge cups: Little chocolate pieces are served in a cup that itself is made of delicate milk chocolate. After having poured them into the hot milk, stirring the mix creates thin strips of chocolate that are circularly spreading through the milk and cause a creamy foam. After we finished the huge cup, we are suffering from the sugar high and slowly start to move our chocolate-filled bodies back to the bus, to catch up with the rest and continue the journey to Brussels.
After one and a half hours, we can finally see it getting bigger at the horizon: the famous Atomium, landmark of Brussels. Constructed in 1985 for the Brussels World Fair “Expo 58” (just like the Eiffel tower), the Atomium stands for democracy and peaceful interaction between the different nations of the European Union as well as a sign for technological progress and the possibility of a brighter future for many citizens. The sunlight reflects from the massive silver bowls of the Atomium and the whole construction is just gigantic. The closer we walk towards it after having left the bus, the bigger it gets until I finally have to put my head right back to still be able to see the whole construction. We take a brief photo-break so that everyone can realize their more or less creative photo ideas with the monument. Ever since the Atomium also contains a museum, everyone is free to decide not to join the 30 minutes bus ride to Brussels, but instead visit the museum and then follow us to Brussels by public transport later. A chance that nobody takes, Brussels itself promises just too much fun to go to a museum instead, I assume.
We all hop back on the bus and it doesn’t take long until we are dropped off right in the city centre of Brussels. Since we are all hungry, we walk together to the two famous fry-stores “Fritland” and “Friterie Tabora”. Funny enough (we learn), French fries doesn’t have a French origin, as the name seems to imply. The French Fries that we all love and cherish on hungover days are actually a Belgium invention. Since Belgians also speak French in certain regions of the country, the American soldiers during the First World War assumed that they were located in France. Therefore they named the golden-brown potato slices that their meals consisted in for big parts “French Fries”. Poor Belgians, because of the misleading name they probably barely ever get the well-deserved credits for this genius invention. Opinions over the taste of the fries of both stores in comparison are mixed within the group. Students living in the Netherlands say they notice no big difference to the fries that they can buy in their hometown and that therefore the long queue outside not worthwhile. Important to mention though that Dutchies are also known for making amazing fries these days. Travellers from other, seemingly less fries-based countries look while eating like they discovered the beautiful world of crusty deep-fry with ketchup and mayo for the first time – and don’t plan on leaving it any time soon. In the end it is probably a matter of taste, and lunch-alternatives are offered on every corner for less fast-food affiliated travellers, so everybody is able to find something tasty.
After having had a decent lunch break that allows everyone to relax a bit, those that want to explore a bit more with us trip leaders are invited to join us for a walk over the famous central square of Brussels called “Grand Place” and from there all the way up the hill to the Palace of Justice. While sweating in the sun of what resembles a delayed summer day, a brave group of people creeps up the hill towards the palace. On the last meters the steep way up is luckily facilitated by a free-standing elevator that is for free, but urges a certain degree of head for height when looking through the class bottom and -walls. When finally reaching the Palace of Justice, the pain of the climb is forgotten immediately and everybody agrees that the stunning view all across town makes up for the exhaustion. A picture marathon starts on who can make the nicest pose with Brussels rooftops in the background, followed by extensive chilling in the sun on the big stone posts in front of the palace. The rest of the afternoon is free time which gives everyone the option to explore the parts of Brussels that they are interested in.
A bunch of girls and I decide to check out Brussels little shops along the smaller side streets. The black vintage jeans that I am purchasing at this occasion, will be one of my favourite pieces of clothing soon after and has been worn almost every single day since the trip, if persistent smell and dirt didn’t force me to sacrifice them to the washing machine every once in a while (of course on the short washing programme). The other girls find some nice shirts in a kilo-shop (highly recommended, so cheap!), buy some postcards to send them to their beloved ones or just stroll around with the group and enrich our shopping experience with their critical judgement. When we arrive back in the busier streets around the central square, our stomachs come back to life and remind us that the fries are already way too long ago, especially considering the physical challenge we’ve taken on in the meantime. Luckily the choice of what to eat isn’t hard, since we still have to tick a point of our bucketlist: Belgian Waffles! While some go for the “light version” with only butter and sugar, I decide to spoil myself with the highly calorific hardcore version that unites my monthly sugar consumption in just one meal: a big fat waffle with Nutella, sugar, banana and cream. The resulting piece of art melts on my tongue and I have to admit free of any jealousy or national pride: the Belgian Waffles are the best waffles I have ever come across. Not only will I remember them because of the delicious chocolaty-sweet taste-explosion in my mouth, but also because they probably settled directly around my hips and will stay with me forever. ☺
After having wandered through the city for a bit longer, twilight is starting to flood the streets and the last beams of sunlight disappear behind the horizon. Luckily Brussels has almost as much to offer during night than during day. With the other travellers we agreed to catch up at a bar called “Delirium” that sells the famous Belgium beer. Approaching the bar, which turns out to be more a side-street full of bars that are all called delirium (they all belong together), we figure out that we were not the only ones that appreciate Belgian beer. The place is incredibly crowded and we soon realize that finding space in one of the bars with a bigger group of people is going to be next to impossible. Luckily spontaneity and creativity is one of the strengthens of a proper traveller, and we simply agree to all stay outside and send some people in that get beers in plastic cubs for everyone. “Beer for take-away” so to say. The beer finally causes even the more quiet, introvert members of the group to overcome their shyness, and soon everybody is chatting with everybody, and the air is full of positive vibes and laughter.
When we start walking back to the bus about one hours later, everybody is tired of the long day, but I can see a lot of smiles and – if I had a close look – some beer moustaches on the happy faces of the travellers. When the bus starts gliding through the darkness to drop us off safely at our hometowns, most of them are already asleep – exhausted by the outdoors and slightly drowsy from the beer. What an amazing trip, I can’t believe how much I got to see and do within just one day. It almost feels like we have already been travelling for a couple of days all together and some of the people on board I will see again soon for sure. In the early morning hours, when I sink into my soft bed in Amsterdam (that admittedly exceeds the comfort of a travel coach seat), I dream of little chocolates, waffles, new friendships and the unforgettable, indescribable feeling of being on the road.
by Julia Nürnberger0