August 21st – Amsterdam to Brussels
Up at 7:30 and out the door by 8:30, we were sitting in a near empty first class car on our way out of Amsterdam by 9am. We had a short ride before we got off to switch trains in Rotterdam. Our train was scheduled to leave at 9:55, but when we got to the platform and checked the departure boards it said 9:55 +10. Ok, ten minute delay, no problem. When 10:05 came with no train, we checked the board again which now said 9:55 +55. Obviously they were having some technical problems to delay it that long.
We found a spot on the platform to drop our bags down while we waited. Train stations are great places to people watch, especially ones on the routes out of Amsterdam. A plain clothes man who looked like a biker version of Wilfogrd Brimley was walking around with a big dog, which we eventually guessed was a drug sniffing dog. A tall, greasy looking man dressed all in green carrying a grocery bag that got the dog’s attention. Biker Brimley turned around and there was some questioning and ID checking, but no fancy swat team action or arrests (darn). We watched as the man stood with the dog at the end of the escalator, but the only interesting action was when another dog started barking furiously at the drug dog.
Finally, at 9:55 +60, our train arrived and we were on our way to Brussels. The ride took a lot longer than scheduled, and we had to switch stations once in Brussels due to technical problems. Thankfully we had plenty of time before meeting our host, so there was no major rush. And of all of our train travel on this trip, this was the first major delay we encountered.
We met Anass, our Moroccan-now-working-in-Belgium host, on his lunch break and he showed us the room and gave us some recommendations for things to see. We did our usual grocery shopping and had some lunch before heading out to explore Brussels.
Amount we knew about Brussels – basically zero. Other than being the headquarters of the European Union, we didn’t know what sort of stuff was there. The city itself turned out to be very pleasant, full of the traditional looking European historical buildings and palaces that we’d become accustomed to. We stayed very close to Grand Place, a main square housing the former town hall.
Right down the street from the square is the most famous statue in the city, Manneken Pis, translated as “Pissing Boy.” And that’s what it is. It’s a statue of a pissing boy.
As you can see from the pictures, it’s tiny. You could put this thing in a small backpack, and in fact, it has been stolen multiple times. The one in public now is a copy. In person it’s a totally underwhelming sight. It might be one of those things that you’d “get” if you were from Brussels, but for us, we were just left wondering why this was a thing.
We wandered around for several hours before heading back and eating more grocery store chow for dinner.
August 22nd – Chocolates and waffles
Sleep. Not enough sleep. Our apartment was on a street full of restaurants, which usually means that it’ll be loud until 11 or 12 and then quiets down. It was loud until 11 or 12, but then loud again at 3:30 am when some group of drunkards started parading back and forth down the street singing and clapping. Obviously a football match had ended well for them and they felt the need to wake the neighborhood. After that, we got 7:30am wake up call courtesy of the man with a jackhammer doing construction work across the street. We understand though. Concrete can only be broken early in the morning. :/
So with little rest, our first expedition was to find some lunch and then Belgian chocolates. Lunch was easy – we went into a kebab shop that we had passed the day before. Easy and cheap. Afterward, we started mission chocolate. We ventured into a few shops the day before and they all smell amazing and were outrageously expensive. With a little research, Jenny found a shop that supposedly had good local chocolates at a reasonable price, so we headed there. She bought a few things for other people, and of course we ended up with a variety bag of truffles for ourselves.
We spent the afternoon taking turns on the computer to write, work, look for work, edit pictures, and make final plans for the trip and our return. Just before dark we got a hankering to try the waffles that the Belgians are so famous for. Waffle shops are everywhere, so we walked around and found one that seemed good enough. Steve went all out with a waffle covered in chocolate ice cream and strawberries. Jenny went conservative and just got strawberries on hers. They were good, but we both like the waffles we ate in Amsterdam better. It started raining as we finished our waffles, so we went back in hopes that we’d be able to sleep better.
Our host, who until that point had spent his time either at work or in his room with the door shut, was finally out in the kitchen eating dinner. We struck up conversation and ended up talking for quite a while about travels, Morocco (since he was from Casablanca), work, and which country produced the worst travelers. It wasn’t America. We weren’t even in the bottom two. Way to go, USA! Of course he said that Australians were the best. Everybody likes the Australians…
August 23rd – Brugge
There were no singing soccer nuts overnight, but our construction friend decided to start at 6:45am this time. (We really didn’t get this… they stopped work by 11am. Why start so early???) We tossed and turned until 9:30 before getting out of bed and out of the apartment. We caught a train out to Brugge, an hour northwest of Brussels.
Again, we didn’t really know what to expect from Brugge, but were going there based on the recommendation of one of Steve’s friends from college. It was far more pleasant than we could have imagined. Words like “charming” and “quaint” come to mind when trying to describe it. Right out of the train station you find yourself walking down cobblestone streets lined with old brick buildings. Everything is small, close together, and seems old and comfortable like when you visit your grandparent’s house. The cool, sunny weather made it a perfect day for wandering around.
First things first – our only plan in Brugge was to visit De Halve Maan brewery. It is a sixth generation family owned brewer right in town that offers tours every hour. Starting with the mixing tanks, our humorously accented guide took us through the brewing process and company history until we found ourselves on the roof overlooking the town.
We strolled through the town until we found the main square, where we got some cheap lunch from a food truck (frites with curry ketchup? Sure). After getting our fill of the town (and getting a donut) we capped off the tour by going back into the brewery to sample another of their offerings.
For the second time in Belgium, we had train problems getting back. The air conditioning on the car simply wasn’t working, so the heat from a train full of bodies eventually causes us all to sweat like mad. Already running half an hour longer than scheduled, we jumped off a couple stops early and found our way back to the apartment on a metro instead. We watched a movie, packed up, and got ready to revisit the first city of our trip in the morning.