Ah Belgium, my sweet love.
A girl’s dreams come true.
Everyone always seems forget about Belgium, maybe because it’s so small, maybe because France and Germany get all the action, who knows! But I remembered Belgium. Land of chocolate, land of beer, land of diamonds. Three excellent reasons to get up off the couch and book your tickets immediately to my favourite Flemish country.
I arrived in Brussels by train, via Paris, on a chilly autumn eve, checked into the hostel, and immediately made friends with a cute English boy on his gap year. We had one goal: try as many Belgian beers as possible. We succeeded. Like good little tourists, we found a bar in the Grand Place, and ordered beer after beer:
Kwak, Judas, Palm, Morte Subite (Kreik and Frambois), Floris Ninkenberry, Timmerman’s, Bellvue, Hummel Bier, Kaiser, Delerium Tremens, Juliper, Westmalle, Hoegarden, Leffe (dark and blonde), Chouffe, Molleke… to name a few!
The Grand Place is a large market square surrounded by beautiful old gilded buildings. Some of these buildings were once guild halls, but now they are all privately owned, or museums, or fancy bars and restaurants and shops. Like every European town square, the marketplace is seeped with history, and political upheavals ending in defenestration. I spent most of my time wandering aimlessly around Brussels, waffle in hand, taking in the stunning architecture, the occasional hilarious tourist stop (Manneken Pis – a fountain shaped as a little boy peeing, that is often dresses up in various hilarious outfits), and hitting up the more notable chocolate shops (Neuhaus, Leonidas, Mary’s and Marcolini). I came home with 2.5kg of Belgian chocolates. I shared none. I am not ashamed. At all.
It’s like a fairy tale! A winding canal, cobblestones, beautiful buildings, sprawling cafes, more waffles and beer, boob shaped chocolate. Very romantic.
My favourite part of Bruges was the lovely and peaceful Begijnhof. A Begijnhof was a religious movement of sorts, physically manifested as a square of pretty whitewashed cottages, and a garden filled with poplar trees. They sprung up as mini-villiages, to separate themselves as distinct from the current form of Christianity. They were (and still are) inhabited by nuns, but not of the traditional variety. These nuns would make the vows of obedience and chastity, but not of poverty, and they were allowed to get up and leave, breaking their vows, whenever they pleased. They’re my kind of nuns.
It had a castle, and I do love me my castles! I also met a nice Quebec girl. She was an au pair for some family in Germany and on her holidays. She was very nice, but had a weird musty smell to her. It was probably the oversized Himalayan knit sweater she wore. We both befriended two Flemish kids who were in Ghent for the Ghent Film Fest. I didn’t like Ghent much, but mostly cos I was shouted at by some nun for taking photos in a church, which I wasn’t. But she didn’t believe me and said God would punish me for my crimes. And I was all, “Look lady! God’s omniscient right? So God KNOWS it wasn’t me so quit being a jerk!”
Except that last part only happened in my mind. Instead I sheepishly left the church, further incriminating myself, because everyone was looking at me like I was the spawn of Satan.
Oh Antwerp! So much fun. My favourite Belgian city by leaps and bounds! It has a beautiful giant cathedral, the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, and the most amazing hostel I’ve ever stayed in.
The hostel was called Den Heksenketel which is the Flemish for “The Witch’s Cauldron”. And as we all know, I do love my witch kitsch. The hostel shares the same building as a folk bar with quite the beer selection, and is run by an affable elder man named Raf. Raf is the personification of all the gypsy lore I’ve ever read or imagined. His face is etched with wisdom and stories, he has a magical air about him, he played Leonard Cohen records and was having a saucy love affair with a bicurious, blonde fashionista.
At the hostel I met my four new BFFs, Dylan and Liz from Australia, Wesley from Belgium and Susanne from The Netherlands. Wesley and Susanne had been living at the hostel for several weeks by the time Dylan, Liz and I arrived. We all instantly bonded over several cheap beers and the film 300. The next night the five of us, Raf, his blonde, and a few others sat at the large table enjoying the vast beer selection of the bar. Raf kindly bought Liz and I a few beers. We ended up playing some “traditional Belgian” game of pass-the-mint-using-your-mouth to the person next to you… What?
The next night Susanne’s excessively good looking ex, Florian, stopped by the hostel for Liz and I to ogle, but he refused to take a trip to Antwerp’s rather depressing red light district. Wesley and I were somehow separated from Liz, Susanne and Dylan, so he showed me around town that night. We searched for the infamous bicky burger, but I when we found one, I didn’t quite like the looks of it. It also happened to be the Belgian equivalent of rush week, so we ran into several students covered in pig’s blood and beer. We returned to the hostel quite late. Brimming with drunken PG13 sexual tension, we stumbled up the spiral staircase/death trap to our rooms. I was leaving the next morning for Amsterdam, with Liz and Dylan, so Wesley took this final opportunity to kiss me goodnight, but not before grabbing me round the waist and whispering in my ear: “This is how we say goodnight in Belgium” .
Not gonna lie, definitely one of the better lines I’ve had the pleasure of receiving.
Oh Belgium. Such good times.