Category Archives: Places I've Been

Places I’ve Been Part Two: Belgium, neuken in de keuken!

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.

Brussles
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.

Bruges
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.

Ghent

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.

Antwerp
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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Places I've Been

Places I’ve been Part One: Paris, mon amour!

Every June, like clockwork, I start pining for Europe. Each year the trigger is different, but come June, something sets me off. My heart starts to yearn for lush green grass, winding rivers, bridges, cobblestones, patisseries, red wine, little alleyways and the scent of a city with an ancient history. Last year it was the perfume of the blossoming trees, two summers ago it was a particularly good French tart. This year it was Camera Obscura‘s video for “French Navy”.

Oh Europe! Oh love! This video is how I like to envision all my future love affairs. Kissing and frolicking my way around Paris and Rome with some charmingly cute boy. Two hipsters in love; prancing along the Seine, tumbling around with the Pantheon as a backdrop, picnicking on a fresh baguette and  sun warmed brie, tartufo for dessert.

It’s been six months since I was last on that side of the world, two years since I was last in Paris, and four years since I lived in England. Europe is in my bones. Paris, especially, I cannot shake.

Obligatory Eiffle Tower Shot
Obligatory Eiffel Tower Shot

My first time in Paris was what Hollywood told me dreams were made of. My boyfriend, at the time, had treated me to five glorious Parisian days. And I fell in love with Paris even before I stepped off the train onto the Gare de Nord platform. We stayed in a cute hotel in Montmartre, right by the Sacre-Coeur Basilica. Each day began with a fresh croissant and a glorious cup of French coffee. We wandered the streets with only some semblance of a plan. We hit up all the traditional tourist spots eventually (though, I have to this day never made it up the Eiffel Tower), but you don’t need to be part of the tourist flock to enjoy Paris. In fact it’s better to just sit at a cafe and be part of the city, which is exactly what I did on my second trip to Paris. I meandered through the city, perusing used book stores, reading my finds in some random grassy space, or on the steps of some beautiful building.

The French way of life is something I covet. Fresh living, fresh eating. Picking up  ingredients for dinner on the way home from work. Cute boys running around town with baguettes in hand. Leisurely sipping wine al fresco at one of the many cafes, with tables and chairs sprawling into the sidewalk. Lights warming the evening with their glow. The distinct lack of sky scrapers. Small flats with incredible views. A pace of life slow enough to fully savour every moment, to completely indulge all the senses. History. Charm. Beauty.

I don’t understand how anyone cannot instantly fall in love with this city. It’s no wonder at all that Paris attracted so many creative thinkers and amazing artists throughout the century. Paris is flooded with inspiration and beauty.

If my French were up to scratch, I would move there in a heartbeat.

(note to self: enroll in French class.)

1 Comment

Filed under Places I've Been