I've been going through my pictures (LOTS of pictures) and they're pretty much just of buildings and beer. That's a pretty accurate depiction of my trip - all I did was drink beer and stare at buildings. Sometimes I went inside the buildings if I was feeling particularly adventurous. It being a solo trip, I have precisely one picture with a person in it (me), so it's not the most exciting 350 picture slideshow (don't worry, I'll spare you). But here I am in Bruges, with all of my friends:
The cheese stands alone..
I decided to get to Brussels by a 9 hour train/bus combination, mostly to avoid the hassle of flying budget airlines that drop you so far from the city that you are required to take lengthy/expensive trips to the center of town. And, because flying in general is a pain and I didn't want ryanair telling me how much beer I could bring back. I got to Brussels at about 9pm on Saturday night with very vague instructions on how to find my hostel, which involved two metro rides and a choice between a "15 minute walk along the highway" or a bus ride. When I got out of the metro station and found nobody around, I decided to wait for the bus since a 15 minute walk along the highway in the wrong direction is a situation I would definitely find myself in, and it being 1030pm by this point, I was in no mood for a classic Katie-style aimless walk along a highway. The bus never came, and I later found out that bus service stops at 10 for that route, so I found a cab. The cab driver told me it was probably a 1-2km walk, but I was certain I would mess that up so I took it anyway. It was literally a 3 min cab ride and he charged me $10. Live it learn it, I guess. I later read that Brussels cabs are notorious for being dishonest. I always forget that research is best done before leaving for a trip.
I spent the next day wandering around Brussels and eating healthy meals, consisting of chocolate, fries, waffles and beer. The Belgians REALLY know what they're doing. There's not much actual sightseeing to do in Brussels. There are some museums, but they didn't sound that appealing and Rick Steves, Travel God advised skipping over most of them. While I did like Brussels, I would probably call it my least favorite city I visited. It just doesn't compare to the others. Instead of paying for less-than-thrilling sounding museums, I walked around the streets lining the Grand Place and wandered past the EU Parliament building. I spent the afternoon doing this:
With this view...
... enjoying the proximity of these two important shops...
....and discovering another level to being a kid in a candy store.
One thing I noticed immediately is how friendly the Belgians are. The first few times I accidentally bumped into someone on the street and they said "excuse me!" or "sorry!" I was lost for words. I literally stared a them with my mouth agape. Which I'm sure made a great impression on my mental state. I guess first impressions aren't everybody's thing. It's been awhile since people either a)moved out of the way for oncoming foot traffic - there's been many times I've had to flatten myself against a building to let people pass, or b) actually acknowledge the fact that they ran into me. That is just not the French way, it seems.
Customer service is also something I enjoyed getting used to again. Not that every shopkeeper in France is unfriendly - there are several who are quite nice. But it's not uncommon to walk into a store in France and be met with a "what do YOU want" look. I know it's nothing to take personally, but it's just an interesting thing to get used to after being in the US where people who work at the Olive Garden want me to join their family (DISCLAIMER: based only on the "when you're here, you're family" commercials. I haven't set foot in an Olive Garden since I was 15 and that was "ethnic dining" to my teenage self). Apparently my random choosing of the above pictured beer, which happened to be the waiter's favorite, warranted a free beer and a free cheese plate from the excited and impressed waiter. They really get excited about their beer - an enthusiasm I can really get behind!
I only spent a day and a half in Brussels, but that was enough. I left on an afternoon train to Ghent, which was probably one of the highlights of the trip. I'll get to that later...