Hello everyone and welcome to another People & Pints post! This post will highlight my first excursion outside of Amsterdam as I traveled to nearby Brussels, Belgium. Amsterdam, and the Netherlands in general, is beautifully situated in–essentially–central Europe making travel quite easy. I hadn’t made any significant plans, when–during the middle of the week–my good friend Eli (featured in week one of People & Pints) invited me to join him and a few friends on a weekend trip to both Antwerp and Brussels. I couldn’t commit to a full weekend, so I decided to just make a day trip to Brussels and invited a few other friends. As far as I can remember, I have never made such spontaneous plans for a day of travel. I was very excited and, though I had failed to perform much preliminary research, I thought it would be a fun day.
The trip was indeed exciting and definitely fun, but the best word to describe the day is truly bizarre. I’ll quickly preface this story just to introduce my friends who joined me on this trip: Eliza, Sophie and Gabby. Eliza, who is also from New Jersey, and Sophie, who is from Australia, were both in my Orientation Group. Sophie had introduced our group to Gabby (also from Australia) who was wonderful and is now essentially a part of that group. Gabby said something poignant as we were walking around early in the day, “I am on a trip to another country with strangers.” It caught me off-guard but was essentially true! I am so happy that these strangers decided to join me on my journey and through the various ups and downs of our day we got to know each other very well.
The day started early as we boarded the bus to head to Brussels. The night before we had decided to risk joining the rest of our orientation group at a party and we were quite exhausted the morning of our trip. So almost immediately after the bus left our eyes shut and we slept through the brief trip to Brussels. We awoke to a shining sun at Brussel-Noord and no wifi. We knew we had to be pretty close to the city center but I blame what happened next on our empty bellies. We decided to walk in what looked like the right direction only to find closed stores and empty streets. We were on a main street and in the distance saw buildings that resembled museums so we continued to walk until we could find a restaurant. We settled on a small cafe that was both open and offered free wifi: our two requirements. When we sat down in Scenario, apparently a nightclub and restaurant, we realized that we had walked 35 minutes west of Brussels. After filling up, we decided to call an uber and made it back into the center of Brussels.
The rest of our day was spent mostly wandering around without a particular plan. I decided to explore the Belgian Comic Strip Center, which was very interesting. We managed to find some delicious macarons, waffles and french fries to sate our appetite for Belgian food. Afterwards, we saw Manneken Pis, which is perhaps Brussels’ biggest draw. Sophie summed up that experience perfectly as she commented, “I don’t really get it.” The center of Brussels was bustling with people but as we wandered a few blocks away the streets were once again empty. We all agreed that it was strange that a city would be so quiet but we still enjoyed the walk. We found Notre Dame du Sablon and quietly enjoyed the grand interior as we listened to part of a French mass. Down the street, we stumbled upon a beautiful view over the city and we audibly wondered how we had walked to such great heights but no matter, the panorama was lovely.
As we walked, Eliza pointed out something interesting about the city: it had small elements of other European cities. Some of the streets reminded us of an Italian village or the large park we sat in, Parc de Bruxelles, looked like it could have been in a Parisian postcard. We really enjoyed meandering through the quaint streets all around the city but continued to recognize how odd the city was. Every little neighborhood looked beautiful but was more or less empty. Perhaps it was because we could only compare it to Amsterdam, but, for better or worse, Brussels certainly was much less exciting. Brussels was absolutely enjoyable and I am very happy that we went but it was vastly different from Amsterdam.
Day quickly passed into evening and we eventually sat down, tired but happy, in a small, warm bar in the center of Brussels. We appropriately capped off an interesting day with an interesting evening as we sat in La Bécasse, which we almost missed. La Bécasse is truly a whole in the wall; we almost walked right past it barring a bright neon sign. This tiny cafe was rustic and quite charming but featured a curt waiter who either wasn’t able to or didn’t care to speak much English and seemed annoyed with my question of “recommendations?” Nonetheless, I settled on a Chimay Blanche which was a refreshing, yet tasty Tripel. We spent the time marveling at this strange cafe in this strange city. It was as I sat warming myself in La Bécasse that I realized this whirlwind of a trip indeed managed to bring Eliza, Sophie, Gabby and myself together. From opposite ends, two people from New Jersey and two people from Australia managed to spend a day in Brussels. We made it back to the bus eventually, having enjoyed our day but exhausted and happy to be on our way home (did I just say home?).
As strange as I’ve made Brussels sound, this trip was really fantastic and served several purposes. It brought me closer to some wonderful friends and it managed to make Amsterdam truly feel like home. I had felt extremely comfortable being in Amsterdam before this trip but it was the act of returning to the city–after exploring somewhere new–that was truly revelatory.