Diary of a Backpacker, days 24-27: Belgium

It is with great sadness that I have reached the conclusion of my travel blog series with Scotcampus Magazine. And so, true to my nature, I felt the need to compose a few lines of utter soppiness for you to remember this journey by.

I started out this trip having only left the country on two occasions in my life. Quite literally thrown into the deep end, Stewart and I experienced problem after problem on this trip – a lot of it, admittedly, down to carelessness. But I feel as if I left a part of my innocence at Stanford airport, one which I needed rid of. I’ve had my eyes opened to varied and colourful new lifestyles all which are exciting beyond measure. I’ve learned to be careful with my own safety and not be so trusting, but most importantly I’ve rethought how I will approach others in future because through our own struggles I realised that some people are genuinely in need of help – and not looking to steal your wallet.

It seems as if there is plenty of time in your day when you’ve completed what you planned to early in the morning and then find yourself sitting through an eight hour journey later on. I was so careless with precious time, so I’ve been spending my days in a similar way since returning.

Without further ado, our last stop of this journey: Belgium

Bruges

How we got here: Train followed by bus

Where we stayed: St. Christopher’s Hostel (9/10)

Attractions Visited: The Historic Centre, the Markt (this is how you spell it, honest), a real Belgian Chocolate Shop!

Best way to navigate within the city: By foot or bike

Bruges is lovely, and we were reminded frequently of that before visiting. In fact, prior to actually stepping onto the train we realised we hadn’t even planned to visit. The number of times I had mentioned visiting Belgium to someone and excitedly they’d ask, “oh, Bruges?” – only for me to disappoint them with an unenthusiastic “no, Antwerp…” – well. Mid way through our trip we decided to rethink our route.

It’s the real fairy tale thing Bruges. Upon first encounter all you can see is climbing flowers, glittery gold oaks, and shallow rising walls on bridges over misty blue canals with boats on top. Cobbles mask every inch of flat ground the town once offered, and within the short time it takes to walk across the whole city there are over 150 chocolate shops – and you better believe it. Cocoa wafts through the streets seasoning already delicious, sugary waffles with more delight, ones sold in stands round every edge of the Historic Centre. There had been many occasions on this trip where I’d thanked myself for not bringing high heels, but here, I rejoiced most of all.

The beauty about being in Bruges for one of our final locations was that there was nothing too strenuous to do there. People like to enjoy good, fatty food and sit with a beer by the canal side outside nice restaurants – not much more. Often nicknamed “little Venice”, Bruges is apparently beautiful at all times of year and I can believe that. It shares the same medieval history with Venice and also Venice’s quaint ‘n’-shaped bridges. And much like San Marco Square, the gothic architecture of the Historic Centre consumes you the second you enter. With horses and carts flying past you every five minutes it isn’t difficult to image life as a wealthy inhabitant of medieval Bruges.

We strolled around between landmarks and pretty buildings on our day of arrival and then we enjoyed them again via bike on our second day. On our last night after a day out of town at the beach we dangled our feet off a little bridge with a real hot chocolate in hand: a solid block of Belgian chocolate dreamily melted over hot milk in a cardboard cup. I can only imagine how perfect that would feel on Christmas Eve.


Brussels

How we got here: Train

Where we stayed: Urban City Hostel (7/10)

Attractions Visited: Grand Place, Manneken Pis, the Atomium, Festival Ommadawn

Best way to navigate within the city: Tram or by foot

We were greeted in the best way possible in our last destination – NOT. Lost among urban streets, faces hidden in maps (rookie mistake), two gentleman attempted to pick-pocket Stewart’s phone. But once again, watching The Real Hustle had proven beneficial. He’d spotted the pair following us from a crossing half a mile down the road. Confusion had taken us to a wrong turn up a narrow street, but Stewart retrieved his phone almost instantly. (My hero <3<3<3)

Men just like those two lined the busy main street watching us walk by like two antelopes lost in a Lion’s den. We did, however, deposit our belongings – NO VALUABLES this time – and venture literally five minutes down the road into Central Brussels. The difference between where we’d come from and where we were was unbelievable: we felt so much safer being in the centre among other tourists. A huge festival by the name of Ommadawn was taking place in Grand Place that night. The talkative man in the Hard Rock Café Shop informed us that every year for Ommadawn locals dress up as Lords and ladies, riding horses and driving floats into Grand Place in stunningly detailed attire. The masses then re-enact a battle from the 1300s to smoke, cameras and music in front of a live audience, which we managed to just squeeze into.

After the “battle”, Lords cold be seen in bars in their finest tights for the duration of the remaining evening. The only disruption was the odd drunkard wanting a photo on top of a white horse every so often. We visited the iconic Manneken Pis in this moment – which is literally no bigger than my lunch bag but still draws in crowds of visitors each year. It does have a fascinating history, however, and I suppose it’s good to say you’ve actually seen it.

On our second day we walked through the beautiful Royal Palace Gardens before travelling well out of the centre to see the Atomium – a tribute to modern day physics by engineer André Waterkeyn. It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Perched in the middle of a busy road at over 300ft tall, shiny and silver in contrast to the city’s ancient, carved stone, it’s a wonder why Belgium happened to be the proud owners of such a modern landmark.


You can read this entire article on Scotcampus.com here.

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