One thing I wanted to experience during my time here in Europe was a white Christmas, or at least snow in general. Coming from the warmer part of Australia I have only experienced snow twice in my life – and one of those times was in New Zealand. So I was dying to actually live in a place where snow fell. Unfortunately so far it has yet to snow but I kept my spirits up and enjoyed the festive season with the bitter cold weather and ample Christmas cheer. One of these ways was to visit the beautiful country of Belgium to get a dose of proper Christmas spirit and Belgium more than delivered.
I had originally planned to go with the boy but long story short, I ended up going with three gal pals and had an even better time. We planned to leave early Saturday morning and make the three hour journey to Bruges before heading onto Brussels for night, returning back to Den Haag on Sunday night. We barely planned the weekend, which left us totally open for disaster but I can safely say that the weekend went smoothly, if not better than if we had planned it meticulously.
I met IB (Hungarian) and A and N (Spanish) bright and early at the train station where we brought our tickets and headed for our platform. It still bewildered me that you can wake up one morning and decide to travel to another country and be there in a matter of hours. The train ride was rather long and boring – I was keen to get to Bruges as I had heard so much about it so the train ride seemed to drag on forever. We finally arrived and whilst there was no snow in sight there was no lack of Christmas vibes. Walking out of the station there was a huge ice sculpture exhibition and all the trees were gleaming with fairy lights. We followed the crowd into town, through the windy, cobble stoned streets towards the city centre. I knew I already loved this place, it was quaint, interesting and filled with incredible buildings that I could look at all day. We reached Grote Markt and it was just as I hoped, filled with Christmas markets, an ice skating rink and thousands of fairy lights. Complimenting the activity happening in the centre was the grand, old buildings surrounding it. The scene was postcard worthy and I was eager to get amongst it. We started by walking around the Square, wandering through the markets, inhaling the incredible scent of waffles and gluhwëin. Our rumbling tummies got the better of us and we tried to decide which tasty treat to sample. I opted for waffles, whereas the Spanish girls went for a more filling bratwurst and IB just had warm Chocomelk. After being totally satisfied by our choices we wandered around more, to the Chocostories – the chocolate factory – and past the Frites Museum. I then took the girls to climb the Belfort tour which was labelled a must do by my friend C who had been there a month or so earlier. We had to wait about an hour and the climb of 364 steps was slightly daunting and claustrophobia-inducing but the view was phenomenal. A 360 degree view of the red roofed city and beyond. It was wonderful. We didn’t stay long up there because of the bitter cold wind blowing through the tower, but I could have stayed there much longer. I’ve decided I definitely have a thing about views up high, I’m a little addicted. After our descent down we walked through the streets of Bruges, through the main shopping streets – stopping at the lolly store and to get free reindeer antlers off a Santa that was walking around. As we walked through the streets I kept a sharp look out for a little sign indicating a local brewery which was another must do recommended by C. Just as I was giving up hope I glanced down a side street and unbelievably it was the right street! Brugs Beertjes Bierboetiek was a small, hideaway bar which is apparently home to the greatest beer in Bruges. I was already in love with the place, it was like your very own little secret walking through the wooden door, like we’d uncovered a treasure. Though it seems we weren’t the only ones who had found the treasure either, the place was jam packed with tourists and locals alike. We found a table for four in the back room and settled in to check out the massive book of all the beers available. I’m not a huge beer fan, my heart belongs to cider but reading about all the different types of brews was very interesting. I settled for a peach flavoured beer whereas IB and N went for the more traditional beers. Mine was delicious and not unfamiliar to my beloved cider. I sampled the girls and scrunched my nose up at them – yep, not a beer fan. We sat and relived our sore feet and watched the other people in the bar. If people watching was a sport, I’d be at Olympic level for sure. Its my favourite pastime. We stayed there for an hour or so before one last walk through the square before heading to the train station for our trip to Brussels.
It only took an hour to reach the city of Brussels and we got there right on dark. I had some vague directions to our hotel and one hilarious bus ride and a marriage proposition from a guy we asked for directions we finally reached our hotel. The Sun Hotel was by no means five star accommodation, though for four girls needing a bed and a place to dump our stuff it was enough. We showered and got ready to experience Brussels by night. After walking the wrong direction for awhile we finally found the way to the centre of the city. If I had thought that Bruges was the master of Christmas, then Brussels would have to be messiah. The entire Grote Markt was lit up with a spectacular light show during the night, making the already beautiful buildings literally glow. All of us were ridiculously impressed and in awe of the sight. After we picked up our dropped jaws we went in search of food as it was well past 9pm and the last thing I had eaten was a waffle back around 12pm. IB and I settled for frites with mayonnaise and the Spanish girls grabbed Subway, but all of us had our minds set on chomping down a waffle for dessert. If there is one thing Begium does brilliantly apart from the beer, is the waffles – pretty much every second shop sells them and range of toppings is endless. We decided on a small shop with a very friendly man who served us deliciousness on a paper plate. I chose banana and dark chocolate and A and N went for strawberries, cream and chocolate. It was like eating heaven. Unfortunately heaven was also very filling but not wanting to waste the deliciousness I forced the remainder of the waffle down. With our tummies well and truly stuffed we went back out the to Grote Markt where we watched the light show some more and then walked through the Christmas markets and around the streets surrounding the Markt. We had a mission to find the infamous Delirium bar which boasts the largest range of beers in the world. As usual we walked around in circles for about half an hour, completely lost, before literally walking right into the bar without noticing. Tucked away on a side street, the only way to tell this was the infamous Delirium was the huge pink elephant painted on the sign and the hundreds of people milling around outside. Clearly this was the place to be. We ventured in and started downstairs where after much pushing through the crowd we reached the bar and ordered our drinks. I had a raspberry flavoured beer this time (can’t break from my cider habit!) which was delicious. We managed to wrangle a few seats with a view of the whole bar and relaxed and took in the atmosphere. It was an awesome place, the ceiling was decorated with beer mugs and drink trays and the walls covered with the most random signs. Without trying to look too touristy we managed to get a few sneaky photos but mainly we just enjoyed the yummy beer and relaxed vibe. One drink down we headed upstairs to the next level where we had another beer and a stickybeak. The top level was a more sit down affair but after walking all day we were glad to put our feet up. By the time we finished our drinks it was around 1am and definitely time for bed. I wished I wasn’t so tired so I could see more of the Belgian nightlife but all I wanted to see was the inside of my eyelids and luckily the girls were on the same level. We made the trek back up the hill to our dodgy hotel and promptly conked out.
The following morning we got moving around 9am because we had a lot of stuff we wanted to see and do. After checking out we went back to Brussels Centraal to drop our bags at the lockers and then went in search of breakfast. We opted for a quick sandwich and coffee near the Grote Markt to gear us up for the walking tour which started at 11am. I had been told about these New Europe free walking tours which were in most major cities and were highly informative and fun. We met our quirky tour guide Senna, a Brussels local who took us through the city telling us stories and jokes along the way. It was a great way to see the city and before we knew it, it was over and we were saying our goodbyes. I thought I would like Bruges much more than Brussels but this grand old city found a way into my heart. I’m not sure whether it was the chocolate shops and waffle bars that filled the streets, or the stunning gothic architecture, or just quaintness of the whole city but whatever it was, I was sold on the Belgian capital.
IB and I split up with the Spanish girls for a few hours because we wanted to head back into the Christmas markets whereas they wanted to see more of the buildings outside the centre so we went out separate ways with a plan to meet back at the waffle shop we went to the previous night. IB and I were hungry yet again so after walking through the busy markets we found ourselves a gigantic bratwurst to devour and samples of chocolate from the various chocolate shops for dessert. We each bought some choccies to take home for our families, swearing to each other that we wouldn’t eat it beforehand. After walking back through Grote Markt and down to Mannekin Pis it was time to meet the other girls again for a final waffle and then back to the train station for the journey home.
My weekend was fantastic in Belgium and despite coming home at least five kilos heavier and tired as all hell, I am glad I went with my new au pair friends instead of the boy for several reasons. 1) it locked in a friendship with these girls that I hope will continue throughout the remainder of my time here 2) I didn’t have to worry about feeling like a fatty for wanting to eat multiple waffles and chocolate because these girls felt the same 3) I laughed the whole time, and for me thats what made the trip – being able to relax and be stupid with these girls instead of trying to be my best self to impress a silly boy.
We said our goodbyes once we reached Den Haag and wished the Spanish girls a merry Christmas before heading home of the tram. Its my last week here in Holland for 2013 and even though its been four months, it still feels like I arrived yesterday. I am off to Vietnam this Saturday to meet with my parents and sister for ten days of glorious Asian goodness, which I am incredibly excited about. I am truly blessed and can’t believe how my life is going right now – I’m living my dream and feeling fantastic. Life is good, or in my pathetic attempt at Dutch, life is mooi!
From the girl who can’t fit in her pants anymore