We left our Hotel in Amsterdam at about noon to grab a quick bite to eat and some wifi at a McDonalds (Yes I know) because of our crunch for time to get to the train station and because we needed a place we knew would have wifi. We made our way up the center of Amsterdam to the central station, an impressive looking structure that I thought was a palace the first time I saw it a few nights before. In the train station, we went through a round about process to get our Euro rail tickets validated, involving several back and forth trips between ticket people who were often vague and under the assumption we knew what the hell we were doing. When this was all sorted after probably a half hour, we boarded our train and moved southwest to Brussels, stopping in Rotterdam, Rooseendal,(Netherlands) Antwerp, (Belgium)and finally Brussels. On the way there were dozens of windmills and strips of solar panels on houses. The Dutch know whats up there.
We also met a couple guys from Nepal–yes Nepal–traveling the same route we were to Brussels. They were reporters going to the city to cover the European Union elections which are centered in Brussels. Jacob and I talked to them briefly, their English was decent enough for conversation. I asked him what he thought about the elections and the EU in general, since I had studied the EU in several of my classes. His response was pretty vague, as I expect his English limited what he wanted to say entirely. One of them offered us a business card and asked for our names on Facebook, because he worked with a business in Nepal that ran tours going up Mount Everest. He had led many trips to the summit, and told us to come down to Nepal to go on a trip with him. 10% of Nepal’ GDP is tourism, so I bet they probably make a lot of plugs wherever they go. They were just as confused as we were getting off and on some of the trains, and since most of the signs in the Netherlands included English, which we knew better, they just followed us on and off the trains.
We got off at the Midi train station near central Brussels, and walked to our hotel, Hotel de Fierlant. This hotel was really nice, it had wifi that worked just about half the time we were there, which after the Golden Bear in Amsterdam was a win, had free breakfast which had things like yogurt, croissants, meat and cheese, Belgian hot chocolate, bananas and apples, and cereal. The view out of our window looked down at some interesting looking residences as well. All of this was for about 25 euros per person per night!
The staff was nice and helped us figure out the bus system to get us to central Brussels, which we explored briefly the first night. We went to the center -‘the Place’ -which had huge royal looking buildings lit up with colorful lights. The tallest tower looked like it belonged in Disney world. A huge jazz festival coinciding with the EU elections was going on in Brussels when we got there, with something like 700 artists and groups performing all over the city over a 3 day period. We sat down at a very nice French restaraunt to listen to a small combo play. 90% of the city of Brussels speaks French, which was new to us. The other major languages in Belgium are a Flemish Dutch and German. So the menu was all in French, and our waitress came up speaking in French, which I greeted her with Bonjour and then asked if she spoke English, which she did. She helped us decipher some things on the menu, and I got some gourmet looking meatballs and french fries–They really like putting fries in and around meals, local beer brand Barbar, and a Crepe, which was more like a nice Belgian waffle with fruit toppings. All of it was delicious. The tunes we heard in the restaraunt and in the main square (The Place) were mostly old American blues tunes. The same was also true of some jazz we heard in Germany. We figured that Americans pioneered most of jazz, so a lot of jazz in Europe lagged a bit behind the American jazz scene. The crowds ate up every tune though and cheered wildly. Jacob was getting mildly annoyed with the scores of blues tunes everywhere because they were all realtively the same tempos and tunes.
We took the bus back to the circle next to a nice park which wasn’t far from the hotel, and crashed for the night.
We had set our alarms to catch the nice breakfast downstairs before 10 the next morning, and took our time eating and roughly planning out the day. We took the bus again to the down town, past a cool skate park where a skate competition and live music was going on, and started for The Place again to catch the impressive medieval buildings in the daylight. We made our way to the famous statue Mannequin Piss, and enjoyed some delicious Belgian waffles topped with whipped cream, sauces, and fruit.
Next we made our way to Brussels park, which was very nice. The European Union structures were next, massive and impressively modern like much of the area surrounding it in this part of the city. Countless signs advertising officials running for EU parliament were up, and several of the EU agencies were visible as well. NATO is also based in Brussels, but it was a little far out of our travels. Then came another massive park, at the end of which was a huge half ringed structure with a gateway that looked like the Brandenburg gate in Germany. This structure was dedicated to a former Belgian leader who died in 1995. In this half circle was another large stage where jazz was being performed and festival activities were. A military museum was in another large structure on the side, and we continued walking through the park past kids playing soccer. But they were also enveloped in giant bouncy balls so that they could ram into each other and fall down without harm. This was incredibly amusing. We passed several other small soccer courts where youth were playing, and got a glimpse of the Belgian military academy, a large but uninteresting building. We decided to grab a quick bite at a grocery store, and went into a little shop nearby. Inside was a lot of EU stuff, including huge volumes of study guides for EU career tests and law.
It was late in the afternoon now, and rather than walk the lengthy distance back to the city center, we took the Brussels metro, similar to the system in London. After a lengthy search for the chocolate museum to no avail, we stopped in a hand made chocolate shop where they do demonstrations on chocolate making in the morning. I bought 5 euros worth of chocolate, which I still have yet to eat at the time of this writing. I imagine it will be fantastic based on the samples I had in the shop.
Near the square we ate at a cheap yet decent greek restaraunt, where the waiter was a little short with us and generally unetnthused, which we figured might be factored by our english and clear tourist vibe. We had some tasty Pita sandwhiches stuffed with a fries, meat, that gyro sauce stuff, lettuce, and tomato. We were still hungry after that, and got a similar burrito meal at a local burger joint, where a man waiting in line behind Jacob asked him in French if he had already ordered,then asked in English, to which Jacob replied with ‘yes I ordered ______. ‘The man then said ‘I don’t care what you ordered! That does not matter to me!’ After seeing the despised look on Jacob’s face, he said ‘all in good fun of course!’ Jacob was not amused. I laughed though, and thats what counts. They also didn’t ask Jacob what he wanted for toppings in his burrito thing like they did for me. We came to the conclusion that I blended in more as European, and Jacob stuck out like a sore thumb as an American, so they either didn’t bother asking small things like that, or were just apathetic to him. We made our way back to the bus to go back to the area of our hotel. Every time we had gone onto a bus, the bus drivers were kind of confused or uncaring that we wanted to buy tickets, and most people we saw get on either swiped a bus card or just walked on by without doing anything. Having spent 20 euros combined on the bus system in Brussels, we decided to not pay for our last 2 trips because the Bus drivers paid no attention to it and were seemingly inconveinenced by the need to pull out change. We had mastered the bus system at this point. We crashed early at the hotel to catch an early train in the morning to Stuttgart.
Throughout the couple days we were in Brussels we passed countless little shops and restaraunts, open air markets, and performers singing and playing a lot of American tunes like ‘Ring of Fire’ by Johnny Cash, as well as countless American jazz songs. Brussels is nicknamed the Capital of the World, and it showed. There was a vibrant culture present throughout our stay, probably aided by the massive festival and elections going on. Food, chocolate, and beer are all distinct to Belgium, and the prices reflected that (fairly expensive compared to what we’ve seen since). There were numerous medeival looking areas with old churches and buildings, and other parts that were clearly new and modern like the EU district. The city had true beauty and flavor, and there were several things I would liked to have seen had we had more time. But our long 2 days were enough I felt to get a good feel of the city. Our stay was pleasant and fairly relaxed. I would’ve played on a really nice chess set in the hotel too if we had a little more time.
Time requires us to move South! (I always liked going south. It feels like going down hill)