So…I went to Belgium on Thursday and came back on Saturday. It has taken me FOREVER to update about it, probably because I am very busy with homework avoiding homework. Anyway, before I get to the stories/pictures from Belgium, I will update you on how the Great European Beer Experiment is going.
Ole Martin on the phone. Drunk dialing? Haha, just kidding. I would also like to point out how all of your Valentine’s cards are artfully displayed on my bookshelf. Thank you so much! I have never felt as loved on Valentines Day as when I got like six cards from across the ocean. :D
But, anyway, we did not get drunk or tipsy or anything. This was partially because I did not like many of the beers. The other day we went to a pub and I got a beer that did not taste good at all, in my opinion. It strongly reminded me of medicines that they try to make fruity flavored for kids, but kids can still stiff it out for what it is. This beer tasted like medicine. Well, the other night when we were trying all of these beers, I thought a lot of them tasted like the medicine beer. I thought Palm and Delirium were okay beers, though. To answer Aunt Linda’s question, I have not had any thick beers. I think that is a Guinness thing. A lot of the beer I have had tastes similar to Heineken, or is Heineken. It’s Dutch, after all. So, basically, my strategy is to keep drinking a lot of beer until I know what I like and what is good and what I should avoid. More beer is always a good strategy, right?
But back to Belgium. I went with Cassie from California, Anisah from Singapore, and Anisah’s boyfriend Ben, from the Netherlands. We took a train from Amsterdam to Ben’s home and then he drove us to Belgium. We went to Brussels first, and it was definitely not what I expected. Not that I had many expectations of Belgium, as it had never really been high on my must-see list. Greece, yes. Prague, yes. Brussels, not so much. But the girls invited me along and I thought I should take the opportunity to easily see Belgium while I had the chance.
We arrived at our “hotel” in Brussels, which I think used to be a legit hotel but got run down so they just shoved a lot of beds in each room and charged hostel prices. And by a lot of beds, I mean this:
Looks like one big bed, right? Nope, it’s four. It was pretty hilarious, though, and I think I speak for all of us when I say it felt like one big slumber party.
The guys in charge of the hotel did not speak much English, and I think they were from Pakistan because they kept asking Anisah if she was from Pakistan (she’s Indian, not Pakistani). They also had no map of Brussels. They tried to give us directions to the city center, but they were not very clear. For example, they said things like, “Go (gesture around corner of block) and take tram 24 (gesture right) and metro through, through.” Wait, I just made it sound semi-coherent. Add more gestures and less clarity, and you will have the directions the hotel man gave us. So naturally, we went around the corner and through through. Oh, wait, no. The driver of the tram he told us to get on did not know if that tram went to where we were going. Doesn’t give you much faith in the driver, now does it? We wandered around, asking souvenier shops and travel agencies if they had a map of Brussels. No one did. I should also mention that they speak French in Brussels, so that added more to our confused wanderings. However, from my half-semester of French in eighth grade, I did learn the French word for map, so I am thinking everyone pretended not to know what we were saying.
Brussels was really trashy. Like literally trashy. And under construction at all times. I kind of expected some European quaintness and old, cute buildings, but it was more of a mesh of ghettos and modern buildings. And trash. And construction. And gross sewage-ponds.
We wanted to find the city center and also visit the buildings of the European Union. Well, actually, I don’t think Ben and I really cared about the EU buildings, but Anisah and Cassie study international relations so obviously it was cooler to them. Probably because they actually know what goes on in the buildings. I don’t know anything about the EU, but I was pretty laid-back on this trip and I was down to see whatever anyone else wanted to. After wandering around for a good amount of time, we thought we found an EU building, so we went in and asked the guy at the reception where the other buildings were. It turns out that the building was not exactly a legit EU building, but more like a research facility, but the guy working there was by far the most helpful person we encountered in Belgium. He gave us precise directions to every place we wanted to go, and how to get there by tram and metro. By that time, though, it was getting kind of late so we decided to save the EU buildings for the next day and find food and drinks then.
I might have been exaggerating a little when I said Brussels was a hideous, trash-filled ghetto. There were definitely beautiful buildings, as shown by these pictures. However, I only took these pictures because they were the beautiful sights, and they only constitute a small percentage of the city, mainly in the touristy areas. 80% of the city was a hideous, trash-filled ghetto. ;)
While walking through the nice part of Brussels, we saw a crazy post-riot scene, apparently. We approached the square and saw many bystanders on the street and some on top of statues trying to get a better view of what was going on. We looked and saw hundreds of police officers with riot shields forming a barrier around a group of men sitting on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs. As we watched, more and more police officers arrived in vehicles that looked similar to SWAT team trucks. The officers cleared off all of the bystanders, so we had to move on, but it was one of the craziest things I have ever seen. I don’t think I can adequatly describe how many police officers were there, and how intimidating the whole situation looked. Come to find out later (according to a funny Spanish man we met in a bar) the fuss was all about a brawl between soccer fans. Europe, go figure. I kind of wanted to witness a bigger international incident than a fight over soccer, but I searched Brussels news this morning and nothing was mentioned, so I am thinking the Spanish guy was right.
Finally we arrived at the Grand Place, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was designated as the most beautiful city square in Europe. Or the World. Or something. I forget. But I believe them. Check it:
We went into a chocolate shop on the square, and found a giant baby made of chocolate. Not even kidding.
We ate at a pub that was way too expensive for the quality (example–3.20 Euros for a small Stella Artois!). By then it was night, so here are some pics of the Grand Place at Night:
Then we went around the corner and found this awesome little bar called Au Brasseur. If you are ever in Brussels at the Grand Place, I would definitely recommend going around the corner and visiting this bar. We decided to go in because the sign said beer was 1.70 Euro, and we decided to stay because there was a huge Greek party going on. And, no, I don’t mean frat guys. I mean a large Greek family dancing to traditional music and throwing napkins and saying, “Opa!” I did not want them to leave, but they did shortly after we arrived. Then the bartender started playing DJ on the CD player, producing an interesting mix of Jay-Z songs and late 90’s Will Smith songs. Gettin’ Jiggy with It. Oh yeah.
That bar was where we met the interesting Spanish men I mentioned earlier. One was probably late thirties, but he had been all over the world and had amazing stories. He talked to us about London and Thailand and why he gave up smoking weed and how much he hated the French because of what Napoleon did to Spain. We wholeheartedly agreed that, yes, Napoleon was an asshole, and so are the French, and so are the Belgians who speak French. He was hilarious and kept talking about all the “good people” he has met all over the world, and how he met some Americans from Utah who were “good people.” He and his friend were great, and I was kind of sad to leave that bar, but we had made a pact earlier to keep bar-hopping and not get stuck at one too long. Never fear, more adventures awaited us!
The next place we went was the Delirium Cafe, which is apparently the most famous bar in Brussels. Thomas had told me earlier that the Delirium beers were rated the best in the world by some beer authority, so we decided to stop in to the cafe and test this claim.
The bar was okay. It was decorated with interesting signs, and there were weird places to sit, like the half-gazebo/submarine where we sat. The beer was fine, but the bartenders were indifferent and inattentive and gave me the wrong kind of Delirium. Also, I guess there are some weird rules about smoking and not smoking in Belgium and/or Europe in general, but when Ben lit a cigarette the waitress came and snatched away the ash tray and told him he could not smoke in this are of the bar, even though the next table over was apparently in the “smoking section.” I liked this bar, though, because Cassie and I had a good long chat there about skydiving and rafting in New Zealand, and how one would go about obtaining a work visa there. Hint, hint Weston.
We left Delirium Cafe and started to wander around. We were standing on a street corner trying to decide which way to go, and from behind me I hear a voice. I just thought it was yet another begger in Brussels, because there seemed to be a crazy begger on every street corner in that town. I just ignored the voice and did not bother to turn around until I heard him say, “Did you find the European Parliament?” That sounded a little weird for a begger, so I turned around and saw none other than the helpful man from the pseudo-EU building! He had cared so much that he came and found us in the bar district to make sure we had made it! Just kidding, he was just going to bars, too, but the fact that he remembered us and wanted to make sure we had gotten around okay was awesome. He then told us about “the best bar in Brussels” and led us there. I told you he was the nicest person in Belgium!
We followed the EU man to this interesting place called Celtica. I think it was described as an Irish pub/live music venue/techno dance club. It definitely looked and sounded like a place I would never go in by choice:
It’s a bad picture, but I think you can see that it looked pretty….neon. But we went in anyway and, to our pleasant surprise, beer was 1 Euro, due to the fact that Celtica’s happy hour lasted from 1PM to midnight. So, if you are in Brussels, you should go to Celtica. There really was live music and sports games on TV and a dance floor upstairs, but more importantly, the beer is probably the cheapest you will find anywhere.
The next day we went to the real EU buildings, which was fine but I still have no idea what goes on in there so I wasn’t too enthralled. I thought the EU buildings would be in old, European-style buildings with columns or sculptures or something, but they were in modern buildings. Mainly under construction and surrounded by trash, like everything else in Brussels.
Before we left for Antwerp, we decided to get Belgian waffles. Because that’s what people do in Belgium.
It all looks delicious and we all look happy, right? Well it’s all a lie! A lie I tell you! My waffle was seriously disgusting. It was gooey in the middle, and not in a good way. I ate two bites of it, ate the ice cream off the top, and threw it away. So if you are in Belgium, I would recommend eating waffles, but probably not where we got ours. Maybe try a restaurant, where you can get your money back if they taste like ours did. The only person who was happy was Ben, because he got a sandwich instead of a waffle.
Here are some pictures of pretty stuff we saw walking back to the car from the waffle place.
We then drove to Antwerp, which did not take long at all, and it especially felt short because I passed out every time we started driving. I am usually not a good car-sleeper but this trip I rocked it.
Our hostel was called the Boomerang, and it was a pretty interesting place. The common room was sort of decorated like our apartment in Springfield, with manequins and board games and random furniture and everything. I liked it; Ben and Anisah said they would prefer “something more organized.” Haha.
We went in search of food, and while we were out we saw these people in a window really high above us. We could see a girl sitting down, and she was talking animatedly to some guy. We were standing on the corner trying to decide where to go (is this sounding familiar?) and I just kept watching the window. The girl kept talking, but the guy never moved, so we thought he might be one of those cardboard cutouts. The thing was, he was wearing a shark helmet. Who would have a cardboard cutout of a guy wearing a shark helmet? I took a picture, of course. Then we got closer, the guy moved a little, and we realized that it was not a shark helmet.
It was like a full head and neck wrap for some mutilation of some sort. I felt so bad, especially because I think they saw me take the picture. But how could I go explain to them that I wasn’t taking a picture of his injury, only that I took a picture because I thought he was half-shark?! It’s a common mistake, I swear.
Later that night we ate dinner and then bought a bottle of vodka to pre-game with at the hostel. However, it took us like three hours to drink it, so it had absolutely no effect whatsoever! I had a good time kicking it and chatting, though.
Then we went out on the town to explore the nightlife, which is apparently non-existent in Antwerp. It was a Friday night and the streets were really empty. I took some pretty pics of Antwerp at night, mostly devoid of people for once!
We went to an Irish pub where they were actually playing hip-hop instead of Irish folk music, and we also went to this crazy dance bar place, with a total of like five other people in it. I’m feeling particularly unfunny and uninspired right now, though, so I can’t even muster any jokes about it. Sorry.
Here are some pictures of what I have been up to lately, post-Belgium. Watched the hockey game, went to a bar to mourn the loss, went to an art exhibit, went to class, went to the borrel, went to a park, went to a Dutch anthropology borrel, went to a gay bar, went to a not-gay bar (though I’m sure they don’t discriminate), went to sleep. Went nowhere today.
This was after the USA v. Canada hockey game (sad day). Thomas, George the Hungarian Traitor (AKA he rooted for Canada), and I went around the corner from where we watched the game to mourn the outcome (or celebrate, in George’s case). There was a Dutch beer on the menu named Mary. It was the best beer in the world, for obvious reasons. The name being one of those reasons, the fact that it was 9.6% alcohol being another.
The next day Thomas and I went to see Niet Normaal, an art exhibit that I had already seen but really liked. Before we went, we stopped at Nieuwmarkt square to eat sandwiches.
Last night I made the weekly dinner at my house, and the boys came. All seven of them. Then we all hopped on our bikes like a bike gang and rode to Rembrandtplein. We all started locking up our bikes, and then I asked if we could all lock them together, like our bikes are friends, too. The boys obliged, probably because as the token girl of the group I get a little slack now and then for doing girly things like saying “Aww!” at puppies or wanting our bikes to be a bike family.
So, anyway, that’s my life. A few important things to note:
1) My mom and Aunt Kelly are officially coming to visit me at the end of March/beginning of April! And anyone who knows how deathly afraid of flying my mom is should realize that this is a big deal! I am so excited. I am totally taking my mom to a coffeeshop. If she giggled that hard at Eagle vs. Shark, I can’t wait to see what a space cake will do to her.
2) I might be featured on an expat blog about life in the Netherlands. I don’t know what the technical definition of an expat is, but I feel like if I have a Dutch address then I am totally legit to voice my opinion on this country. I will let you guys know what happens with that.
3) I am going to start volunteering to teach English in Amsterdam to underpriveleged kids for a few hours a week and I am super excited about it. All my hard work with Kenneth has paid off! I am now a professional language partner! Haha.
All in all, life is pretty rad. Miss you guys.