Belgium Part 1

After the week long absence due to a heavy-weight 75% assignment, I am back to regale my travel tales. (For those still following the story, the MH370 is still missing. I’m still posting updates every so often but no great leads yet)

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Last week, Jordan and I planned to go to Belgium. I wish I could go into an intelligent and deep explanation about why we chose Belgium as a travel destination but really our motivations were chocolate, waffles and the movie In Bruges.

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Less than 48 hours before we were meant to fly we had three new travel companions, Cola, Nami and Yen, exchange students from Taiwan. Nami would be flying in from France the very day before our 6.40 am flight out again, earning herself and the people of Taiwan newfound respect from Jordan and I.

The logistics of getting to Skavsta-Stockholm airport to catch our flight was an absolute nightmare. The metro in Stockholm stops running after 1 am on weekdays and night buses are infrequent. The most efficient way for us to get to Skavsta was by catching two night buses to Central Stockholm and then the Flybus to Skavsta. Basically we had to leave Lappis at around 2 am. The name Skavsta-Stockholm in itself is such a misnomer due to the the incredible difficulty of getting to it from Stockholm.

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If Central Stockholm is the Pride Lands then Skavsta airport is the Elephant Graveyards because Simba must never go there unless baited by incredibly cheap Ryanair flights. Right around here would make a really good segue opportunity to talk about Ryanair but to put it succinctly, you get what you pay for. And although I was ready to eat someones brains out due to how zombified I was by the end of all our commuting, I would probably do it all over again to elsewhere if they were so cheaply priced. We arrived at Brussels Charleroi at 8.45 am and soon took an hour long bus to get to the centre of Brussels. By the time the bus hit its destination it was about 10.15 am. It took us 8 hours of commute to get from Lappis to Brussels.

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Brussels had a distinct Modern European feel to it. I Googled that phrase to see if it was an actual thing, but I’m probably quite wrong. It had it’s fair share of archaic-looking buildings but they often still possessed new elements about it. Like archways meets escalators. Lifts in between sandstone. I’m not doing a very good job at trying to be #architecture but hopefully the pictures will show what I mean. We had a sub-par Spanish meal before splitting ways, the three with Taiwanese vigour went exploring/shopping, while Jordan and I crawled our way back to bed.

We stayed at the Meininger hotel/hostel. The area where our accommodation was largely skewed our initial depiction of Brussels. It wasn’t too far away from the centre but for some reason was quite a lot darker and dirtier. Middle Eastern ghetto is Jordan’s choice of words, with numerous kebab stores and all manner of objects derelict lying around.

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Random snaps of my one person room, the last one being the wall on its side. I was really happy with my room but I admittedly paid double what you would normally pay for a bed in an 8 person dorm.P1000948-15

We stepped out in the evening just in time to catch Grand Place in the glow of the sunset.

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Earlier that day Jordan and I went to a supermarket and I bought a jar of Speculoos. For the uninitiated Speculoos is the name of a type of cookie and a cookie butter. While the spread is not nearly as impressive as Nutella or peanut butter, is still eat-with-a-spoon worthy.

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It has a ginger bread taste to it, is uber creamy and as the previous, previous photo illustrates, Speculoos is huge in Belgium. Literally every confectionery store had something Speculoos related.

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Exhibit A, Jordan’s Speculoos  nougat

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Exhibit B, various chocolate we bought one of which had Speculoos in itP1010182-40

Exhibit C, a wafer cigar with Speculoos dustingP1000952-3

More photos inside Maison Dandoy which is incidentally also the place we had waffles because it’s apparently the most famous place in Brussels for it.P1000955-5P1000957-7This was my liege waffle with chocolate sauce. The chocolate sauce was divine, but personally I found the liege waffle to be too chewy and dense. Still quite good and better than other waffles I have had but it was a little bit of a let down.

P1000958-8Jordan’s Brussels waffle I felt was much more my thing hence why I had major food envy and stole many bites from him. Really crisp and fluffy towards the middle. Unfortunately the caramel sauce was too sweet. If only we had swapped toppings.

The following are photos of Brussels on our third day as we went to Bruges the day before. We skipped out on a lot of typically touristy locations in favour of just meandering around the city. We also ended up watching American Hustle which was a good film.

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Shortly after this photo was taken a huge alarm siren went off.

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Photo wearing Jordan’s dorky sunglasses because it was ridiculously sunny. Going back to Grand Place during the day was like seeing it for the first time again. The buildings catch the light differently, even just the way the shadows fell made it feel like they were entirely different to what we saw on the first day.P1010174-36

Prior to my trip I was given a list of places to go, things to see and food to eat by Bram, a Belgian exchange student also living at Lappis. On his list was written ‘Manneken Pis (duh)’. Without knowing whether the Manneken Pis was a type of food or a historical site, we trudged on with our trip kind of assuming that if it was that big a deal we would come across it soon enough. At one of the corners we turned we were met with a huge crowd of tourists stopping by a fountain fenced off with people queuing up to take photos. It was here we discovered Manneken Pis.

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A statute about two feet in height of a little boy peeing. Legend has it that a man lost his son and proclaimed that if he found his son he would produce a sculpture of his son doing whatever he was doing at the time he found him.

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If you visit the Museum of Brussels there is an entire floor dedicated to Manneken Pis’s wardrobe of clothing. He has over 800 outfits and is typically dressed during the festive season such as Christmas and Easter.

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Lunch that day was at C’est Bon, C’est Belge a tiny cafe in an alley off a main road. My duck rilette salad was fresh and crisp though I expected a creamier texture of pate instead of the denser rilette.P1010203-3

Jordan’s roasted rabbit was meat literally falling off the bone. Food envy strikes once again.P1010154-33

Brussels was littered with street art in the style of graffiti and comic strips and stencils not unlike Banksy. Wandering aimlessly meant we stumbled upon a lot of these by chance, quirky little surprises as we went on our way.

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I particularly love this wall which just completely dwarfs me, in the same way European men seem to in their stature.

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Towards the evening we found a skate park at what must be the edge of the city centre.P1010219-10

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It took an evening glow for me to realise why I felt so at home here. When the sun sets the buildings turn into soft fiery orange, the way some of the buildings at UNSW went as well. I don’t actually attend UNSW but there were a lot of memorable things that happened there and the cool air of Brussels just seemed to take me back. P1010223-11 P1010226-13  P1010234-15 P1010237-16

Belgium really isn’t a place you hear much about beyond dreams of chocolate. And while I did have my fair share of Godiva, I’m glad I came because I got to discover much, much more that Brussels had to offer. Much in the same way I tell everyone that Asian countries aren’t homogeneous, it took coming to Belgium (the sixth country I have visited in Europe) for me to truly appreciate that every European country was distinct and unique in their own way. Not just in the people, or the language or the kind of confectionery they specialise in. Just simply looking back now at Belgium takes me to that moment when I took this photo with the wind blowing against me and each time I blinked it felt like my eyes had opened for the very first time.

samanthawxlow

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