It’s been a few weeks, so welcome back. Unfortunately, aside from this weekend, I’ve stayed in Rome trying to comfort my wallet and take some time to rest. It’s even a little ridiculous for me to say “unfortunately’ because I’m in ROME! not Los Angeles or some hyper-familiar place, but Rome, and I should appreciate it more. The break was nice too; I put more effort into meeting Italian people and had more time for my local friends, but after two weeks I was craving a change, seeking nature, non-Italian food, and more adventure.
So for Easter weekend, rather than basking in the Catholic city of Rome and dealing with tourists coming to see Papa Francesco, I took to Belgium. Since I didn’t get a personal visit from the Easter bunny this year, what better place to go than the home to chocolate.
I arrived in Brussels on Friday morning, very early with my backpack full of clothes, sandals on my feet, and my appetite ready for fries, waffles, and chocolate. To my surprise…the city was much, much colder than Rome. So I froze but struggled through. I stopped at a few bookshops searching for postcards and potential French reading material.
Before coming to Belgium, I switched my phone language to French and started listening to Parisian podcasts, because after being in Paris I loved speaking French with the locals and looked forward to doing so in Belgium too, but I wanted to brush up on my language before getting there. However, almost everyone speaks English..and if they don’t, they speak Dutch or some sort of odd French-Dutch dialect. I did my best, but am hoping Nice, France this next weekend will give me more freedom to use my French. On the bright side I found a great new podcast, À Ton Âge, if you speak French, you should listen to it, it’s funny and insightful.
Anywho, I went to brunch after walking around the chilly city and found myself at Peck 47, a place recommended by a friend. I had basil strawberry lemonade with an amazing waffle and poached eggs topped not with hollandaise, but with what the café called “insanity sauce” … it was insanely good.
With a full tummy, I walked to the stock exchange building which was hosting and exhibition for Steve McCurry, the best photojournalist of all time, hands down. He’s had many photos published in National Geographic, works with Lavazza to show what a sustainable coffee industry looks like, and has been a part of many different documentaries. The pictures were stunning, but the display of the exhibit was almost just as beautiful. Each picture was hung from the high ceiling on a sheer white cloth and backlit to make the pictures seem like floating ghosts, and since the cloth was sheer you could see through the sheets into the rest of the exhibit as you walked.
Next up was the chocolate tour. Yep. CHOCOLATE TOUR. It was three hours long and basically, I learned the history of chocolate while tasting my way through the city; best tour ever. My favorite chocolate was a cardamon and black current ganache, spicy but fruity and utter perfection.
After the tour, I got some fries and walked to the Manneken Pis, a famous fountain of a little peeing boy. Brussels has many peeing statues, it’s a part of their hilarious and entertaining charm.
The city is home to comics as well, like the Smurfs and Tin Tin, so I saw some murals while wandering the streets, but skipped the museum. The Royal Greenhouses were on my wishlist, but they opened for the season that day and weren’t open until 830 at night. So I hopped on my train to Brugge with family friends awaiting me at the station.
Brugge was beautiful, a similar feel to Amsterdam, with lovely Medieval houses and canals running through the city center. Because of its size, the city is often less touristy with fewer monuments, so I luckily had a personal tour guide to walk me through the city’s true character. She was British-Italian, so while she showed me everything, I got to talk about Rome and listen to her wonderful English accent. Katherine, my tour guide and now friend, showed me everything from beer, to rivers, to windmills, to chocolate, and markets; it was heaven.
I felt at peace, not rushing to get to the next tourist attraction or figuring out public transportation because everything was bike-able, and I got a good fix of nature. Sunday, was of course Easter. Because I go to school across the country, and now across the world, I haven’t been home for Easter in years, being among family friends, going to a small church, getting to do some worship and having a home cooked meal was all I could ask for.
The Downs, the missionaries hosting me, Libby and her daughter Ella, who let me stay in their home, and Katherine who showed me the city, were the best part of Belgium. It felt like family, which in my opinion is important during a time like Easter. To remember what the day represents and be among those you care for.
I ate lots of potatoes and chocolate, feeling full for days after leaving Belgium, but despite this and some rainy weather, the weekend was great. I left with a sense of peace. My hosts also put me up in a hotel directly across from the airport the next morning because I had an early flight. It probably saved me three hours of sleep and added to the overall relaxation.
Thank you to all the people I met, I hope to see you again, and thank you Belgium for your food and nature. I can’t wait to explore the French Riviera this weekend, until then,
Bri, the barefoot traveler