So, as stated before, Brussels began with my emergency hostel stay. The actual hostel that I had planned on staying at the next two nights ended up being super nice. It was basically this man’s condo downtown, except that it was several stories and spacious and felt more like a house. It’ll probably be the nicest hostel I’ll stay at, and it didn’t cost much more than all of the other options in Brussels.
I’ve learned that no matter how hard you try to plan things, you should expect that things won’t go as planned. After checking into the hostel, I went to the bus station to get my next ticket for when I left Brussels in a few days before beginning my activities for that evening. The plan was to leave for Oslo, Norway on Thursday. When I got to the ticket counter, I was told there was no bus to Oslo on Thursday, only Wednesday (the next day) or Friday. Once again, my bus company has been incompetent. See, I’m not crazy.
I don’t know where the disconnect is between the website and reality. I didn’t want to go the next night because I already had the hostel booked. Leaving Friday also didn’t work because I wouldn’t get to Oslo until late Saturday evening and the bus leaving Oslo only goes Fridays and Sundays, which would give me no time to see Oslo. I had to reorganize my entire trip. After some planning and rearranging, Oslo was no longer in the picture and instead my next destination became Amsterdam. One good thing that came from all of this is that the new itinerary has a more logical sequence of countries that minimizes long drives between cities.
After the bus debacle, I had planned to walk to the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée, aka, the comic strip museum. It talked about the history of comics, the drawing process, the printing process, genres, and Belgian artists. Before, I only had a vague knowledge of the Tintin comics, but apparently it’s a big deal here since the creator was Belgian. There was also a section devoted to the Smurfs, which I also didn’t know was Belgian.
After the museum, I took a scenic route back to the hostel. I got my first Belgian waffle at a stand. Ironically (I believe this is a correct use of irony), the most common kind of waffle in Brussels (and all of Belgium) is the Liege waffle, named after another Belgian city. I don’t exactly know what the taste difference is, but Brussels waffles are square while Liege waffles are rounded and with a little difference in texture. Belgian waffles don’t come with syrup, but they can have different flavored glazes. The first one I got was apple-cinnamon, so it tasted similar to an apple fritter. However, I learned later that that was not the proper way to get a Belgian waffle, that they shouldn’t be adulterated with the additional flavors. I eventually paid my penance and got the plain waffle, which still has a sugar glaze on it. It was also really good.
The next day, I basically walked for 8 hours straight. There was a flea market that I wanted to go to, but it was a relatively far away (all in all, Brussels isn’t very large.) I thought I’d stop at a nearby bus station before going so I could get my newly decided ticket to Amsterdam. After I got to the station, I was told that I could only get the ticket at the station the bus goes out of, which was a different station back where the hostel was. Which, again, is directly conflicting with the information I found on the company’s website about getting tickets. I would have to get the ticket later that night after my other plans.
I started heading for the flea market, but as things go, I was heading towards the wrong place and consequently got lost. After some wandering, I was able to find some free WiFi and get back on track. This photo was taken on my way to the market.
I got to the flea market without any more problems and did my perusing. I ended up buying a safety razor, which I won’t know how to use properly but thought it would be fun to try out.
I had just enough time to grab something quick to eat before the free tour I had planned next. I enjoyed the tour; the guide was good and I was able to learn more about the history of Belgium. Basically Belgium’s history is the conflict derived from the convergence of differing cultures, areas and kingdoms.
This is probably the most iconic part of Belgium, a peeing child, seen whilst on the tour.
Somehow, the exact origins of it aren’t known. It seems strange that a fountain would just appear and it’s not known how it got there.
This is the opera house and it’s the origin of Belgium’s independence when people began rioting against their Dutch rulers during a play that was going on. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me either.
This is the Grand Place. It’s where the town hall is (far right building) as well as a historical trading ground and other stuff.
Finally, just a scenery view. The behemoth building way in the background is the Palace of Justice (the photo I took on the way to the flea market was taken there.)
I learned from the tour that it’s bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica and only 10% of the building gets used.
After the tour, I went to the bus station to get my ticket (finally) and then back to the hostel to rest my tired feet. After resting a little bit, one of the fellow hostelers asked if I wanted to grab some dinner with him. I wasn’t too hungry but thought it would be fun to go. He was able to gather one more person before we left. He was Luigi from Italy (of course), a journalist looking for better employment outside of Italy. The other person who came was Dawna, a Kiwi woman on vacation. She was pretty quiet the whole time but Luigi was very lively and interesting. He was a frequent traveler, had finished another degree in business and finance, and couch surfed for a month in Boston in 2008 so that he could volunteer for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, even though he isn’t an American citizen. We ended up going to a Thai restaurant and talked for awhile. I got a soup that was delicious; it was basically a lighter form of curry with some noodles in it.
After we got to the hostel and we went into our rooms (Luigi and I were in the same room but Dawna was in a different one), Luigi told me that he couldn’t understand anything Dawna said the whole night. Since he’s not a native English speaker (even though his English was very good), he couldn’t understand anything over her New Zealand accent. He said he it made it so he wasn’t able to really talk to her or follow up any of his questions, which may have explained why she didn’t talk as much. I didn’t notice at all at the time but I thought it was funny to hear after.
The next day, I didn’t do anything besides get some Belgian chocolate to try (they were delicious, but I don’t know if I noticed anything real spectacular about them) before going to the bus station. The previous night, Luigi had said that he heard from someone that there was going to be a political protest in the city and he was correct. And where they held the protest, at least for part of it, was right outside the bus station. I tried asking a few people about what was going on but none of them spoke good enough English to explain it to me. It turns out people are upset about some austerity measures the government is implementing. All over, you’d see people in red and green. They seemed like two different groups but not against each other because everyone was civil towards each other. My support was for the red people because a woman in red gave me chocolate. Basically, it was people making lots of noise by banging things and setting off firecrackers. This video doesn’t accurately portray how loud everything was.
I don’t understand what was supposed to be accomplished by making lots of noise (apparently part of it did turn to rioting later on.) I also don’t know why they chose to be outside the bus station, but it delayed my bus by 2 hours. And even after all the people left the bus station, we still had to walk probably a mile to get to where the bus was parked since it couldn’t get all the way to the station. Again, things not going as planned.
The bus ride to Amsterdam was short, only three hours. On the ride, I got to meet two fellow young people. There was Louis from Canada who was traveling frequently during his study abroad for law school in France and Hannah from Germany who was studying international relations at a university in the Netherlands. We got to Amsterdam late, but still alive.