I returned from my visit a few weeks ago with one primary realization: you are vastly underrated in terms of top tourist destinations. I don’t know many students abroad who have added you to their list of must-sees before they return to America, but you are not one to miss out on. You may not have the elegance of Paris or the mouthwatering pasta of Italy, but you are a fascinating blend of cultures and influences that make you so, so fantastic. Sorry I wear my heart on my sleeve!
You might think this is creepy, but I remember my very first impression of you. I took the train to the Grand Place in the center of Brussels, and stepped off the train into sunshine and seventy-degree weather! The stereotypes were true: everyone was walking around eating waffles smothered in chocolate and strawberries, there were tiny cobblestoned streets, and sidewalk cafes overshadowed only by the intricate architecture of the massive buildings comprising the city centre.
My first stop was in Brussels—I’m a massive fan, my dear, but I’ve got to tell you something a little harsh so please do not take it personally. The public transportation was extremely confusing to navigate and it took me ages to figure out how to take the metro anywhere in the main part of the city. This negative was absolutely eclipsed by the abundance of sights to see and things to do, however! One of my favorites was the Magritte Museum, which was extremely well laid out and chock full of the Surrealist painter’s gorgeous works. I could have wandered around for days! I also so enjoyed stopping by the Manneken Pis to take an obligatory picture as well as working my way through the crazy cool vintage and thrift stores—in particular, Gabriel’s Vintage and a few of these other ones on the list created by the Guardian. And of course, walking around the Grand Place (especially at night) and some of the smaller neighborhoods was lovely too.
The second destination was up to Oostende on the Belgian coast; as you border the North Sea so conveniently, your beaches are quite wonderful! It was such an adorable seaside town perfect for a day trip and a few hours walking along the coast. Funny story—at first we couldn’t find the sea. You’d think a sea would be hard to miss, but it’s easier than you’d think! Thank goodness for Belgian people willing to help the stupid American tourists. I also have never seen street seafood before, so the booths full of takeaway shrimp, snails, mussels, and more was completely fascinating!
Our final stop was in Bruges. Of course I love all of you, Belgium, but I think Bruges may have just stolen my heart. The canals, the main square with the clock tower, the medieval passageways, the idyllic parks, and the horses and carriages trotting around made it feel like a step back in time. I think I have found my new retirement destination, so don’t expect to have seen the last of me!
Belgium, I’m genuinely not in love with you just because of your looks. Your personality is fantastic too! I have never met anyone quite as relaxed, friendly, unique, and historical as you were and I can’t wait to return to you as soon as possible.
P.S. Next time, I’ll be sure to not only visit the capital of the E.U. in Brussels but to stop by Antwerp and Ghent as well.