Friday, 21 November 2008

Belgium: Brussels & Bruges

For the international student festival at IAE in Aix [France] last year, I had the opportunity to befriend the first Ukrainian girl that I've ever met in my life. This year, almost by chance, we re-discovered each other in the cyber-realm. It just so happened that she was working in Belgium, and being the friendly person that she is, I was offered accommodation there, in Brussels, if ever I decided to visit.

This semester I really hadn't traveled much; so being the travel-enthusiast that I always was, and having never visited Belgium before, and considering my desire to taste Belgian beer, fries, and culture, I decided to visit [obviously; considering this post].

It was indeed exciting, bringing up a sense of nostalgia as I sat on the Dutch train to Brussels actually hearing passengers speaking French. It's such a delicate beautiful language compared to the coarse German-like Dutch language. As I switched trains to the Belgian line, I immediately felt the multiculturalism of Belgium, since the train conductors announced the stops in Three languages: Flemish, French, and English, [unlike the Dutch-only announcements here in the Netherlands]. Getting off the train in Brussels, I immediately felt somehow comfortable, since the signs were all in three languages as well, people spoke familiar languages to me [I could even understand some Flemish since it's similar to Dutch]. Of course the main purpose of this is because Brussels is some-what of the European political capital [the de-facto capital city of the European Union]; it hosts most of the national embassies, and is a melting-pot of nationalities.

Brussels is a nice city [although people say it's not the best of Belgium], I liked it, with semi modern, semi antique buildings, squares, shops, and of course the cobble stoned streets. Everywhere you turn, you can find stalls selling fries [Belgium is the birthplace of 'French fries'], Belgian chocolate [which is amazing], and Belgian waffles with sugar, chocolate or ice cream toppings. Reading a corny but compact tourist guide [a short list of things you should do/try in Brussels], I had lunch at a nice tourist-trap restaurant [located on a beautiful restaurant street] selling what was supposed to be a very traditional or at least very typical 'Brusselian' dish: Mussels [hm, mussels from Brussels], or Moules as they are called, with fries [and of course a Belgian beer].

I spent about 20 minutes walking to see a statue that was supposed to be really famous only to find a tiny statue of a boy urinating called "Manneken Pis", which is seen as a symbol of French and Dutch cohabitation in Brussels. Anyways, after seeing the city in one day, I met Yuliya [my Ukrainian friend], and delved right into the night-life of Brussels. Trying some dark beers along the way, we finally ended up in an underground party with drunken ravers which was just too much for us, so we went home for the night.

Day two in Belgium, we spent in the charming miniature city of Bruges. Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium and is located in the northwest of the country. The historic city centre is veined with canals [sometimes being called the Venice of the North] and is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO. The movie 'in Bruges' even contests to claim it's one of the most beautiful cities in the world and that it is a "fairytale city"! It's a great movie that shows the best of the town. I'd say, it's...well, beautiful, but maybe not the most beautiful: a very romantic city however, with narrow paths between old buildings and a gorgeous central square. There was even a heavily hail shower in the mid-afternoon [something I have never seen before, but that amazed me [the weather was quite bad but I enjoyed the visit none-the-less].

There are a lot of things in Belgium that I did not get the opportunity to see/visit due to the limitation on time. For example, Brussels is famous for its Flower carpet in the central square [but it was just too cold, and not the season for it]. I did, however, see what I wanted to see, [as much as I could], ate/sampled the famous foods/drinks, saw two popular Belgian cities, was amazed by the mixed breed of French-Dutch looking girls, and got to meet my good friend once more.

For more pictures see:

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