*This is a blog post detailing a past trip. The post refers to my year abroad in Germany that I undertook between the summers of 2016 and 2017 (6 years ago at the time of writing). Therefore, details shall be a little foggy, but I have written the post for completeness. Ensuring my blog captures everywhere I have travelled.
Another country I was able to visit during my time in Germany was that of Belgium. One long weekend I caught the train to the capital Brussels. Often described as the symbolic home of Europe, due to housing the European Parliament. There were several connections during the journey, but on the whole, it was an uneventful affair, as I raced through various cities and countryside on my 5-hour trip to Brussels. I arrived in the capital just after mid-day and having checked into my hostel I spent the rest of the day exploring the city centre on foot. A great starting point is that of the Grand Palace which lies in the heart of the city. The palace is one of many striking buildings that line the central square. Here you will also find the flamboyant Town Hall, the neo-Gothic King’s House or Bread House building, containing the Brussels City Museum as well as baroque guildhalls of the former Guilds of Brussels. It was here that I joined a walking tour to explore the various sites around the city. Some of the attractions on route included the iconic Manneken Pis. Which is a 17th-century fountain containing a bronze statue of a small boy. Which is often dressed in costume during festivals. The fountain element is actually of the little boy weeing. It was here that I learned the origin of the phrase “piss poor”, denoting those who used to be so poor that they would sell their urine due to the urea component being of some value. Other stops on the tour included the Church of Our Lady of Victories at the Sablon, the Royal Palace of Brussels, St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral before ending the tour at Mont des Arts. A small downtown area on a hill, with a landscaped garden and museums, that also provides lovely views of the city centre and Grand Palace. During the walking tour I got talking to an Australian lady of similar age, she was currently living in the UK and had come to Brussel for a weekend trip. Being both solo explorers we agreed to have some dinner together that evening and share our travel stories. Her name has now forsaken me, although I know I have her as a Facebook friend somewhere. It was a great first day in the city and highlights even as a solo traveller it’s so easy to strike up a conversation and make friends with others.
The following day I headed to the Museum of Natural Sciences. Being quite the science nerd I really enjoyed the exhibits, particularly the dinosaurs exhibit which I fondly remember today. No trip to Brussels would be complete without at least taking in some elements of the European Parliament. Which is located just around the corner from the Natural Sciences Museum. There are various tours you can book and take of the parliament but I just opted to wander around and explore on foot the various buildings I could access. I seem to remember there was also a museum-type building connected to the Parliament that contained a detailed history and explanation of the EU, its formation and what it does/achieved. Having had my fill of culture for the day, that evening I signed up for a beer-tasting workshop. Belgium is famous for its beer so it would have been rude not to sample some of this while I was there. We sampled 6 different types of beer, from American IPAs to Indian pale ales as well as the famous Trappist beer, which is brewed by monks in Belgium. It has some strange fermentation process whereby it is just left to ferment in the open air. All the beers we tasted were good though and it set the night going as after the beer tasting I joined a bar crawl in the city as well. During the bar crawl, we headed to several different spots in the city and along the way I made good friends with another Aussie called Katrina, who was currently living in Ireland (side note we actually had a reunion 5 years later in Melbourne) and some french guy who again I have on Facebook but his name now escapes me. The night was really fun and even now I remember Katrina having to be sick outside one of the bars after one too many Jagger bombs haha. She rallied well though and we all ended up stumbling home to our separate hostels around 3 am. Vowing to meet up for breakfast and some exploration the following day.
Being late to bed the night before meant I was late to rise on what was now a Sunday morning. The hangover wasn’t too horrendous but upon messaging Katrina, we met up for breakfast at the nearby McDonald’s. Here the 3 of us reminisced about the previous night’s antics before deciding to seize the day and do some more exploring. From the centre of the city, we walked to the nearby Parc du Cinquantenaire home to the Monument du Cinquantenaire which is rather a grand spectacle. Before buying admittance to the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History which was located in the grand buildings. The Museum was good with great exhibits and various pieces of war equipment from guns to massive tanks and even planes. Certainly worth a visit for a few hours for people interested in that kind of thing. Having done some exploring we then ventured back into the centre of the city to sample another one of Brussells famous landmarks and bars, the Delirium Café. No trip to the city would be complete without stepping foot in this famous establishment. The so-called “cafe” is home to over 2000 types of beer and live music on a Thursday evening. The only difficulty you will have is trying to pick which beer you want to sample as the endless choice makes it almost impossible to decide. From here we said our goodbyes due to the 3 of us having to go separate ways and travel to our respective homes either that evening or the following day.
My train home the next day wasn’t due to depart until mid-afternoon meaning I had some time to kill in the morning. I therefore decided to check out another of the city’s famous landmarks which is a little further out of town. First taking a trip to the Atomium monument. I’m sure from seeing a picture of the monument you can guess where the name comes from. The monument was originally constructed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair and is located on the Heysel/Heizel Plateau in Laeken where the exhibition took place. Nowadays, it is the city’s most popular tourist attraction and serves as a museum, art centre and cultural place. Upon leaving the monument I started to notice a large number of people gathering and a queue starting to form for a nearby Chateau. Through sheer coincidence, I happened to stubble upon Château de Laeken on the exact day/time of year when there is the annual opening of the Chateus greenhouse. Seeing that the opportunity was too good to miss and just about having enough time to whizz around before my train, I took the opportunity to explore the gardens as much as I could. While interesting and the gardens beautiful, I think the experience would have been better suited for my parents who are avid gardeners and likely would have appreciated the event far more than I. The Chateau itself is the official royal residence hence it is shut for most of the year and only open during certain occasions and times of the year. One of the reasons for it being so busy that day.
Having explored the gardens it was time for me to head back to my hostel, collect my bags and leave for the train station. Having just left the gardens to start my journey back the crowds were still forming to visit the Chateau. Parking was pretty sparse and spaces were limited. As I crossed one of the roads one car seemed to steal a space from another without realising. This was the catalyst for a moment of rage when the man in the first car jumped out and then started harassing and shouting at the man in the second car. Without really thinking or understanding the language I jumped in to intervene between the two attempting to defuse the situation. It was something of nothing really but I remember jumping in since the family of the man being shouted at were all crying and rather scared. It was here that the wife and son of the man instigating the trouble pulled him away and off they went. It was then that the wife of the man being shouted at asked me to come with them to the police to report what had happened, accusing the man of being racist due to this family being of Muslim belief. Again I didn’t speak french nor did they speak great English but I agreed to take the short walk back to the chateau where numerous police were stationed to explain what happened. Here I spoke to a Belgian policeman about what I had witnessed and what occurred while some other police officers went to find the man who had gotten aggressive to the family and his children. I gave my account to the police officer who spoke great English and explained while the first person overreacted and made something of nothing, nothing too serious had really occurred and it was just a little argument. I left the scene none the wiser and was now pushing it for time to catch my train. It was a bit of a whirlwind 30 minutes or so where I just so happened to be in the wrong/right place at that moment. Having had to now hurry to make my train. I arrived at the central station in Brussels to the news that my train was delayed an hour regardless.
I finally got home to my apartment in Germany having met some great people during the trip and experiencing lots of what Europe’s capital had to offer. It was certainly eventful in one way or another. But it was another country to add to my list and a city I can save I’ve visited.