The journey to Belgium took some time as we had to catch slow trains to Amsterdam airport and Rotterdam first. We finally boarded our train to Brussels, where the G7 summit had just been held. It was an eventful trip – towards the end of it the conductors warned us that there were pickpocketers on the train. Fun times.
We arrived in Brussels, the train passing the Red Light District which gave us a scenic view of several window girls. We were unaware that Brussels had this district. We departed the train at Brussels south station. We did not feel very safe at all. The station gave off bad vibes and walking to our hotel, we felt all eyes on us. Alex mentioned that the area reminded him of a scary part of San Jose. We hurried to our hotel and stayed there for the afternoon. We did not have a very good first impression of Brussels.
We stayed at the Pantone Hotel, a themed hotel where the rooms on every floor are decorated with one Pantone colour. Of all the beautiful bright lovely colours, we got brown! Alex reminded me that brown is the colour of chocolate so I guess I became okay with it.
We went out for dinner in the trendy district of Ixelles. We were having trouble determining if we should have been speaking French or Dutch, but the waitress ended up being Spanish. We were extremely dehydrated and were advised by my doctor earlier to stop drinking tap water, just in case, so we ordered two Sprites. The restaurant was Italian and we were informed the only drinks they had were the tiniest bottles of San Pellegrino mixed with fruit juice. I think we finished them in two sips.
The following day we had to choose between a day in Brussels city or Bruges. We chose Bruges and were very happy with our decision, even though we had to again venture into the deep darkness that is the south station.
We entered Bruges from a lovely and modern train station. To get to the city centre we followed a picturesque path via a quaint park until we reached a string of restaurants where we stopped for lunch. We also caught a glimpse of some incredible freestyle street soccer.
We continued on towards the historic centre. On our way we spotted many antique buildings. We noticed that many of the edifices in Bruges have particularly charming stepped gables.
We crossed a bridge which overlooked a breathtaking scene of medieval buildings resting alongside a dreamy canal. I had to pause to marvel at the beauty and serenity of the scene. We had arrived in the historic centre of Bruges and it did not disappoint.
We approached Markt, a huge public square enclosed by grand medieval buildings and filled with a marketplace. We visited the ornate Basilica of the Holy Blood, whose extravagant façade featured gilded figurines and whose interior was rather colourful.
We entered into the courtyard of the Belfry, the tallest building in the square, and enjoyed a brief moment of shade from the scorching sun (we were there during an anomalous heatwave).
We admired a row of differently coloured buildings, all with those lovely medieval gables.
We spent the rest of the day wandering through the cobblestone streets, visiting more medieval monuments, drooling over shop windows and admiring the canals.
Our day ended with some Belgian waffles and a trip to a chocolate shop to buy some tantalising Belgian chocolate which unfortunately melted into a big mess and were eaten a few days later once we finally entered a cooler climate. Delicious, however disappointing at the same time as all the unique flavours I carefully picked out had amalgamated into one.
Bruges is an extremely picturesque town and very much a place where a fairy-tale might be set.
We returned to Brussels quite late and headed to dinner in a fancy pedestrian street full of restaurants called Rue Jourdan. We chose an Italian restaurant with delicious pizza but awful service. We noticed the pizzas in Europe are delectably cheesy and more like New York-style pizzas than the boring pizzas we have in Australia.