Today was quite a big day for me from the very start! I left for the train station around 8 this morning on my SUPER AWESOME BIKE. That’s right, I got a bike. I feel so Dutch. I named my bike Preston, because that sounds like a super fancy name. Even though my bike is secondhand, I want him to know that I think he is super fancy.
Another reason why today was a big day was it was my first trip by myself. I’ll be taking quite a few trips around Europe alone, which has its pros and cons. Obviously it’s a little scary, but I’ll be able to just do whatever I want, whenever I want for the most part. So, today was the day to find out if I could handle it. It was also my first day leaving The Netherlands since I got here! I was overly excited about going to another country.
As I mentioned, I took a train to Brussels, Belgium. I had to switch trains twice, and I had plenty of time for each switch. It took me a while to figure out which trains I was supposed to get on. My ticket tells me which stops I need to get to, but it doesn’t tell me which train to get on. So, I just have to look at the big board thing that tells everyone which train stops where and at what time. Simple enough, it’s just all in a different language. But it’s okay, I figured it out!
I enjoyed looking out the window at the scenery on the way there. I saw some highways, which was really weird. I’ve gotten so used to this quaint little town full of bikes that I kind of forgot traffic existed. It was also really weird that I was able to just take a train into another country. Part of me felt like there should be some announcement on the PA System like, “Welcome to Belgium!” The only real indicator that I had crossed a border was that the conductor started announcing the stops in French and Dutch. So many languages to keep track of. More on that later.
So, I made it to Belgium! I was already really excited when I got off the train, because the station was gorgeous. It was underground, so when I left the station I was already in the heart of the city. I didn’t get a super sunny day, and it was quite chilly, but I dressed warm so I was fine. I planned to do a free walking tour, but it wasn’t for a couple hours. I took pictures of so many maps and directions on my phone, but I didn’t use them once. I was just running all over the place. I wanted to look at that pretty building, and that pretty church, and oh my gosh where is that chocolate smell coming from?
The city was gorgeous. I’ve heard of Brussels before, and people told me I NEEDED to go, but I don’t think anyone has ever expressed to me just how breathtaking it was. There were so many gorgeous buildings. They had crazy intricate art all over them. Every time I turned a corner, I’d forget about where I was headed because I found something else I wanted to go look at. I was so engrossed in everything I was seeing that I decided to skip the walking tour. Plus, I was really enjoying just walking wherever I wanted.
Traffic was CRAZY. Brussels had some spots that were very market-oriented, and I didn’t see many cars there. The deeper into the city I got, the more cars I saw. Boy oh boy am I glad that I do not have to drive in Belgium. People drive like absolute maniacs. They put Missouri drivers to shame. That’s the best I can say. And there are some big open cobblestone areas that just don’t have any lanes. You just drive wherever. I don’t know how there aren’t fifty accidents a day. Oh, and if a walk sign is on, that means you’re allowed to walk, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the cars are going to stop. It was quite the adventure crossing streets.
Police presence was extremely heavy. I’m sure this was because of everything that’s been going on lately, but I saw police officers on every other block. And they were not messing around. I’m no gun expert, but most police officers I see just carry their pistol or whatever. These police officers were packing heat. It was very intimidating. They looked like they were at least…I almost just typed “almost automatic,” but I remembered the correct term is “semi-automatic.” See what an expert I am?
I was pretty hungry when I got to Brussels, so I found a cute little shop that specialized in Belgian fries. They also had burgers and stuff, but I really just wanted a snack. So, I ordered fries and tried a couple sauces. I tried Brazil, American (tasted like nothing American I’ve ever had), Samurai (delicious), and mayonnaise (sounds gross, but mayonnaise is different here – in the best possible way). They were all so good! I tried others too, I just don’t remember what they were called.
Ordering was slightly overwhelming. I’ve gotten used to looking at Dutch menus that conveniently have the English written right next to each food option. Now I was trying to order from a menu that was primarily French with Dutch conveniently written next to the options. I had all of my French pleasantries down, but I knew if I tried to pronounce one thing on a menu, I was going to butcher it big time. I just did what I’ve been taught and asked politely if I could speak English, and every time I had to do that, I received nothing but politeness in return. They just smile and say, “Oh, English!” and continue like it’s no big deal. Everyone was soooo friendly.
And can we talk for a moment about how awesome Europeans are? Most people I’ve met know three languages at MINIMUM. Everyone in Brussels knew French, Dutch, and English. I’m glad the US has been taking steps lately to start foreign languages in schools earlier on, because we are scrubs.
When I was hungry for more than a snack, I knew it was time for a Belgian waffle. It did not disappoint. Not only was it beautiful, but it was so delicious. I had my waffle with amazing Belgian hot chocolate. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drink “normal” hot chocolate again. They basically gave me delicious melted chocolate with some super sweet milk in it, and it was amazing. So amazing.
As I did my sight-seeing, I found the famous “Manneken Pis.” For those of you who don’t know, it is a statue of a little boy peeing. It’s a fountain. Lovely, I know. There are several myths and stories that make the statue famous, but I think my favorite part about it was what all of the tourist shops have made this thing into. Every shop I walked by had statues, key chains, bottle openers, EVERYTHING made to look like this little boy peeing. It was quite comical to see what a big deal it was.
After tasting and buying too much chocolate at a couple different chocolate shops, I called it a day. I walked a lot, and I didn’t realize how tired I was until I got on the train. I’ve decided there’s nothing more soothing than a train ride. I was pretty worried I was going to miss a stop because I kept dozing. When I got back, I was so happy to see Leiden. After being in 5 different train stations, being around tons of people and places I’m not familiar with, and just being alone in general, it felt really nice to be home. And I guess it’s kind of cool that Leiden feels like home now 🙂