It just so happened that at the same time that Keith and I were leaving for Prague, our friend and classmate at Columbia, Thomas, was leaving for a month-long program in the south of France. He had a few days in between the end of his trip in France and his flight home out of Amsterdam, so the 3 of us met up in Brussels for the long weekend. Keith and I were for 2 days between our trip to Poland and a 4:45am trip to the airport for yet another trip (which was as crazy a turnaround as it sounds)!
We met Thomas at our lovely little Airbnb and spent our first day exploring Brussels. The Belgian capital is full of beautiful architecture, but it feels very different than our home in Prague. We ended up at the incredible old town square that has intricate buildings on all four sides. The pictures don’t do it justice. From there, we wandered into a free walking tour, which took us to all the best sites in the city. Belgium is known for four main foods- chocolate, waffles, fries, and beer, so naturally we had all of them that day. It was a perfect first day, ending with Thomas telling us it was actually his birthday and he hadn’t bothered to tell us till the very end of the day!
Our second day in Brussels was, honestly, not that great. I don’t want to whine because I know what a huge privilege traveling is, but I also don’t want to present a falsely rosy view of things. Sometimes, traveling is not what you expect it will be. Brussels is a pretty expensive city and there is a pretty limited number of free things to do, so by our second day there, we didn’t have much left to do. I was tired of all the walking that enivitably comes with being in Europe (while silently and angrily trying to disprove the stereotype that Americans don’t walk very much and can’t handle it.
Even though it was so good to have another friend with us and Thomas is one of my good friends at Columbia, he’s one of Keith’s roommates in Atlanta and their closeness reminded me how much I miss my close female friends. There’s something special about close friendships and instead of being happily reminded of that, it made me homesick. Or maybe I had just had too much waffles and chocolate and not enough vegetables. Whose to say? Regardless of what it was, I was having an off day to say the least. I wandered around the city in a sour mood for awhile before I finally found my way back to the apartment where I opened all the windows, popped some popcorn, poured myself a glass of rosé, and watched This Is Us. It wasn’t the most glamorous way to spend a day in the capital city of the EU, but it was what I needed.
On Saturday, we rented a Fiat 500 that was just about as cute as as the one my mom owned in Italy 30 years ago!
We headed up to the ridiculously cute towns of Ghent and Bruges in the Flanders region of northern Belgium. Prior to this trip, I didn’t know what Flemish was (it’s basically a dialectic of Dutch that they speak) or even where Flanders was, but that’s the great part thing about traveling! I have a hard time fully understanding an area of the world until I go there. I know what a privilege it is to say that and I’m grateful for the way that seeing the world through new eyes has made me a more critical thinker and better person.
Both Bruges and Ghent have idyllic downtown areas built around canals that are impossibly quaint. I’ve never been to the Netherlands before, so I’m just going to have to assume that it feels a bit like this. We were particularly impressed by one street in Ghent that has two huge basilicas and belfry tower in a row. It was so incredible that it was hard to believe it was real!
Bruges was swarming with tourists and the streets of the old town are lined with houses that look so much like they’re straight out of a fairytale that I felt like I was at Disneyland. Surely this can’t be real? But based on the amount of waffles and Belgian beer we consumed, I can testify that it was, in fact, real.
On our last day of our trip, we got back in the Fiat and headed south to the small country of Luxembourg. After three days in noisy, touristy cities, when we parked our car on a side street in downtown Luxembourg, we couldn’t believe how quiet it was. It was 11 am on Sunday morning, but there was hardly anyone around and somehow the sunlight still looked like early in the morning.
From the main view of the Corniche, we had stunning views of the old town of Luxembourg City. I thought I had already been to the most fairytale-like city in Europe, but I wasn’t even close! Luxembourg is the city people have in mind when they animate fairytales. I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if I ran into a real-life princess and knight in shining armor in Luxembourg. It was so peaceful and beautiful!
Luxembourg has the highest GDP per capita in the world and the prices there certainly reflected it! However, they have free entry to museums for students, which we took full advantage of. I went to two museums about the city and country, both which were fascinating. I love a good museum. Thomas quickly found the city rather boring, but Keith and I loved the quietness and relaxed atmosphere. Luxembourg needs Presbyterian pastors, right?? ;)
Overall, it was a great long-weekend! It felt so surreal for three friends from Oregon, Massachusetts, and Georgia to be spending a weekend, but such is this wild season of life that we’re in! Every time someone tells me how amazing my life looks, I want to quickly remind them that ‘THIS IS AS COOL AS I WILL EVER BE!’ This is it! This is an absurdly, exceptional year of my life and after this, it’s back to ordinary life. Plus, after yet another 5am trip to an airport, I was ready to not get on airplane for a loooong time (read: 2 months).