I wrote this after my first day in Brussels in October 2007. For anyone who has never been, it’s just a short reflection. I wrote it from Dawn’s apartment while she showered, just before catching a train to Amsterdam.
Despite the fact that I am deliriously tired (I can barely see this screen right now), so far Brussels has been a slightly more stylish, more foggy, but just as beautiful place as I had imagined. Am I REALLY here? The fact that I can wake up in one country and, in a matter of hours, wake up again in ANOTHER country continues to boggle my mind. Poor Dawn. I keep on asking her if I am in Brussels, followed by lots of giggles. “Hey, Dawnimal – Am I really in BRUSSELS?? Heeheehee…” I’m a bit on the delirious side of sleepy, yes, and clearly very excited to be in Europe. I’m sure I’ll get over it soon. (I’m in Belgium. Heehee!)
I’ve already had two of the most incredible pieces of chocolate, three deliciously rich Belgian beers, and met three great people — an American named Rachael (she spells her name wrong, oh well), an Italian named Laura, and a Spaniard named Miguel. I’m off to Amsterdam in a couple hours, so let’s get to it.
To give you a sense of how little I have slept, I will briefly breeze through my “day” yesterday… if I can even call it a “day.”
On Thursday, I left NYC for the airport at 3pm after waking up at 7:30am that morning. I got on a 6:05pm direct flight to Brussels, Belgium, where I arrived a little early at 7:30am. This, for me, was 1:30am. Per usual, I did not sleep a wink on the plane. Any shut-eye activity was replaced by a great six-hour conversation with the Flemish woman sitting next to me. She left me craving Belgian chocolate and Dutch goat cheese, both of which she had described to me as tasting above and beyond what I will ever find in the US.
After an early morning arrival in Brussels, I found myself standing around at the gate for about 40 minutes, wondering what I should do if my lovely hostess never appeared. I must have looked a little flustered because a handsome Belgian man looked over at me, smiled, and just said “don’t worry, she’ll show up…” Hehe (how did he know?!). We talked for a little bit — about Brussels, Holland, French and Dutch — and then, sure enough, my hostess, Dawn, appeared! It was about 8:30 am when we hopped on a bus from the airport to get to her apartment, which would be about 2:30am, NYC-time.
A couple of busses and turns down cobblestone streets later, we had arrived! The first thing I noticed was the side-by-side homes, all only a few stories high, and completely unique. They were neatly packed along pristine sidewalks that had the light complexion of a well-off city.
The tall narrow trees reminded me of previous trips to Europe. My heart fluttered in excitement as it always does in anticipation of exploring a new place. I was happy and excited, feeling strangely at home as I looked around at the intensely overcast morning that was just creeping out from under a starry night, which I had the pleasure of enjoying from the sky.
The day stayed on the brink of raining without ever squeezing out a drop. I was expecting a mixture of languages, but so far – on day one – all I have heard is French. Oh man… how I LOVE hearing French. It amazes me how easy it is to understand, yet when someone says something to me in French, my instinct is to respond in Spanish or just stand there, dumbly blank, with no arsenal of words to throw back into the conversation.
After a two-hour deep, drowsy post-arrival nap in my trusty sleeping bag, I woke up completely out of it, but hoping to get out before I messed up my sleeping pattern any more. Dawn, Rachael and I hit up a delicious pizza place called Mama Roma, where I feasted in my jet-lag stupor on a square of pepperoni pizza with a perfectly flavored crunchy crust that left me extremely thirsty. My sleep-deprivation was beginning to catch up with me in a bad way, so we turned another corner and, after popping into a couple places that didn’t make the cut (I have a radar for cute/special spots that automatically goes on every time I travel, and I have trouble settling for less), we found an adorable coffee shop that made me feel like I was in Paris.
In we walked, past the long, crimson velvet curtains that kept out the cold and around a glass counter encasing some of the most delicately delicious looking flourless chocolate cakes and other tarte-like desserts. Ahh… Europe! I have missed you! I think that was the first moment I really felt like I was here.
I ordered a delicious latte that soaked up some of my exhaustion pretty quickly but, just as quickly, left me sleepy-headed again. An incredible orange-scented chocolate lifted me back up, as did the brisk, fresh, undeniably European air when we walked back out into the grey.
Dawn had class from 4-6pm, so Rachael and I walked around for a couple hours until I could barely stand up anymore (functioning on exactly two hours of sleep). The walk adrenalized me. THIS is what I had been waiting for: EUROPE. The previous couple of years, I had traveled to Japan, Costa Rica, Argentina, Mexico and Turkey… but for some reason, I had been CRAVING Western Europe like a pregnant woman craves pickles.
I feel completely at home in Europe, yet subtly clunkier and less stylish compared to everyone else in the upscale neighborhoods. And in this case, I was carrying the biggest suitcases directly under each eye – such a faux pas!
I’ve already seen some beautiful, Victorian-style gardens, tons of sculptures and churches (yes, all this stuff DOES it for me like nothing else), and tons of bars/pubs with these cute cartoon-like signs hanging outside. But what seems to dominate my sleepy conscious is the constant thought of CHOCOLATE.
Waffles, lace, beer, and CHOCOLATE. That’s what I know about Belgium. And I plan to do some major research in a couple of those categories while I’m here. Despite the apparent wealth and lack of major class distinctions within the city so far, I am liking it here.
At around 5:30pm, I began to crash. Rachael and I headed to her apartment where I quickly found her couch and went from vertical to horizontal in a matter of seconds, fighting heavy eyes and a creaky body. After an hour or so of fighting sleep and feasting on Cote d’Or chocolates (OH. MY. GAWD. — I’m not usually a big chocolate eater but WOW), Dawn arrived. The three of us eventually decided to wander around and find a place for dinner. We ended up selecting this adorable little restaurant with brass/iron junk and ceramic pipes hanging from the ceiling. The place was incredibly warm and cozy, with deep brick walls and a small dining area where we were among Belgian couples speaking quietly in French as they sipped wine in oh-so-European bliss. The menus were like a little girl’s journal and the atmosphere resonated with a fairytale sparkle, which felt appropriate, as it sometimes takes me a day or two to believe I’m really where all the signs say I am. I tasted some of the most amazing goat cheese (checked that off the list immediately) and enjoyed laughing and catching up with Dawn and Rachael.
We met up a little bit later with Miguel, a hilarious, adorable Spaniard (it felt like such a relief to speak Spanish after feeling so useless without any Flemish/Dutch/French skills) and a fun, sweet Italian woman named Laura. Miguel kept choosing beers for me, all of which were extremely tasty and Belgian — just what I had been waiting for — and we ended up all getting drunk and laughing/talking until I was told I should probably go to sleep at 1:30am (this definitely means I was more-or-less awake for over 30 hours, but I’ll let YOU do the math!).
NOW, I am going to hop in the shower, pack a weekend bag, and head to AMSTERDAM for the next couple of nights! Can’t wait. But I’m going to need a lot more delicious lattes and chocolates to get me through it…