A few weeks ago, my girlfriend Liv sent me a snapchat of the Ryanair website showing £2 flights to certain European cities. An hour later, we’d booked flights to Brussels airport and an Airbnb for a few weeks time.
On Wednesday morning, we woke up and continued our normal university day. However, it was a different Wednesday because we were catching our flight later that afternoon! Being terrified of flying like I am, I was a ball of nerves for the whole day but arriving in Brussels was so exciting after not travelling for a couple of months.
We got off the flight, no real idea where our Airbnb was or how to get to it, jumped on a very expensive bus to the city centre which took a lot longer than we expected but was so exciting as we were dying to get in to the city. After checking maps before we got on the bus we knew we had a 30 minute walk ahead of us, but we opted for walking instead of taking the metro so that we could see a bit of the city. This was, in hindsight, probably a mistake considering the typical things that surround a European train station in the south of the city: rundown neighbourhoods.
Anyways, all was well in the end and we arrived at our Airbnb which was amazing. It was a top-floor studio in the hipster area of central Brussels with a great view over rooftops on one side, and large windows opening on to a quaint little street on the other side. It was the perfect size for just the two of us to sit and chill in the flat and drink beers, and perfectly located to jump out and visit a boutique, an art gallery or a supermarket, all within footsteps of our door.
We quickly dropped off our bags and headed out with no real idea where we were going. We headed in the general direction of what we thought was the way to the grand place and found the incredible square. We probably said wow 200 times. It was incredibly stunning, more like pop up cardboard buildings than real life.
We stayed to take a few pictures before following a street that seemed lively and sat down for a pint at a bar on a cobbled street with bars at both corners. Our first Belgian pint, with ten different languages being spoken around us, on a beautiful mixed European architectural street. It was beaut.
We spent the rest of the evening wandering around before stopping for a last night pint on a bar in the Grand Place overlooking all the buildings. We took it in as it’s definitely the only time we could afford a pint that expensive.
We woke up bright and bushy tailed (highly debatable) the next day, ready to take Brussels on in the day time! After stopping at a local hipster cafe for a pain au chocolat (or is it a chocolatine?!) and an overpriced coffee, we headed in a different direction from the one we had taken the previous night. Of course, being us, we had no map and hadn’t really looked up where to go but ended up in a very business financial looking district.
We then stumbled upon this monstrous demonstration (classic Francophone country) for “Freedom for Oncala” which we had no clue about. We followed it for around an hour up to the European quarter which was filled with incredibly large, grand buildings.
The next few hours consisted of miles upon miles of walking and dropping in and out of different buildings before stopping for a quick pint on our way back to the apartment.
Boy have I missed stopping at the side of the street in a fancy-looking but cheap bar with thatched seats, feeling the heat come down from heaters around the edge of the bar. And I can’t even explain how much I’ve missed speaking French. I literally spoke French at every opportunity I could get, mainly because I love the language, but I also have a speaking exam looming that I need to practice for (eek)! We stopped off at Carrefour express to pick up all the important things; wine, beer, chocolate and pasta. All the great things you need to have a cheap, cosy night in, in your top floor hipster studio in central Brussels!
We woke up the second day, having missed approximately ten alarms, the opposite of our bright and bushy tailed moods the previous day. Our plan was to head to the Sonian Forest (le foret de soignes) relatively early and rent a bike to get around. Two coffees, a few cigarettes, a tram and a bus later we arrived at the place to rent bikes and started along the trails.
We rented the cheapest bikes possible (because we’re cheapskate students) which meant that 3km in, I got a flat tyre and we had to cycle back. However, we quickly got back on the bumpy road, with a fresh new bike to use. It was actually quite a workout, and we took a few wrong turns, but we did about 25km in total. The first half was spent cycling around the forest, which was practically a movie scene the entire way. Autumn was almost definitely the perfect time to go as the colours were incredible.
The second half (after a pint and a plate of pasta) was cycling mainly around residential areas but still following the national cycle path. We truly got to see the real, small-town Belgium. We had been very lucky with the weather up until about halfway through our second leg when it started to pour. And I mean POUR. Neither of us really cared though; there was something quite liberating about cycling down a hill at 18mph in the pissing rain. I was soaking and cold, but felt freer than ever. And after trudging back to the rental cycle place, a lemon meringue pie and two more pints, we headed back in to Brussels for the evening.
It’s safe to say we were knackered after the day. We’d certainly worked off enough calories to merit the extra pints, but they’d made us very tired. Miraculously, we managed to avoid falling asleep in our cosy Airbnb and headed out to get some food.
We stopped for waffles and speculoos first (my fave!!!) and walked to the Grand Place to eat heaven. Brussels was a lot more busier as it was a Friday night and there was definitely a party vibe in the city. However, we only managed to stay awake for one more pint before heading home to pyjamas and sleep off the 25km we’d conquered that day.
The next day we really had to get up early bright and bushy tailed as we planned to head to Ghent and Bruges for the day. We succeeded in waking up before snoozing all our ten alarms, scoffed down a breakfast and headed out to get the first train of the day to Ghent.
Both of us were very pleasantly surprised at how beautiful Ghent was. It’s a quaint city with very Dutch looking architecture and a cleanliness you’d only get in a slightly Germanic city. When we got off the train, we ended up walking in the wrong direction for ten minutes before realising we’d been going the completely wrong way. Because of our disorientation, we couldn’t figure out which side of the tram to get on so asked a lovely local who helped us get to the centre.
Getting off the tram in the historic town of Ghent was like getting off in Amsterdam; cobbled streets, bricked buildings, bikes everywhere, and bridges crossing over many canals. The old town was a cross between Amsterdam and a Norwegian fairy tale, it was lovely. We managed to blag our way in to the castle for free saying that we were 19 (lol) and visited as many monuments as we could, of course stopping for a nice bagel in between.
After walking around for a couple of hours, we decided to jump on the train to Bruges for our next city of the day. Getting off the train and walking for a mile to the centre, by the time we got to the main square we were thirsty for a pint. This was a fatal error. Four hours later, 5 pints down, trying not to be sick when going outside for our final fag, we knew that no tourism would be done in Bruges.
We had had a different beer every time (one of them, the Leffe royale, costing €8 each!!) and it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon but we desperately needed food and bed. We headed towards the train station, which neither of us can remember doing and popped in to Subway. We made best pals with the server (obviously) and munched down our sandwiches before hopping on the train, singing drunkenly (and probably annoying everyone around us).
Then getting back in Brussels, still way too early to be the level of drunkness that we were, we realised it was time for lots of water and bed. We might have had a cheeky kebab in between too. We don’t really feel too guilty about getting drunk and missing the town though, it would have been worse to go to Belgium and not get slaughtered on local beer.
The next day was spent just catching up on things we’d missed around central Brussels before our flight later that day. We had a couple of last waffles, which we couldn’t even finish by this point, and had one last beer in the beer museum in the Grand Place (which I entirely wouldn’t recommend) and just took in the beauty of the city the whole day.
One thing we walked past that really stuck with me was these signs down a side alley next to a street exhibition about the homeless.
The left sign’s translation is “It’s not a sign of good mental health to be adapted to a sick society” and the right’s, “It’s in doing good that we combat the bad, and not fighting against it.” It was quite a moving thing to see at the side of the road next to rubbish, and some of the pictures of the homeless were very disturbing, but interesting.
Anyways, we headed back to the airport, after luckily getting the last two seats on the bus despite an Irish woman trying to steal them. And our next flight took us back to rainy, cold home, Glasgow.
It’s safe to say it was a very memorable and great trip. I’m so glad I got to see so much of Belgium in a very short amount of time, and the company wasn’t so bad either.
À bientôt Belgique !