Last weekend me and my international flat mates decided to make a short trip to Belgium. We were so excited to start our new adventure to Brussels that we woke up around 6 a.m. in order to enjoy the most we could of the city. Our goal was to catch the 7h29 a.m. train and thus changing trains only twice. Oh, how naïve we were!
It seems that after midnight the online train schedules are useless, for as soon as we arrived at the ticket shop to buy our tickets, we were told a slightly different story. The train we wanted to catch was at 7h23 instead and we were too late already. A good start!
While we were waiting for the next suitable train, I did the only thing you can ever do in such circumstances, which is to sit at Starbucks and drink a Caramel Macchiato.
Finding the train we were supposed to catch was also a challenge, since it wasn’t at the platform where it should be. It is still a mystery for me how the girls found it at the end of the following platform, behind another inactive train. All I did was to follow them, since I couldn’t do anything else. I was too busy balancing my coffee on one hand as we rushed to the train, and trying not to burn myself, as I did once in the same situation.
Once we sat on the train, we only had a few minutes before we had to make our first change. As we stepped out of the train at Holland Spoor station everything seemed to be working accordingly. We hopped in the next train and continued our trip. So far, so good.
Things started to crumble as soon as we reached Delft’s station. The train we were supposed to change to made its last stop at that station and so we had to catch one of the two buses that would be available for us outside. After a big detour around the station (which was my fault, of course!), we finally found the bus stop, and so did other 100 other people before us. We waited, and waited and even had to deal with a group of pathetically drunk/high boys. As soon as my patience was running low, we found out there was another train leaving for one of the stations we needed to go. So, off we went up the stairs (again!) back to the station to see if this time we would really catch the train. We did.
As it happens, the gods really wanted to test us on that morning. On our next stop, at Rosendael’s station, we made another change and it went smoothly. Until we sat down and I started to eat an apple. “This is the last stop of this train. For those who are going to Antwerp’s station, there are two buses waiting for you outside.” If you think that listening to this announcement one time is disturbing enough, try listening to it twice, on the same day! After a disbelieving “not again” change of looks between the four of us, our immediate reaction was to run, as if we were saving our lives. Two buses for a train full of people = not enough room! So we ran, as fast as we could among a crowd of people. Holding the uneaten apple on one hand, I didn’t even realize my backpack had opened and my lipstick, gloves, hat, etc, were falling behind me. Fortunately one of the girls was behind me and caught them. At least we got good places on the bus, and as we predicted, many people were still left behind.
By the time this all happened I had no idea where I was. For some reason (or for the fact that I had had only 4 hours sleep), my awareness and organizing skills were off on that day. I was indeed trusting the other girls with my life, and for that I have to thank them, for being in charge and for their great sense of orientation and problem solving skills. (Hortense was the one who remind me the exact cities where we stopped, for the sake of this article.)
We arrived at Antwerp around 12 a.m. and from there we traveled easily to Brussels. It is a beautiful city. I wish I could have stayed longer, and even enjoyed some of the museums. It’s not only the capital of europe, it is also one of the main creators of the best comic books ever, such as Tintin, Asterix, The Smurfs, Gaston, Lucky Luke, etc. Along the city centre we can find building walls covered by comic book’s scenes.
The real and the fictional street names
Me and Zuzka imitating the comic book scene behind us.
The city is full of life, of tourists and of light. I found of particular interest the small thematic shops which surrounded the centre. It’s evident the love and dedication its owners pay to the items they sell. There are hat shops (classical beautiful hats) made by the owner itself; vintage decoration shops, with the most exquisite furniture; specific jewel shops; among others. We can not forget, of course, the chocolates! A big amount of the shops in the centre were chocolate shops. Godiva was one of the most popular, with an irresistible hot chocolat! The waffles are also a must in Belgium. They are everywhere!
We were lucky enough to meet Sinterklaas. We found him by chance at one of the buildings in the main square, where he and his helpers were throwing sweets at the crowd. Of course we joined the party! Unfortunately for me, this was one of the few occasions where I wished I was taller. I had no chance of catching any sweets among so many giants, specially because I had a rude tall man in front of me catching every candy that came our way and saving them in his pockets. How rude! Unless he had around 10 children, in which case I completely understand and forgive his rudeness.
During the night we visited the Christmas market, where I tried the “vin chaud” and a delicious french meal, tartiflette. There was a multitude of food at that market, all so different but equally appealing. Despite of these new experiments, what I enjoyed the most during those two days, were two things for which I had waited many months: a steak (a very good one) and an italian coffee almost as close to our portuguese coffee, almost!
On the next day, we had only time to enjoy a few hours of the city and its beautiful sun light, which was pleasantly warm. Fortunately, belgian trains are more well-behaved, during the weekend, than the dutch proved to be on the day before. We only changed trains once, and slept most of our way home. We got home exhausted but richer and closer than how we had left.