Travelling around Belgium was my first trip out of the Netherlands ever since I arrived in this flat country 2 months ago. It felt weird to do this trip because I myself have not even visited Amsterdam! Hahaha. I actually planned to travel around the Netherlands during my one week break, but when my friends asked me to join the trip, I could not resist but to say YES!
So 5 of us began our journey on the 1st of October in one of the main Belgian cities, Antwerp. It took about an hour by bus from Eindhoven. We arrived there at around 9.30pm and checked into a very old hostel in the centre of the city. Antwerp is a nice place to hang out; it has many shops (all those very unique shops that you can’t find in boring Eindhoven) and nice restaurants. Just like the Netherlands, Belgium is a multicultural country. Italian, Mexican, Moroccan and Turkish restaurants are scattered around the city. Though I would really love to try out some Belgian foods (and Belgium is very famous for its cuisine!!!!), I always ended up eating shawarma or (unfortunately) junk foods for the sake of money :D. We visited a number of different places in Antwerp, but like any other travels that I did, meeting new people is definitely the most memorable experience. My friends and I sat in the bar of our hostel, talking and laughing. The bar is actually very small, yet I loved the environment. It felt cosy and friendly. A number of musicians were there to entertain us. These people play music every week for free (talk about passion!). They brought quite a number of instruments. From jazz to Belgian folk music, it was just great to be there! They were amazing! I talked to one of the musicians there, and it turned out that, apart from his live music, he’s also currently doing his Doctoral degree in Irish history! Very interesting, indeed! I also had a chance to learn folk dance!!! Hahaha. One of the musicians taught me how to do it LOL! But I already forgot the steps now :D. My friend recorded a video of me dancing and it was just awful… I need to practice! hehe
Our next stop was Ghent, yet another medieval city in Belgium. Honestly, I had a very low expectation of this small city, because I never heard anyone mentioning it and I could not bother googling it on the net. All I knew that there’s a castle and that’s definitely a place where I wanted to go! 😀 I have been to a castle before (Salah Eddin Castle in Syria) but I went there when I was still a young girl and I barely remembered about that trip. It was great to be able to go to a castle again, though the castle that I went in Ghent was not huge. Anyway, the city of Ghent is surprisingly beautiful; huge churches at the centre of the city, great architectures along its canals, many interesting shops, etc. I met an old lady while I was in Ghent. She asked me where I was heading next, and I said “Bruges” (pronounced in French!). And she was like, WHAT? Never heard of it before. After few seconds, she realised that the “Bruges” that I was referring to was one of the most famous cities in Belgium. She then said, “Oh! Brugge!” (pronounced in Dutch) It was quite surprising to hear that, seriously! How could she NOT know the French version of Brugge…?!?! considering Bruges/Brugge is a very famous city! Then my friends and I realised… ah, it’s getting a bit political hehe. Belgium is actually divided into three regions, Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels. Flanders is a Dutch-speaking region located in the north, Wallonia is a French-speaking region located in the south, and Brussels is a bilingual region. The language differences become a huge challenge for the country. Political tension between the two major communities (French and Dutch speakers) still exist and there were rumours that Belgium was going to separate! Maybe this old lady was a bit annoyed how most tourists pronounced the city in French when it’s actually located in Dutch-speaking region! So she tried to educate us :P. Anyhow, when I was in Ghent, I got a chance to meet this Dutch guy named Bob who had been WALKING for SIX MONTHS across Spain, France, and Belgium! Can you imagine that!!! I was just amazed! Bob reminded me of Into the Wild movie! Oh my God, this guy was for real!! I could not imagine, it’s totally awesomely crazy!
After spending a night in Ghent, we headed for Bruges (or Brugge… if you insist 😛 ). In contrast to my low expectation of Ghent, I had a HIGHHHHHHH expectation of this city. Everyone said it is such a beautiful city and I just couldn’t help myself to imagine the scenic views that I saw in New Zealand could be enjoyed once more time here. So when I saw and went around the city of Bruges, my deep reaction was: “THAT’S IT?!?!” Hahaha. Of course, I was stupid enough to expect Bruges as beautiful as the Southern Island of New Zealand, but oh well… I didn’t know what to expect. Don’t get me wrong, Bruges is a beautiful city! But the word “beautiful” in my dictionary is something that needs to be compared to the natural wonders of New Zealand. And up until now, I haven’t found a place that’s more beautiful than New Zealand. I am yet to explore more places 🙂 .
Brussels was our next destination. We planned to stay there for a night but due to a public transportation strike, we decided to go back on the same day we arrived! It was sad that we didn’t get a chance to explore a lot of things in Brussels, but the good thing was that Brussels is not too far away from Eindhoven, so it’s always easy to come back (if you have money, of course! ^_^). I didn’t even get a chance to meet my friend Marie! Marie is a French-speaker Belgian (ok I’m getting political too LOL) whom I met in Australia. We were both a member of AIESEC and she was in Brisbane for her first AIESEC internship. We decided to meet up for dinner in Brussels, but unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to do it as I had to leave Brussels at 7 at the latest, or else I would be stuck in Belgium, not knowing where to go and how to get out of the country. My friends and I decided to have a nice lunch in Greek restaurant (the nicest meal we had in Belgium! seriously!) because our hostel was kind enough to give our money back! How nice!!! And of course we had a chance to see the famous statue, Manneken Pis (the statue of a young boy who pees everyday, non-stop 😛 ) and the HUGE Atomium. One thing I learnt about Brussels is that, although the city is bilingual (e.g. the street signs are all in both Dutch and French), the majority of people in Brussels speak French! (is that even an important observation?!!!? Gosh, I am getting so useless)
To conclude this post… what can I say?!? This trip was more about having fun (with my fellow friends) and not so much about wanting to see the scenic view of Belgium cities. I have to say that exploring cities is boring. They all eventually look the same. Exploring nature, on the other hand, never gets you bored! I feel like I am more on a “nature” type of person. Mountain (and lakes…!!) always amazes me; even if it is as “simple” as Puncak (West Java), it never makes me bored of visiting the place and see the surroundings for trillionth times! That’s why, although I’d love to see Paris and London, they’re still in the bottom of my list… for now. My ultimate wish is to visit Switzerland and Austria! I heard that Switzerland is even more beautiful than New Zealand!!! I can’t wait to go there! But first of all… I HAVE TO go to Germany first… I just didn’t have any ideas how many times I had been wanting to go there to study… ever since I was in High School! So it feels like I need to go there first… to visit some historical places and improve my German! 🙂
The last thing I want to say is that: the hardest thing to travel around Belgium is to NOT look at those delicious chocolates displayed in every corner of shops…. gosh. I was not happy about it!!! LOL! But I’m proud that I didn’t end up buying them, because… they are all tourist traps! You can buy much cheaper chocolates in the supermarkets hehehehe.
Sorry, no photos this time. Too lazy to upload and if you’re my *real* friend, you know where to look at those photos. Photos have been uploaded to http://picasaweb.google.com/104209224589502929812/Belgium