I’ve been traveling for two weeks now and haven’t stopped to reflect beyond a few scribbles in my notebook. If you’re curious, this is what I’ve been up to:
Filis (a colleague in Kuwait) and I stayed in a cozy little Air B ‘n B place for 4 nights in Paris. While I would normally have made an effort to cook meals at home (we had our own apartment with a kitchen!), we ended up leaving early and returning late most days. Of course, ‘early ‘on day 4 was very different than ‘early’ on day 1, which is bound to happen with no time restrictions and when the sun is suddenly staying out 4 hours later than normal. I have 5 things to say about Paris and my time there:
- My favourite part of Paris is that everywhere one turns in the city, there is beatuful Gothic architecture. I was in awe of Notre Dame!
- Breakfast was scrumptious. A packaged deal at all cafes: juice, cafe crème (what we call cafe latte, though I think it more closely resembles what the English call flat white), and more bread than any Canadian would ever consider normal for consumption in a single sitting. Delicious!
- French people did not fit the stereotype of rude and unwilling to speak English. My experience is limited to Parisians, but I found that if I made an effort to be friendly, so did they.
- What’s up with the glass pyramids in the Louvre courtyard? They seem to have a lot of hype as though they were a great addition to a stunning courtyard. I don’t understand – they don’t fit!
- The Eiffel Tower is, in fact, quite beautiful – from below. Just like the Louvre wasn’t worth the hours in line, the Eiffel Tower surely wasn’t worth the Euros to go up. (We chose to go up Montparnasse tower instead.) Nonetheless, hanging around the park below the Eiffel Tower was pretty amazing. Surprisingly the smaller park beside the tower was quite empty, with few to no tourists. Quite relaxing!
After 5 very enjoyable days in Paris, I was up bright and early to catch a bus to Brussels. I spent a few days there before heading to Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges, all of which were lovely for a different reason! If I were to describe Belgium in 3 words, I would predictably say beer, fries, and chocolate. But there is so much more to this country and each of those also requires some more description. These are my 8 comments on Belgium and my experiences there:
- Belgians are funny. They have a sense of humour, which mostly involves making fun of themselves. In Ghent, there is a canon. The canon is really just a symbol of Belgians laughing at their weak defences. In Brussels, there is a statue of a little boy peeing. Every now and then, they make the boy pee beer and give it away to passers-by. The boy also has a variety of outfits, which are changed frequently (I think). Search ‘little boy Belgium’ for more info. These are just a couple examples of the laid-back, humorous attitude these people have.
- Beer in Belgium is strong! My first day in Belgium, I wandered about Brussels and stopped in a cafe for lunch. After finishing most of the beer, I realized I was feeling a little tipsy. A quick look at the bottle revealed that I had just drunk a 9% beer! I would soon realize that this is the norm. While in Belgium, I had beers ranging from 9%-12% alcohol volume. A darker beer is generally fruitier, which seems contradictory to what I’ve long “known” about beer. There is a bar in Brussels that has over 3,000 beers ready to serve. There is one specific Trappiste beer that is hard to come by – you must call a certain store and let them know when you’ll come to get the beer. You need to be a Belgian citizen, and cannot purchase more than a certain amount. It is illegal to sell this beer in bars (though it can be found). They take their beer seriously!
- French fries – they’re actually from Belgium. There are stories about how they got their name, including reference to potato-cooking Belgians speaking French during war time. Fries are cooked in some sort of meat oil, then cooked again, and lightly salted. I’m not completely sure of the entire process, but they’re good. And French fry eaters have a choice between a variety of sauces – the typical mayo we all have heard about, and about a billion others! I tried a few and they were all amazing!!
- Chocolatiers on every corner. A little pricey but SO worth it!
- Bruges is like no other city I’ve seen before. It really is like a fairy tale.
- Ghent has slightly different architecture but is also beautiful, less touristy.
- Antwerp was a cool spot as well, more similar to other Western European cities I’ve experienced.
- The square in Brussels is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen, especially when it’s lit up at night. What a sight!
I wrapped up the trip with a rainy day in Cologne and the next day in Frankfurt, including an amazing dinner with a friend who I’ve begun a routine with: a meal once a year in various parts of the world. I had a glass of apple wine and the Frankfurter schnitzel, which comes with a green sauce (a variety of herbs). A dish specific to this region, which is cool.
And so I sit, waiting for boarding to begin. It’s been grand, Europe. See you soon Canada!