It felt a bit like Deja vu reading the sign informing us that Terminal 2 had just been renovated at DUB (Dublin Airport). I guess there is just something about Terminal 2. After a brief jog in the Dublin airport racing to our gate (~1 mile away) and a 1.5 hour flight, we landed in Brussels, Belgium at BRU and began our long adventure with transport in Brussels. In about 36 hours, we managed to take almost every form of public transport, bus, train, airplane, and foot. But to begin, we took an hour long bus ride from the airport to the Parc de Bruxelles. We sauntered through the manicured paths and overgrown trees and shrubs, viewing sculptures and broken down fountains and terraces.
About an hour later we reached 2go4 where we met Madeleina (a friend of mine backpacking with her friends in Europe) who relayed the story of Madame Chung (Kyle and Madeleina’s french teacher and Brussels resident over the summer) calling her at 8 am: (Imagine this with a heavy french accent and very loud and excited)
Madame Chung showed up at 11:05 and whisked Kyle and I off to this delicious cafe at the Metropolitan Hotel while Madeleina and her friends finished packing. I ordered coffee (on Madame’s recommendation and a terrible night’s sleep) that tasted like chocolate and, Kyle, hot chocolate that tasted like, well, I’m not sure what the appropriate simile would be, but it was amazing. We soon purchased a wedge of apple tart that’s crust crumbled upon incisions with a fork and filling melted upon contact with the tongue.
Soon after we visited this delicious seafood deli where I had the best shrimp I’ve ever tasted. The shrimp slightly cooked and with no added flavor were about the size of nickel. Madame then took up to a seafood restaurant where I shared garlic mussels with Madeleina’s friend, Alina. Soon after we ran into this man selling beautiful fruit, while we didn’t buy any, I took ample photos due to how vivid the fruit looked. The colors were different than what you would find at Safeway in that these colors looked natural and the sizes of each fruit were reasonable unlike the bloated American variety.
We subsequently walked through Grand Place and strolled along the edges, weaving in and out of buildings. We cruised through St. Hubert’s Gallery and admired the textile and food shops. We continued our amble through the La Bourse (stock exchange) and many Cathedrals. In some of the Cathedrals, there were weddings going on and hundreds of tourists would crowd the stairwells and walkways to see the white-gowned bride with her tulle and lace train. The site was magnificent with only the paintings and architecture eclipsing the bride. Along the way, ample chocolate was looked at and tasted.
We walked through gardens that eventually lead us to the Musee des Instruments de Musique. Before entering the museum, we saw a waffle truck and rushed up to purchase some. Even though the waffles were plain, they were delicious and an integral part to any stay in Belgium. Although we didn’t have time to go through the museum itself, we climbed to the top (around 8 stories) to see the unbelievable view of Brussels. We then walked over to the city’s visitor center and viewed an interesting exhibit on Brussels (including a “Build you own Brussels” installation). We then walked past the Palais Royal and took the same route back to the hostel that we had taken earlier that morning. [Originally Written by Kyle Gerstenschlager]
Statue near St. Hubert’s Gallery. All tourists (including us) took pictures with it.
After saying our goodbyes to Madeleina and her friends who were leaving for Paris (hope you guys are having a blast!), we agreed with Madame a time and place to meet the following day. In our hostel, we met Joyce, a college student from New York, and Daniel, the token Australian. Both decided to join us on an escape to a falafels place at the corner of the town called Mr. Falafal. The restaurant was located on a hostel supplied map and highly recommended. The only thing we couldn’t understand was why it was located so far away from the tourist center. The answer became apparent on our walk and eventual arrival.
To get to Mr. Falafel, it involved leaving the touristy center of Brussels and going into the more desolate, poor district. A large percentage of the people living in Belgium are Persian, but you wouldn’t know that unless you went where we did. The falafel place was hard to spot, but we finally found it. The smell inside of fried falafel and freshly cut vegetables invited you in despite it’s dodgy surroundings. Both Joyce and I ordered falafels while Kyle and Daniel abstained. I don’t think the man who was the store owner spoke English; I’m also pretty sure he didn’t speak French, Dutch or German. His story was unclear but didn’t need explaining. When you looked into his eyes, you could see his grief and feel his despair; he looked like he just wanted to cry. After we got our falafel (4€ a piece), the place had a topping and sauce station where you could load up on as much or as little you wanted. As I was making mine, 2 Persian business men came in yelling, waving a blank sheet of paper at the owner. Suddenly, the entire family came out of the kitchen, 2 hijabed women, 2 5 year olds, and a baby. The lost, tired feeling illustrated in the wrinkles of this 40 year old man in a blink made so much more sense. We left about a minute after the yelling ensued.
At night the four of us visited, a Celtic sports bar, Celtica, which besides being cheap, seemed to have very little redeeming value. It was smokey and seemed lack the Irish charm that we loved about Ireland. After ordering the bartender’s favorite drink, we drank and listened to obscure classics like the Rasputin Song and the Venus Song. Soon after we finished our drink, we departed for a beautiful waffle and ice cream store. There we conversed with the Persian female owner who spoke of her dreams of moving to LA and opening a shop. She spoke great English and moreover with idealism and enthusiasm. It was re freshening to hear someone speech so much from the heart and have a genuine interest in us.
We stayed eating waffles with nutella, whip cream, strawberries, and bananas while all trying to speak in each other’s accents: I didn’t seem to successfully do any accent other than an Indian one. Daniel told us more about Australia and that New Zealand to Australia is Canada to the US (we all know Canada is part of the US but for political reasons we don’t say it). He also taught us to say “That’s my car, mate!” (“car” is pronounced like “cah”, the sound a crow makes, and the “a” in mate is elongated). I’m not sure when you are actually suppose to say that, but it was fun to learn it anyways.
Afterwards, we went to Delerium, a bar recommended to us by the New York Times. “The smoky, subterranean bar, which opened in 2004, has expanded two stories up for a total of about 2,000 beer selections. [The] college-age crowd [was] mobbed around beer barrel tables and jostling for the bartender’s attention.” It had wonderful signs hanging on the floors, and we tried Mango beer and apple cider, both of which were like soda with a beer after taste.
We had heard that Grand Place was beautifully lit at night and so ventured there afterwards. On our way, we heard a band playing in one of the bars so we stopped by for a song and listened in with a crowd of 40-50 year olds.
The next day we visited the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Comic Strip Museum, and Museum of Magritte. We ate delicious meatballs and then took the train back to the airport and hopped on a flight back to Dublin. There was nothing more welcoming than coming back through customs and having them call us “lad” and “lass.” I really do feel like Newry, Ireland is my home.