Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Waffle Country

Well, my official country count is up to 16! It’s been a productive weekend in that department. As I’ve talked about before, France is very into the concept of vacations. In my 7 short months of work, I have 8 weeks off. Right now I’m in the midst of the 2 week winter break.

Before we were even accepted to this internship, Olimpia and I had planned on a trip to Germany. We're headed there next week! Pretty last minute, we decided to go on a short trip to Belgium together as well. Why not, right?

So last Friday, we met up in Brussels. It didn’t take very long to get there on the train. We got there in the early afternoon and then started the adventure of finding our hotel. The hardest part was knowing what direction to start walking in when we got out of the metro. I have ZERO natural sense of direction. Thankfully, Olimpia does so that’s usually helpful on our trips. 

When we got out of the metro, we turned left. After walking for a few minutes and not finding the right street we came across a Scientology building. We kind of giggled at how random that was, and then trekked back to the metro to try again. This time we turned right and a few minutes later we found a ward building...directly in front of the street we’d been looking for for the last 15 minutes.

Choose the right, people.

That metaphor made us laugh so hard. Less than an hour in Belgium, and the country was already teaching us life lessons.

Thankfully, it was easy to find our hotel after that. :)  Pretty soon, we were back on the metro and ready to see the city. Since we’d both been working all week and this trip was last minute, we hadn’t done a ton of research about what we actually wanted to do there. Basically, we just knew that we wanted to eat waffles.

Without really knowing what we should do, we started out in the main town square, the Grand Place. I’ve got to say that this was one of the most impressive, beautiful places that I’ve seen in Europe! The entire square was lovely. Of course, I have a million pictures of this. You have to see all the different angles to appreciate it.

This building is the town hall.

This one was a king’s house. He built it to show off how much money he had, but never actually lived in it.

These smaller buildings are guild houses. Each guild had their own little headquarters here because this was the main market square where everyone sold their products. 

The building second on the right (with the swan on it) was where Karl Marx came up with communism. Seems like a pretty deluxe place to come up with that ideology.

And lastly, here's my attempts to get a picture of the whole square!  Pretty impossible, but it helped when we found a staircase to climb up for a better view.

Olimpia has some friends that have been to Brussels, so she knew about the next place we went to....

I thought I’d show the picture first, because in this case a picture is worth a thousand words.

Believe it or not, this statue, entitled the “Manneken Pis,” is the most famous symbol of the city of Brussels. A tiny. peeing. baby. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Rome has the she-wolf, and Brussels has this. You see this image ALL over the city, and you can buy models of it everywhere. Also, there’s always a ton a tourists taking pictures here. The statue is from the early 1600s.

Manneken Pis mania:

We did a tour the next day, and the guide told us 3 legends about why this statue exists. I think all of them are entertaining, so I’ll share. 1. During a fight against the Flemish, a little boy peed on Flemish soldiers and saved the day. 2. A rich man lost his toddler and promised to donate a statue to the city if anyone found the kid. When someone found the kid, he was peeing. 3. This was the location of a medieval urine market. Leather makers needed urine to make leather, so it was in this spot where they paid poor people for their urine.

I think #3 sounds the most likely. But who knows haha.

Moving on to something more appetizing than discussing urine, Belgium is famous for its CHOCOLATE. Pretty much every street in Brussels smells like chocolate, which is magical. Also, it makes you hungry. At this point in our day, we stopped for our first waffle. I got one with dark chocolate, and I must say that it lived up to both Belgium’s waffle hype and chocolate hype.

Here's some more chocolatey pictures I took. I think that Belgium probably has the highest per-capita rate of chocolate fountains; we saw sooooo many.

From my quick researching on Tripadvisor before we left, I knew about some covered shopping galleries that were supposed to be pretty. So next we walked to the Galeries Saint-Hubert. Pretty, pretty.

This statue was outside of the mall. I really felt the need to pose with it. And I'll admit that I only posted this picture because I think my tights are cool haha.

According to our map we were close to the cathedral, so we went there next. The outside was definitely Notre Dame-esque.

And this would be St. Gudula. That name is the best.

We couldn’t see anything else on the map that was close by, so we just wandered around for a little bit before finding dinner. I have to mention one thing we saw...back to the urine theme haha. They have OPEN urinals in the middle of the city! As soon as we saw that, I vaguely remembered hearing about that in a French class or something. The best part was that as we walked by, a guy hit on us...while peeing. So check that off the bucket list, I guess. 

I took this the next day. I didn't want to get too close because it didn't smell too great over there.

Here's some of our more picturesque wanderings through Brussels...

The next day we decided to do a free walking tour of the city that we found out about from our hotel. We saw a lot of the same places that we’d seen the day before, but we found out a lot more about them.

A few places we hadn’t seen before were the parliament building,

this statue (that I improved upon),

and the palace.

The royal family doesn’t live there anymore, but the tour guide told us some fun stories about King Leopold II, who built it. He decided that Belgium should have colonies, because all the cool kids were doing it. 

However, this was the 1860s, so most places were already claimed. Leopold decided to take over the middle of Africa, the Congo. He personally owned it, and caused the deaths of about 10 million people by enslaving everyone and being very brutal. They found rubber, gold, and diamonds there, so the Belgians forced the Congolese to mine for them. Around the turn of the century, people starting finding out about what was going on there, so the Belgian parliament took over ownership of the colony instead of the king personally benefitting from it.

So long story short, this palace was built from money the king made by exploiting the Congo.

The tour ended overlooking this pretty view.

Besides chocolate and waffles, Belgium is famous for fries. So that’s what we needed for lunch. Yes, Europeans are so classy that they eat fries with forks. I tried for about 2 seconds.

Belgium invented fries. American WWII soldiers discovered them and brought them back to America, and then mistakenly called them French fries. Eh, they speak French here. So close enough, right? (By the way, it’s hard to imagine that America was fry-less before the 1940s...)

Side note. Brussels is a French-speaking city; which made things easy for us! Belgium is approximately half French/ half Dutch-speaking.

After our fries we went back to this little place that we’d seen when we were on the tour. As you walk through, each arch makes music. It was exciting.

At this point in the day, we split up so Olimpia could go to her comic book museum. That’s not really my thing. Comic books are something else that Belgium is obsessed with (along with chocolate and pee, of course). There are actually comic book murals all over the city.

Brussels is where the author of TIntin is from, and Olimpia LOVES Tintin. I still pretty much have no idea who Tintin is, but I do know that he has a little white dog, so he must be pretty cool.

While she went to the museum, I went shopping. I needed to find Zara; which I did! Belgium= 11th country where I’ve shopped at Zara.

By the time we met up again we were pretty much exhausted. We got some last waffles for dinner and then called it a night. These things are so darn good.

It was a great weekend in Belgium; I love seeing new places! Next post: my solo trip to Amsterdam!!

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