Chocolate, Cherry, and Rose: Brussels, Part I

“I arrived in a city that always makes me think of a whited sepulchre. … A narrow and deserted street in deep shadow, high houses, innumerable windows with Venetian blinds, a dead silence, grass sprouting between the stones, imposing carriage archways right and left, immense double doors standing ponderously ajar.”

— From Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)

– View of Brussels (we couldn’t find the lookout tower – so we made do with the top floor of the nearby parking garage) –
    I’ll admit that this is a very misleading and slightly inaccurate title because Brussels was not all love and chocolate and roses. But I couldn’t resist, because I ate all of the above this past weekend, and they were all amazing. What can I say about Brussels… it’s like an ice-cream flavor that can’t figure out its own flavor. It’s a hodge-podge of many, none of them entirely distinct, so that the mix of it is very disorienting and indistinguishable. Don’t get me wrong – the food is fantastic, and I liked the blend of cultures and the eccentricity of the city, but overall, it was not an easy weekend.
   Have I explained the term hyggligt yet? It’s a Danish word, and there’s no true English translation for it. Hygge can mean a number of things, but the word itself speaks to an over-arching, shared, undefinable feeling of inner warmth, peace, enjoyment, and appreciation of smaller moments and blessings. It’s the feeling that is “the opposite of loneliness,” the night that we all stayed up laughing and talking, the warmth of a fire on a cold night, the feeling when you see someone you love after a long time and it’s past the initial hugs and tears and welcome – there’s just comfort and peace, the moment after you’ve seen a really good movie or finished an incredible book, the candle on a table, the roses in the marketplace that you picked up on the way home and that are now sitting on your table being beautiful, the time you ran farther and harder than you thought you could and there’s an indescribable runner’s high. There are many hyggligt moments and memories, and Copehagen, though you have to look just a bit harder for it, has hyggligt running it.
    Copenhagen can give off an unwelcome and slightly aloof feeling when you first encounter it. The Danes mirror the city; they are not outwardly friendly, and they won’t go out of their way to help you, but once you get to know them, and they begin to trust you, they are some of the kindest people I have met. I guess that Copenhagen has started to reveal some of its hidden core of hyggligt, because after being in Brussels for the weekend, I started to miss Denmark in a way that I thought I never would.
   Barcelona – now that city, I fell in love with immediately. I loved the all the people running all the time, grandmothers with grandkids, mothers with strollers, dads with their children, groups of teenagers, and couples of all ages; I loved the way the city came alive at night, how I always felt safe in the city, how there was dancing in the streets and light-shows at the water fountains. The markets, the gardens, the diversity, the way the city fell asleep in the afternoon for the siesta, and then gradually came alive again around 7 or 9, with dinner starting at 10 or 11. I loved Mango, the clothing store there with the most comfortable pants in the world. And I couldn’t get enough of the crazy and beautiful architecture and all the free museums and how we could get to the beach in 20 minutes and just stay there all day long in the sun. The sangria we drank, the fresh, raw oyster that tasted like the sea, the paella, and all the pastries in the world. There was not much about Barcelona that I didn’t love. So going to Brussels was very different and unexpected, and it was a good challenge for me. Because that first day – that sure was a challenge.
  – With Rachel in the Grand Place, the neighborhood by our hostel, the metro station – a view that I saw most of my time there, walking through the city –
  I arrived later than the rest of the group because my class on Friday runs very late, and I didn’t want to take late-night flight to Brussels that same day, so I left on Saturday and got into Brussels at around 1pm. The girls I was meeting were in Bruges for the day (which I am still sad that I missed, because I hear Bruges is charming and definitely worth seeing, and I think that everyone liked it much better than Brussels*), and I made plans to meet up with them later than night. Then I attempted to get to the hostel. Well. The first part was okay – I just bought a ticket to the central station from the airport, (needing to go to the ticket office after battling with the ticket machine for a billion years), and I arrived in the central station with no problems. But after the central station, things went downhill real fast. I couldn’t find my way to the metro, then when I finally found the metro and got my pass, I couldn’t figure out which direction I needed to go because google maps is the worst and gave me the wrong direction.
    So I ended up riding the metro just for fun all afternoon long and wandering around in pretty much every station, but I eventually found the stop by the hostel and then proceeded to walk down the right street in the wrong direction for a million blocks. Then I realized my mistake and backtracked, and cried of happiness when I reached the front desk of the hostel. The lady gave me the key and said, “Actually, you’re not staying in this building. You’re down the street, like two blocks, past the pharmacy, in a different building.” Um. No idea. So then I wearily trudged down the two blocks, of course walked past the building, turned around, walked back, and got inside. Then our room was on the third floor = 438834737929 steps. After I hauled myself up all the steps and into the room – which was actually super cute and cozy and was a little loft at the top of the building – I didn’t even know what to do. I sat down for a little bit. And then I took two deep breaths, messaged the girls I was meeting up with (who gave me directions to meet them at Hard Rock at 10:30pm that night), and thought, “I’ll just go out and explore a little bit – I’m sure I’ll find a museum and get dinner, and it’ll be great.” I had no idea. So I set out, all ready to conquer the world, and I made it to Botanique metro stop (where I was supposed to meet my other friend the next night), and then it started to rain. So I went back for my rain coat. And naturally, I took the metro in the wrong direction again because all the names of the metros have two names that are not even remotely close sometimes. Then I just rode the metro for fun the next half hour, finally made it back to the hostel, climbed every step ever, and got my rain-jacket.
   Explore the city, take two, also went terribly. It was actually raining really hard by now, so I basically swam from the metro station Trone to the Parliamentarium, and everything was gray. Just gray and dirty and a mix of the austere financial buildings and old, rundown, crumbling buildings. After walking around the Parliament building for a while, I was ready to find the tourist part of the city. But a monument embedded in the brick walkway of the Parliamentarium had other ideas. I was innocently walking and looking around, taking pictures, and all of a sudden, my left foot slid out from under me, and I landed HARD on my right knee. And then my right knee slipped out from under me, and I just kind of fell on my arm, and lay there for a little bit. No idea. It was this marble monument that was all slippery from the rain and hidden because it was gray/black, like everything else in the area, and after I had finally gotten up and made sure that nothing was broken, I was pretty done with the Parliamentarium and that whole area. So I limped my way back to the metro station and walked to this monument that I saw in the distance, but it was just raining and getting dark and there were no people around at all, and I was ready to get dinner. After riding the metro pretty much all around the city, I stopped at a pizza place by the metro stop closest to the hostel, and ordered a pizza + scampi. I picked up a Lipton Peach Iced Tea at the convenience store nearby – if you haven’t had this before, it is addicting, I warn you. I haven’t been able to find it in the States or in Denmark, but I had one every-day in France.  So dinner was lovely at least.
   Explore the city, take three. I was supposed to meet my friends at the Hard Rock Café in Grand Place at 10:30pm, which would have been easy enough, now that I’ve seen a little bit of the city, but really was not in the dark, on my first night. Mistake #1: I google mapped it again. And google, as per the theme of this trip, gave me false directions. I made it to the right metro stop, but then I was supposed to take a tram in a specific direction, only 2 stops. But I took it in the wrong direction, and ended up riding the tram all around again. Which was actually pretty scary, because when I realized it, I had to get off at this deserted tram stop, and run to catch the one in the opposite direction. By this time, it was way too late to meet my friends, so I contemplated just giving up and going home, but I was so determined to see some of Brussels at least. I got back to the original metro station, and finally took the tram in the right direction after waiting a million years. So after arriving at the station, I walked all around in search of the Hard Rock Café. I knew though that I had definitely made it to the right part of the city though, because it was pretty busy and lively, with lots of groups of students walking around, so I headed in a general direction toward important looking buildings, and after a block, I found myself in Grand Place.
    – Exploring with Lisa! The first view of Grand Place –
   Despite how challenging the day had been thus far, I’ll never forget emerging from the narrow cobblestone street into the lit-up, huge square of Grand Place. The buildings were ridiculous. I couldn’t believe buildings like that existed. Massive Neo-Gothic spires, ornate archways, Classic columns, gold decorations, white stone – a mix of everything. It was incredible. The Hard Rock Café was nestled by one of the buildings, and I stopped in to ask for directions to Delirium Café, the famous bar that I knew the group was planning on going to later. The man was so kind and gave me really specific directions with landmarks**, and I was able to find Delirium easily. I was about ready to go home at this point because it was SO CROWDED. Delirium is huge. There are three floors, all packed with people constantly moving in and out, and there was absolutely no way on earth that I was going to be able to find the group here, I was sure. So many floors, so many people, and I didn’t even know if the group was there. I had turned around to go home, and on a whim, I decided to check out the top floor, just to see what it was about, and at the first table that I saw when I emerged from the staircase, was my friend Zoe. I could not believe it. I think we both freaked out for 5 minutes. So it was good ending to the day. And I had my first cherry beer (which was incredible), and we planned out the next day. It was SO GOOD to be with friends.
– Museum of Musical Instruments –
    *This was Major Regret #1. Major Regret #2: There was a beautiful Canadian man on the train going from the airport to the central station – I totally eavesdropped on the conversation two rows down from me. From Ontario, back-packing Europe, yada yada. On the way out of the train, the hood of the jacket he was carrying got caught on the stairway hand-rail, and as I was right behind him, I un-caught the hood, and he turned around and thanked me and flashed a smile #swoon. I should have talked to him then. I should have said something. But of course, I didn’t, and then we basically both walked in the same direction and wandered all over central station being confused. I knew he was equally lost because he was walking all over the station like I was and gazing at all the signs with a “no-idea” expression. I know this because this also is basically the thought/expression that I had this ENTIRE weekend. But I found the metro station, thank goodness, and the man at the ticket kiosk was really nice and didn’t make fun of me even when I asked him what the best pass would be for three days, and he gestured to my right at a sign that said, “Here for three days? Get a 72-hr pass!” Ugh. No idea.
   So the third day in Brussels, I’m walking around with my friend Rachel, and we are trying to find this thrift store that is kind of hidden in a narrower street, and we were at a crosswalk in the middle of the city, at not really a super busy street, and guess who was across the street? Yup, the beautiful Canadian man. I almost died. He was on the phone though, bummer. But as we crossed the street, I smiled at him, and he smiled at me #fainting. I thought it was so weird. I mean, it’s a HUGE city with a BILLION streets, on a random afternoon, at not even a well-known street. Well.  There you have it. If I run into him in Copenhagen, it will be fate #doesthatexist. But also, I mean it was just two times. So that’s kind of silly #artofexaggeration.
**The best kind of directions
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