The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain. – HW Longfellow
It was a soggy morning. If I told you it concerned me in the least, I would be lying. I didn’t and still don’t surrender to weather unless it’s life threatening. Is that weird? Is it ego? Maybe. Is it ego that keeps us inside, hidden, protected from the elements and from being tainted by it as well? Who’s to say? A psychotherapist probably. And so, I trudged on, packed my little green day pack with some essentials. A water bottle, two bananas, some gluten free granola bars and I thought about bringing some Trappist beer.
Stateside friends, there’s a Trappist brewery in Massachusetts.
It didn’t seem reasonable to bring excess weight (beer) in my small day pack, so I was wise in this moment of decision. I did need to leave some room for an umbrella, I didn’t know I needed yet. I could get a beer later if I wanted to and snacks. Always, snacks. This was new for me, drinking beer. I drank more beer in Europe than I had in the previous 10 years. Perhaps it was the lack of wheat gluten and less predominant GMO grain farming? My body was processing it well enough to not feel like I was gluten bombed. If anyone doesn’t know what happens to a gluten sensitive person, Google it. I will spare the readers from the crappy text about that. Pun intended.
After all of the packing and beer contemplation, I left the wonderful condo apartment I was staying in with a little feline friend that I was babysitting. I was told about this great mode of travel through fellow travelers in Scotland and ended up finding this opportunity while I was in Ireland and thus the forced timeline helped me strategize my way through Ireland and into the uncharted waters of France. While my French wobbled, the croissants held their form – golden and flaky outside and decadently soft on the inside. Some of the best in my experience.
With my rain hood up on my head, I was off on foot for a short walk from the apartment to the more urban area. Ready for the wetness, spare pair of socks and all. How did I not complete Boy Scouts? The neighborhood was heavily wooded on the opposite side I was walking, beyond the train tracks. It’s like a denser version of Glover Park in Washington, DC. On the way to the above ground train, I would walk past the tiny gas station, rows of rental bicycles and a quick turn got me onto their version of the “T” or Metro to the main train station hub in downtown Brussels (Bruxelles).
While traveling by myself, I often used my wired headphones to listen to music or audio books, and sometimes to appear like I was doing those things. Hyper vigilance and safety was a top priority for me, and it was very mentally taxing after a while. As much as I say to myself, I trust people, I was still being very careful of the 1% chance that I would be in the middle of a bad situation. Whether it was 8:00am, 12:00pm or 2:00am – I always had my head on a pivot, which takes a toll on the central nervous system.
Some of the stories I heard from fellow travelers were colorful tales of stabbings, rapes and murders that didn’t help ease my mind either. But the beer at the end of the day sure did. It’s still challenging not to think about those things.
After a rainy voyage through the city on the above ground trolley, I arrived at the main train station – the transportation hub of Brussel Noord (Dutch for Brussels North). It was bustling with energy and caffeine was in the air. I was able to recognize a coffee shop from a healthy distance by aroma alone. It was an effervescent emanation from the roasted beans that smelled delicious. I didn’t even need to have a taste in order to wake up. There were juicery options and exquisite Belgian chocolate treats everywhere. I shouldn’t forget the pizza shop either. This was one of those, “spend less, it can’t be that bad” opportunities. It was that bad. I immediately regretted it.
Even though I arrived at the major train station, my chariot awaited outside. The mode of transport from Brussels to Brugge was a 55 passenger bus. It was about a two hour ride. I read and meditated my way there. There were a lot of us that appeared to be eager to explore a new city. I was ready and excited to see what this place was all about. A few friends had great things to say about it. A friend recommended I watch “In Bruge” as well. It’s a funny (and strange) film that I watched while staying in Ixelles with Rosie during the second two week commitment. The first two weeks, I was North East of Brussels, then for the second two weeks, I was southeast of the city. It was a really neat way to explore a city and integrate into its culture.
Anyhow, back to Brugge – the most charming city between Paris and Amsterdam. I say this with a full knowledge that I haven’t seen many other cities between. Brugge is so quaint that one could explore it in about 6-8 hours, but there are plenty of fun ways to spend your time there. Visitors can sit and soak up the culture by hanging out near the canals, having some beverages and frites or by exploring basilicas where even the blood of Christ can be found. where Michelangelo’s art is located as well. If anyone likes beer, this is the equivalent to a Marvel super fan at Comic-Con. This is a beer lovers paradise. Equally heavenly is the city’s architecture – modern and medieval all at once. It is very much a northern Venice, Italy.
The rainy day on my first visit to the city was an amazing day for photography. What a paradox, right? I was in the zone, sauntering along – after I found a $5 umbrella for purchase that lasted me through the Netherlands, but not to Egypt. There were so many picturesque locations to bask in and enjoy the moment. The present moment was full of shiny cobblestone streets, people grinning ear to ear while eating belgian waffles or window shopping for Flemish or Dutch souvenirs – my goodness, that memory of the waffles makes my mouth water. A Belgian friend, who I met through a traveling app, turned me on to picking up waffles and chocolate sauce at the grocery store. Thanks, Sam – miss ya brother! The dark chocolate sauce, oh the memories. Thoughts of ecstatic bliss come to mind. It’s a flavorful experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. I ended up making them every morning for about a week. Indulgence at its best. Gluttony at its worse. Happiness found in food is fleeting and wholly enjoyable.
A visual and visceral serenity was found when I walked into the Begijnhof (link for details), which is basically a nunnery. The walk approaching this location is stunning and serene. When I was there in August, there were flocks of geese posing for photos on the water outside of the entrance. It was stately and elegant. It’s located at the end of a pedestrian bridge, that’s no newer than ancient in my vocabulary, and very unassuming. Its large facade is a house-like fortification. Once past the white, gate like, door, there’s a short way through that opens up to a wide sprawl of grass and tall trees. It’s an oasis in the city center and really something to see in person. I enjoyed standing there for a few minutes taking it in, then the public viewing time was coming to an end, so I left.
Also, I believe photos are not encouraged, unlike when I was in Amsterdam weeks later.
Amsterdam, oh Amsterdam. Where red lights flicker and cameras shutter, shaked at with angry fingers from behind windows, police always nearby. Tune in next time for more about Amsterdam – where art meets life, where that head on a pivot thing really came in handy and where a friend gave me a nickname I’ll never forget.
Here’s a photo right from outside the nunnery, wow I miss it looking at this now!
Just incase you wanted to see the homemade waffles 🙂 They were SO GOOD.