Last weekend, my friends and I traveled to Belgium! To you, this may sound very far away, but Belgium is actually close enough to my dorm that I can bike there (no passport needed). We started our trip by leaving Friday morning on a bus to the Maastricht train station. We took a train to Liège, Belgium and spent the day there.
When we first got off of the train, all of our mouths were open. The Liège train station is astounding, it was even in our guidebooks as the #1 thing to see in the city–which is kind of insulting because the city is really cool. Once we got out of the station, our mouths were figuratively open yet again, but this time it was because it looked like we were in the dumps…all we could see were run-down old brick apartment buildings. We decided to give Liège a chance despite our first impression of it and despite recommendations (or lack thereof) from others back in Maastricht, so we walked on. The more we walked, the better the city got. We found a nice little park and saw some baby ducklings and their parents walking along, it was too cute!
We continued to meander around for a bit and found ourselves a nice little café. They had all sorts of typical Belgian food (AKA desserts)–croissants, waffles, etc. It was great! We had very little plans of what to do in Liège, which was a nice change of pace from our very planned out trip to Berlin. We walked around some more, and stumbled upon a giant cathedral that looked exactly like Hogwarts on the inside.
After seeing some more of the city, we got some lunch. Pizza was the easiest option, of course. We took a leisurely break, as we had been walking nonstop it seemed. We saw some more classic sights of Liège before splitting up (a group of 7 is larger than it seems!). I went with Amanda and Degen to Montagne de Bueren. This is my favorite thing I have done to date! We hiked up a massive amount of stairs to get to a hilltop overlooking the city. The view was breathtaking and we could see miles and miles into the distance! As we walked along the top of the hill, we met a woman born and raised in Liège and she showed us a more natural way down–a winding path through the trees and bushes. It was really fun getting to talk to her!
We went to the Curtius Museum and met up with the rest of the group next. This is an art/artifact museum and had lots of interesting historical information about the area of Liège dating back hundreds of thousands of years. There were also lots of Renaissance paintings that were fun to look at. When we were done here it was about 6, so we headed to the train station to catch our train to Brussels.
Getting to Brussels went off without a hitch–it was less than an hour train ride! We walked to our hostel (which seemed to be on the opposite side of the city from the train station…) and relaxed there for a bit before going to dinner. We went to dinner at this classic Belgian student restaurant and I had a vegetable quiche, it was delicious! After dinner (dinner is late here, we ended at 11!) I was so tired and went to bed. It was a long day but a great one, I walked 15 miles in just this one day (35,000 steps!!!)!
Saturday morning was rainy unfortunately, but apparently very typical in Brussels. Our first order of business was to find some Belgian waffles. We went to the most high-rated place in Brussels, and it did not disappoint! However, we realized that waffles here are more like desserts than breakfast food. We walked around the Grand Place for a while, which is the city center full of buildings made from the 1400s, before our walking tour started. The walking tour still went on despite the intense rainfall, and Degen and I had to buy umbrellas in the middle of the tour because it was too much! It was worth it though, we saw so many things and learned a lot. We saw the Grand Place, the Mannekin Pis, the Royal Galleries, the Operahouse, multiple cathedrals, Brussels Park, the Royal Palace, and ended in the Royal Square. The first thing we wanted to do after the tour, because we heard so much about them on the tour, was to get some Belgian fries–the apparent more authentic version of French fries–which every person needs to know how to make on the Belgian citizen test! We found some and they definitely lived up to the hype.
Next, we went to the Coudenberg. This is an exhibition of the ruins of the original Belgian Royal Palace–underground. This was amazing to see, and remarkable that so much of the ruins are still in tact. It was very cool to get to see the inside of an actual palace as well! We went to the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula after, which is somewhat modeled after Notre Dame. There was a mass going on in Flemmish when we walked in, and surprisingly I understood most of what the priest was saying because he used the exact same inflections of his voice as American priests.
Degen and I went back to the hostel after this and relaxed for an hour, and we met back up with Mary-Brent, Elisa and Nina. We went to dinner at a Greek restaurant (a silly thing to do in Belgium, I know), then went to a bar called Delirium that everyone told us to go to. It was a fun night!
Sunday morning we let ourselves sleep in a little, then split up to see different museums. Mary-Brent and I went to breakfast in the Royal Galleries, it was delicious with a great atmosphere! We then walked to the Parlamentarium, the museum about the EU Parliament, which meets in Brussels. I learned so much about the EU, which is saying a lot because I hear a lot about it in my classes! There were lots of pictures and interactive exhibits, very technology-focused, which was a new way to experience a museum for me. We walked back into the city center and got some Belgian fries before meeting up at the train station.
Coincidentally, there was a Starbucks (yes, I repeat STARBUCKS) in the train station, so, of course, I had to get my usual iced chai latte. When I walked up to the counter and ordered my drink, the man gave me a strange look and said “Iced? Is that even possible?” I forgot that Europeans seem to never put ice in their drinks. I was so sad because I had gotten so excited for something to taste like home! Then I told him that I always get that drink back home in America, and he said he’d make an exception and do it. He then continued on to say what a great country America is and how most of its citizens take it for granted. This is an unusual European point of view so I was shocked to hear him say that, and thanked him for being so nice to me!
We got on the train back to Maastricht without any problems. Public transportation is a lot more intuitive here! I really enjoyed my time in Belgium, Brussels is such a cute, fun, little city (even though we saw occasional soldiers walking around in their full uniforms and guns, I guess they’re still around from what happened in November) with amazing architecture. Belgium has been my favorite stop so far, so we will see what else Europe will bring!