A Tale of Two Cities- Brussels, Belgium

Trip Start Jun 16, 2011
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Trip End Jul 21, 2011


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Flag of Netherlands  , Noord-Holland,
Friday, July 1, 2011

Guten tag from a train between Amsterdam and Berlin.

We have spent the past four days in Brussels, Belgium and Amsterdam, Holland.

We took a bus from Paris to Brussels. The bus trip was 4 hours with a 30 minute layover for the French police to arrest one of our passengers. The air condition was broken and being quite warm, this turned into a four hour moving sauna. Arriving in Brussels, we realized that we had not made any preparations for our visit. This included not having any idea on how to get to our hostel. So we did what we do best and started wandering. A kind Dutchman let us use his map to figure out a metro stop in the general vicinity of our hostel. After trying to decipher the encrypted code in which the maps of the metro stations were written in, we hopped on the subway train that looked right. After successfully arriving at the correct metro stop, we were pleased to learn that our hostel was miraculously directly behind the station. With this being a short visit, we dropped off our things at the hostel (Hello Hostel Brussels) and decided to get our Brussels on. Knowing little of what to do in this new city, we did what seemed obvious… find a Belgium waffle. Learned from our fish and chips experience, the first place you see offering what you are looking for is not always the best. So we were meticulous in picking our waffle shop, looking for the most authentic waffle experience. This paid off because we both had the best waffles we have ever had in our lives. I'm not sure what we are doing in the United States to mess waffles up, but we need to get on the ball because these things were out of this world. We quickly came to the conclusion that if you visit Brussels there are exactly four things you must do... Try the local beer, try the chocolates, get a waffle, and see Manneken Pis. Manneken Pis is easily the most recognizable icon in all of Brussels. New York has the Statue of Liberty, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, and Brussels has the Mannekin Pis. This legendary attraction is a two foot tall bronzed statue of a plump little boy relieving himself into a fountain below. This little boy is also the endorser of just about anything you can buy in Brussels. His likeness appears on everything, ranging from postcards to silverware to t-shirts. Once you’ve done these four things, Brussels has nothing else to offer you. That said, they do these four things very well (especially Manneken Pis). Another thing to note about this city is that it tries really hard to be cool, hip, and contemporary. The metro station blares Bob Marley and the walls of the city feature dozens of giant cartoons. We were surprised by the unique diversity in Brussels. This city featured a mixing bowl of different races but there seemed to be a large Muslim population… and if we are being honest… it got a little shady at times.

The next day, deciding that we’ve seen all there is in Brussels; we took the time to finally do some laundry, and completed our Paris blog in the process. We then jumped on A train to what we HOPED was Amsterdam. Nobody could give us a straight answer on where exactly our train was leaving from, at what time, and whether our paper print-offs were valid tickets. When we were finally on what we believed to be the correct train, we held our breath as the ticket taker took our measly pieces of paper. We half expected to be thrown off the train for being on the wrong one or not checking in to get the proper tickets, but it all worked out just fine. After arriving in Amsterdam, we were surprised by what appeared to be a bicycle junk yard, with hundreds of bikes chained to anything that could possibly be chained. We estimated that for every person in Amsterdam there are at least two bikes, because EVERYONE was on a bike and there was at least one more bike for every person chained to a fence. We walked around the city, surprised to see that Amsterdam was nothing like we thought it would be and yet everything that we thought it would be at the same time. If you are looking for drugs or prostitutes you can certainly find that, but we found that the city had much more to offer than that. The city is an outward spiral of canal systems and roadways that parallel those canals, with bike paths that parallel those roadways. At no point did we feel in danger, in fact it was comparable to taking a stroll on your local boardwalk. If this boardwalk was laid out like a maze! We quickly realized that investing in a good map was a must.

We stayed in a hostel called Shelter City. This hostel was a Christian hostel located in the very heart of the Red Light District. The name made a lot more sense when we realized it was located on the same street as some of the velvet adorned windows that have made this area so famous. This hostel featured a very friendly staff, a quiet courtyard with a beautiful koi pond and ping pong table, as well as a free hot breakfast (a first for our trip).

On our first full day in Amsterdam, we decided to follow suit with the locals and went to rent a couple of bikes. Biking is by far the best way to see a city! We had a blast, seamlessly riding from one end of the city to the other, while battling the cars, mopeds, and pedestrians with hundreds of other bikers. The city has designated part of every road for bike paths, even going as far as to provide traffic signals just for bicyclist (if you choose to follow them).

Our first stop was a floating flower market… and that’s pretty much what it was. Any possible kind of flower you would want they have available, including the ever popular cannabis plant. Near this market we found a shop called Henri Villig, a cheese shop that was very generous with its sampling (something we took full advantage of). After testing every one of their many cheeses and chocolates (some twice) we came to the very difficult decision of what we wanted to purchase. We settled on smoked cow cheese (a Dutch specialty), a jar of fancy mustard, and a bar of Holland Top Choice pure dark chocolate for lunch on the train the next day.

From there we visited Anne Frank’s house. This was the house that Anne Frank and her family moved to from Germany to escape persecution. They ended up spending two years here, hiding in a secret annex. With our museum skills honed from the Louvre, we carefully read every display. Despite it being the smallest museum, we’ve visited we probably spend the most time here. Now well versed in the history of Anne Frank and her family (including the unappreciated older sister, Margret), we started biking in the general direction of the zoo and ended up finding an awesome brewery located inside of an authentic wind mill. At the Brouwerij’t, we had an opportunity to sample the beers they brewed while enjoying more cheese and salami. With about an hour left before the bike shop closed, we decided to take the scenic route back towards the shop.

After dropping off our bikes, we went looking for a place to eat. We ended up finding Le Place. This was a gourmet food court located next to a shopping mall. This place was awesome!

Walking around the city at night and seeing Amsterdam in action put it in a different light (pun intended). We were really taken aback on how the Red Light District was set up like a side show. It was an extremely ugly thing, and while some people browsed at the girls like they were shopping at the mall, others really emotionally struggled with the reality of what was going on.

Amsterdam is a charming city with a lot to keep you entertained, but I wouldn’t pack up the family van just yet.

Auf Wiedersehn,

Ryan and Patrick
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Comments

Gertrude on

Ryan your pictures are great.
Your pop pop was stationed in Brussels in ww 2.

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