Belgium

The plane flight to Brussels Charleroi was cramped and uncomfortable and pretty much everything one expects from an encounter with Ryanair, but it was on time! We were on a shuttle bus into the city of Brussels at about 5pm. It’s was very light outside, and we discovered quite quickly that we’d packed too many clothes for the warm, humid weather. Once we’d had a chance to dump our luggage and stretch ourselves out, we picked a restaurant and aimed for it.

Brussels is rough around the edges, like all the best cities. The touristy area in the centre is beautiful at night, and I’m excited to see it in the daytime on the weekend. The beautiful parts of the city remind me of Paris – intricately decorated frontages, frescoes and balconies, little winding cobbled streets lined with restaurants and chocolateries. There are wafflehouses and giftshops selling lace, and pubs and bars with encylopaedic beer menus.

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We went to a tiny little tucked away restaurant called Bier Circus and it was worth the half-hour uphill trek from our hotel on the edge of town near the Bruxelles-Midi station. They specialise in cooking meals with beer in the food, but my chicken and mushroom vol-au-vents were, as far as I can tell, unscathed by beer. I’m not the biggest beer fan, but I was determined to try proper Belgian beer, so asked for advice from Sean and our waiter. I ended up with lambic beer with peach juice and I loved it so much I had another lambic beer, this time with cherry juice. It didn’t taste like beer, just a slightly sour fruit juice. It wasn’t very high-alcohol either, so was easy to drink. We had frites and stoemp (mashed potatoes with leek and carrot) and Sean very much enjoyed his meatballs and the various beers he tried. The restaurant was busy, and therefore a bit slow with the service, but had really pleasant and chatty staff. I would definitely recommend!

Stuffed full of food, we went for a walk through some of the aforementioned cobbled streets and ended up at the Delirium Café. It was so busy! Even for a Wednesday night it was full of studenty-backpackery types. I was absolutely knackered at this point so we only stayed for one drink, but it would be a place worth coming with a group of mates at the start of the night.

We walked back to the hotel, stopping to buy a couple of delicious rum-ball type confections, and when we got back to the hotel, Jaws was on. A quality way to finish off the evening.

We both had a pretty awful sleep, but we soldiered on this morning and packed up, checked out, and went to the station to grab some breakfast. We ended up on the long train to Bruges. The normal route would take just over an hour, but ours was more like two hours and fifiteen minutes. It didn’t matter though – the sun was shining and the Belgian landscape is quite beautiful with its meadows and streams and farmhouses and little towns.

Bruges is obscenely beautiful. It was a short fifteen-minute walk to our hostel and we had a cup of tea and a look at a local map before heading out. We followed a recommended path toward a beguinage, a complex to house beguines – religious women who are not exactly nuns. It was peaceful, sunny, and covered in daffodils. We wandered down to the Minnewater, before heading on through the winding cobbled streets, passing the smallest bridge in Bruges, the Halve Maan Brewery, and the tiny little Stoofstraat (Bruges former ‘red-light’ alley). People ate ice creams in the sun and walked their dogs (including a nine-month-old chihuahua named Lola that I made friends with). There were canals and tiny bridges, lovely gardens and cafes, and plenty of people. We went to the 2BE bar and saw their permanent exhibition of every Belgian beer in the Beerwall (I think the current count is over 1700 beers) and had a drink before heading to Burg Square for waffles, a small sunbathe, and a quick look inside the Basilica of the Holy Blood.

We came back to the hostel for a brief rest and then headed out for dinner. Unfortunately Sean’s pub crawl was cancelled, so instead we spent a lovely night eating Flemish beefstew (me), ribs (Sean) and lots of frites and beer. We checked out a wee pub called t’ Poatersgat which is possibly most the affordable in Bruges, before heading back to the hostel to sit on the peaceful rooftop terrace. We headed inside only to get a message from Flick back in Melbourne, and we were able to Skype with her before we went to sleep!

Bruges is obviously geared toward tourists, but unlike a few other places geared toward tourists, I haven’t seen too many places trying to rip people off. The Belgians are really friendly and all speak perfect English as well as Dutch and French and probably a million other languages. They are very proud of their traditions and embrace them, with so many places selling chocolate, beer, and lace. There’s even a chocolate museum and a museum about frites (French fries) in Bruges.

The next morning we headed out on a walking tour which took us to some of the places we had seen previously, but others that were brand new, including a couple of locations from the film In Bruges and the oldest bridge in the city. It was not quite as warm as the day before, but still too hot for a jacket. The photos continued to be beautiful without me even trying. Bruges is a most photogenic city!

We stopped to buy chocolates before heading back to the hostel to collect our things, and then we trained back to Brussels. We’ve booked a hotel here for the next two nights and have just come home from a delicious ramen dinner. We had an ice cream and a drink afterward and people-watched – the city is very busy tonight! Sean has continued on to a pub crawl and I’m deciding whether to have a bath, read a book, or watch television…choices, choices!

 

 

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Nice things

St Andrews was grey and wintry and gorgeous. I went up for the Stanza Poetry Festival – only a fleeting visit where I wandered down the the shore and the ruins and had no time to see any events!

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I’ve been busy with work for the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation – see my pride and joy, the Pride & Possibilities journal here. I’ve been to book clubs, wine nights, late nights at the National Museum of Scotland, lectures on the Bronze Age by Historic Scotland, and a gathering for lovely Sophie who has headed back to Aus. Basically, life has been full and wonderful. I went to another brilliant Jane Austen Society event in Dunfermline and I’m off to another tomorrow. I’ve been learning to run. It’s hard and awful but it’s doing me good and I can feel the benefit when I’m not swearing and gasping for air. I went to an event at Waterstones with Hannah Kent. She signed my copy of The Good People and I met Monica McInerney in the signing queue! I’ve been trying to read even more than usual, and my to-be-read list is growing longer every day. We’ve been tuning in every week for the new season of Broadchurch and re-watching Game of Thrones. I’ve seen two amazing pieces of theatre – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and 9 to 5 – and last night I saw the new Beauty and the Beast in all it’s gorgeous, cheesy, nostalgic glory.

How lucky we are to live in this city. How lucky I am to have a job, and a flat, and some money to travel. Here are some photos of beautiful Edinburgh.

I’m sorry this blog sounds braggy and disgusting, but honestly, it’s so easy to be dragged into melancholy and sadness by the state of the world these days. It feels nice to reflect on the nice things, when we can, instead.