After a weekend away in Belgium, I’m back in Paris and writing from one of my new favorite cafés—10 Belles, a tiny place right off Canal St. Martin that is often too packed to do work in, but on Wednesday mornings it’s a wonderful spot to enjoy their delicious apple-carrot crumble cakes (and the cute bilingual baristas, who’ll happily chat with you in English for a bit).
While I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend getaway, I am so grateful to be surrounded once again by the Parisian dialect of French, which I find to be the plus belle langue du monde. The accent in Brussels was notably different than in France, and don’t even get me started on Flemish—although nearly everyone my friends and I encountered in Belgium spoke English, we completely underestimated the challenges of not being able to understand the announcements on public transportation. We found ourselves in awe of how lucky we are to be American, a sentiment I rarely feel while traveling because of our reputation in the international community as obnoxious and demanding tourists. But this trip helped me realize how much of the world is accessible to me just because I can speak English; even in Bruges—easily the most walkable city I’ve ever been to—the comfort of being able to converse with locals for directions or information was immense. I can’t even imagine the difficulties imposed on tourists traveling in New York, a city that I’ve lived in for months at a time and still manage to get lost in. Anyway, the point of this digression: this trip was quite spontaneous (we booked it just last week) and absolutely unplanned; I was traveling with my best friends Kate and Emily, and we made a pact to not research anything about our destinations (Brussels and Bruges) and to simply get lost in the city and rely on the locals instead. How romantic and adventurous of us, right? Perhaps a better word would be naïve, although this was definitely the trip to try out this strategy. Here’s a basic rundown of how our experiences with transportation went down as a result:
First of all, we took iDBus there, (a one way ticket from Paris to Brussels on a Wednesday is only nine euro!) which I would highly recommend as a comfortable and inexpensive method of travel. Free wifi and reclinable seats! However, I couldn’t figure out how to translate the website into English while booking my ticket and accidentally purchased two non-refundable tickets as a result. Whoops! While I’m sure I could’ve fixed this over the phone with the company, I chose to exchanged my ticket for a bus to Amsterdam in two weeks instead. I guess my problems could be worse…
Now, for the adventure: upon our arrival in Brussels, amid umbrella-breaking winds and rain, we realized we had absolutely no idea how to get to the famed Grand Place…or anywhere, for that matter. While we attempted to stay positive, it was hard to enjoy anything while utterly lost and getting increasingly drenched, in addition to having woken up at 4:30am for a five hour bus ride. Oof. Safe to say we weren’t in the greatest moods once we finally did reach the square, and we decided to head to our hostel in Bruges fairly quickly.
I am still in awe of how this worked out, but we ended up hopping on a train that announced it was headed for something that sounded like “Bruh-guh,” which we prayed meant Bruges. An hour later, we’d arrived in Bruhguh, which was indeed Bruges, and were once again at a loss for where to go from there. There were buses lined up outside the train station, and I saw a sign that read grati and decided that the bus closest to us must be a free bus into the center of Bruges. We hopped on, said bonjour to the driver, sat down, and then watched as every other person who boarded the bus handed him a ticket. We still have no idea what exactly happened there, but we did end up in the center square of Bruges about ten minutes later, so no complaints for the free ride! Silly American tourists, at it again.
Knowing next to nothing about Bruges other than the promise of famous Belgian chocolate and waffles, I fell completely in love with the colorful, doll-like houses that dot the canals that run through the city. The cobblestone streets felt like they were made to get lost wandering through, and I’d estimate that we walked an average of three-to-six miles a day just exploring the city. This was pleasantly counteracted with the average three hours that we spent in chocolate shops, desperately seeking out samples and purchasing some of the most mouth-watering, artisanal chocolate that I have ever had the pleasure of eating for the equivalent of thirty cents a piece. I bought an entire BOX of fifteen Belgian chocolates from Dumon, one of the most famous chocolatiers in the region (and therefore the world) for less than seven euro. Crazy. And lucky for my wallet, because they obviously didn’t last me very long and I just had to buy a fresh supply the next day.
Now, back to reality (and a ten page paper about the history of Montparnasse). Wish me luck!