Cities / Towns Visited: 7
Countries Visited: 4
Steps Taken Today: 26,698
Steps Taken Around the World: 536,744
A day out of Brussels had lessened our distaste for it enough for us to boldly go exploring with fresh eyes. So as we finished our included breakfast, checked out, stowed our bags, and walked the 3km into the heart of the city, we did our best to wipe the slate clean. What is the best way to get off on the right foot with Belgium, you may ask? Why, eat waffles of course! So as we wandered towards the main square, we detoured to a small street front window, lured by the tantalising aroma of freshly bakes Belgian waffles. As usual we went with the buy two different ones and swap method, and with cinnamon, and chocolate waffle in hand we continued. The cinnamon one was warm, and reminiscent of apple pie, but the chocolate one, well I’ll probably dream about it. It wasn’t chocolate as in chocolate batter, or covered in chocolate sauce, we’re talking sticks of chocolate shoved inside the grooves of the fresh waffle so that it melts into some devilish concoction of crunchy exterior, warm soft dough, and gooey melted chocolate. I could have eaten seven and happily curled up in a corner for some sort of sugar induced coma.
Moving right along, we arrived in the Grand Place, the large main town square of the city, which is hedged by huge gothic style buildings, making for an imposing destination. After wading through the crowds and taking a few photos we moved onto our next three stops in quick succession. Brussels seems to have some bizarre fascination with statues of things urinating and thus we did the round trip of Manneken Pis, Zinneke Pis, and Jeanneke Pis (just read as: boy pissing, dog pissing, and girl pissing). They are dotted around the central part of the city, and it’s just strange to see so many tourists, us included, making this weird pilgrimage to such obscure choices of art.
We decided it was time to move on to an actual attraction but first we stopped to buy our first serve of Belgian fries (yes Belgian fries, not French fries, they were first praised by American soldiers who somehow didn’t know they was in Belgium and not France, because Belgium people speak French in some parts of the country, so France just claimed them. Oh and FYI the fries McDonald’s serves, those are shoestring fries). We strolled and ate as we meandered towards the Musical Instrument Museum. Once more, we picked up the audio guide, but this one is a must have in a museum full of things specially designed for audible purposes. This isn’t an audio guide of tiresome commentary, but rather by typing in the corresponding numbers you are able to hear snippets of music played using the instrument on display. From woodwind, to brass, to string, to percussion and everything in between, and from one side of the world to the other, almost every culture was covered. Instruments you never knew existed, and ones who’s beautiful sounds hardly seem to match the coarseness of their handmade nature and materials. From the bagpipes of Eastern Europe (yep, apparently every country breeding livestock thought it was a good idea to attach pipes to animal innards and play them as instruments), to a whole floor dedicated to historical evolution from harpsichord, to piano, to synthesiser, it was a fascinating way to travel the world and history itself.
With our hearts full of music, and a large portion of the day having slipped away in the almost hypnotising hold of the museum, we scurried off, past the royal palace, to the Cinquantenaire Park, a large park just east of the city, and home to the Military Museum. We arrived an hour before closing, but because I’m not sure why they say they close at 5 when they really kick you out at 4:45 we had but three quarters of an hour to scurry through. Taking a tactical approach we headed for the things we were most eager to see. We skipped over the Napoleonic war section, as we’d just done Waterloo, and we hurried passed WWI as we would, in just a few days be taking a pilgrimage to Ypres, and skated past WWII because between Reims, and the activities we have planned in Berlin and Poland, we’ll cover most of it. Onwards to military tanks and planes. They literally have an entire hanger, chock full of aircraft, from tiny wooden planes that barely fit one person outside on something that looks remarkably like a bicycle (there’s not enough money in the world to make me fly one of those), all the way up to massive fighter jets, and even a helicopter. Just inside from the hanger and out the back stands a large collection of tanks, guns pointed menacingly in all directions. The inside display has the side hatch of one open so you can see just how little room there actually is inside these death machines, the fact is they are basically 90% killing power and 10% breathing space. Our last stop with 15 minutes to spare, was the medieval exhibit. With full suits of armour, and a plethora of weapons less deadly but much scarier in appearance than guns, I was in my element. There’s something terrifying about implements that can inflict slow torturous deaths, as oppose to a swift bullet.
Finally we were herded out and thus we trekked back to the train to pick up our bags and head to our next destination. With little hassle we were on our way to Ghent. Brussels had been quite the experience, leaving us torn between or distaste for their poverty situation but a love of their attractions, and of course their waffles. After alighting the train we had to catch a tram to get closer to our hostel. The downside to purchasing cheap accommodation is that it often comes at the expense of convenience. The cost of metropolitan transport seemed to be rising as we moved from place to place. €6 for the two of us to take one trip, not an hour or two worth of transport allowance, one singular tram ride. I know it seems small but if you’re doing that several times a day it adds up. I’m sure there are discounts for locals holding weekly or monthly passes, but for a tourist it’s rather pricy; just over AU$5 each per trip. Most people like to think that bicycling is a cultural thing, but I’m beginning to believe that a large part of it is that transport is just too expensive. Seriously there are bikes everywhere, and they almost rule the road. If a car is coming towards you it’ll stop, if a cyclist is coming towards you they’ll just keep ringing until you either get out of the way or they hit you. Along with their public transport, from what I’ve seen, their petrol prices sit between €1.30 and €1.60 per litre of unleaded, that’s almost twice what we pay in Australia, no wonder everyone has small cars here; there’s almost no 4WDs in sight. I guess that is a proactive way to force people to make environmental choices, but hey, if it helps the world I’m all for it to be honest.
We walked swiftly from the tram stop to the hostel, but still managed to get drenched in rain in the last 50 metres, shaking ourselves off as we checked in, dumped our bags in our dorm room, and ordered pizza, because like hell we we going back out into the torrential downpour. I must say I did feel for the delivery guy when he walking in with our food, dripping, and still managed to hand it to us with a smile.
After a long day, it was with great joy that we collapsed into our beds. Reflecting on the day it was wonderful to spend the majority of it in the world of music, an art which can take us back in time to the best and worst parts of our life, as well as the best and worst parts of history. It can soothe or agitate, elevate or depress, inspire or oppress. It is a universal language that speaks not only to our minds but also our hearts. Life is a symphony, and we are the instruments; choose your band carefully and you will surely have a harmonious life, choose recklessly and there will be nothing by discord.