Thursday, February 11, 2016

Beauty and relaxation in Belgium

Hi, friends and family!

You probably the noticed the unplanned hiatus of 2+ years. This is Vicky, by the way. Luke lost interest in updating the travel blog, so now I'm taking over! We'll combine pictures and stories, but the writing will be mine. Maybe I'll be nice enough to let him guest post once in a while, if he wishes. ;)

Let's jump right in where we left off!

Earlier in the year, we had met a fun Belgian couple in the Philippines. They were gracious enough to host us for a few days in Brussels, Belgium! We took a 3-hour bus ride from Amsterdam and arrived at their house at dinnertime. They served us steak tartare and duck pâté, and that was just the appetizers! The main dish was similar to meatloaf, but fancier. It was probably just a casual dinner for them, but seemed like an upscale meal to this American! And they speak French, so everything they do has an air of sophistication anyway. :P

Even after getting a solid night's sleep, Luke and I were still tired. The cumulative exhaustion of 6 weeks of nonstop traveling will get to you! So instead of exploring the city like we had planned, we relaxed at our friends' house the entire day. And, of course, I took pictures of their pets.


That evening, our hosts showed us around Brussels a bit! The city center was extremely crowded because a famous musician was throwing a free concert. We avoided that chaos and instead visited some landmarks.

Royal Palace of Brussels - used for state functions.

Infantry Memorial - commemorates Belgian soldiers who fought in WWI and WWII.

Dinner was reminiscent of our home state of Texas: a BBQ restaurant called Amadeo with all-you-can-eat ribs!! We've been out of the U.S. for 15 months at this point, and we're not picky eaters anyway... so all things considered, the ribs were decent.

Bonus points for the stuffed cow at the entrance!


After dinner, we hung out with our hosts and their friends. One of the guys lived and worked in Houston (my hometown) for a year. The world can be small sometimes! When the group split up a few hours later, one guy said, "I won't see you ever again, so it was nice to meet you." I love the unapologetic frankness of most Europeans. My people!

We ended the night by strolling through the Old Town. That's where the free concert was held, so there was trash all over the ground.

You can't visit Brussels and NOT check out the famous Manneken Pis ("Peeing Boy") statue. He's really small.


Closer view of Peeing Boy.

Our friends also showed us the lesser-known Peeing Girl statue, but I didn't get a picture of it. Dark alleyways don't photograph well.

Did you know that a Belgian illustrator created the Smurfs comic strip? That's why we found this statue outside of a museum.

The next morning, we slept in until almost 11:00! Our hosts are too nice and didn't wake us up earlier. They planned a fun day trip to peaceful and historic Bruges! So after a late breakfast of scrambled eggs, croissants, and juice, we headed out. A quick 75-minute car ride later, we arrived in Bruges and began the walking tour.

Google says that this is probably a Dahlia, or something similar.

Stop looking at me, swan!

We walked by Minnewater Lake...

... over canals ...

... and through the central square! 

Belfry tower.

The only Belgian waffle we had was from a Bruges street vendor, and it was microwaved, soggy, and disgusting. The Belgian fries with mayonnaise were much better.

Taking a break!

We walked around even more and visited some souvenir shops.

One of the strangest living statues we saw during the trip.

All that walking and sightseeing made us hungry, so we drove back to Brussels and had dinner at Il Giardino, a French/Italian restaurant. You know the free bread that you get before a meal? I watched our female friend spread butter on the bread and sprinkle some salt on top. It blew my mind because I never considered sprinkling salt on bread before! Well, that simple trick made a delicious difference. I ate all the bread and also had a pizza for dinner, because I'm a sucker for carbs.

It was past midnight and our hosts wanted to go hang out at a club. Luke and I were way too tired for that, so they dropped us off at their house and went out without us. Party hard, my friends!

The next morning came too soon and it was time to leave. Our hosts packed us some Nutella and jam sandwiches for the train to Luxembourg and sent us on our way. Au revoir!

[Luke's comments: "Belgium was really nice. Pretty without being grandiose. A relaxing time when we needed it badly. Part of the great experience may be due to the incomparable hospitality of our hosts. Definitely somewhere I'd like to visit again!"]

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