I found myself wandering down a small, deserted alley, with one shop front. It had a small sign in the shape of a coffin, labeled ‘Taverne le Cercueil’ (which translates in French to Tavern of the Coffin). Its front window had skulls and other potentially disturbing artifacts on display. There was a door open, with a long blacked out hallway, in which I proceeded down – because of course, my tendency of curiosity is like that of a cat from that old proverb. There were three lights in the room, but they did not shine on the few steps that you must climb to approach the sitting area, that stretched around the tiny, makeshift bar. The bar was empty, except a lone couple hidden away, sitting closely together, conversing in the corner. The barman was in the back, so I took a seat at the only couch in the room, which had a real coffin turned into a coffee table in front of it. Glass had been cut to fit the top of the coffin and a real human skeleton lay inside the ragged remains. It was lit by a meek blue light from within the skull of the aged bone body. The barman finally entered the small room, asking what I wanted to drink – he pointed to a faint sign near the ceiling where several Belgian beers were labeled under the overhead black light. I stayed for my first beer in Belgium, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. And while the atmosphere of the pub was dark, drab and ominous, I enjoyed the solitude, being left with the soft, eerie music with my beer and my thoughts.
I continued on around the outer streets that wound around Brussel’s main plaza, stopping at various shops just to see what they offered. I never am interested in the tourist nicknacks and random crap that’s available for sale, seemingly everywhere in Europe – but I do like to look and see what absurd items are passed off to the poor unknowing tourists, as ‘authentic’. I typically don’t buy anything wherever I go. I’d rather put my money into the experience, so I’d rather save my funds for transportation to another interesting place or to try the authentic local food. However, one thing I had to succumb to was an amazing beer store, filled to the brim with shelves that were crammed full of local beers from all over the country. Belgium has over 175 breweries (which is impressive in its own right, as the country is quite small), and each one must have been represented in a beautiful fashion, with each flavor option ever created available – I was seriously torn with the notion of never leaving that store, until I had tried each and every one. I thought of ways to take them on the plane with me – perhaps I should go buy a large suitcase and bring them back with me, or what if I were to ship them home. But saner heads prevailed, and I bought a few that have been on my ‘Must try beer list’ and walked out wanting more, much more.
I left craving beer, of course – but since my bottles were warm, just off the shelves – I decided to seek out the only thing I had written down on my list for Brussels; The famous Delirium Cafe. The bar is famous because it holds the Guinness Book of World Record for the most beers offered in an establishment – with over 2500, as of today. I left after a couple of beers, realizing how easy it would be for me to live in Brussels, and spend each and every day at the bar, trying the nearly unlimited delicacies – while wasting away all of my savings, and yet still making barely a dent in the silly goal of wishing to try every beer they offer. The bar had free wi-fi available and so I researched a few other nearby gems that seemed worthy of visiting. One of the more interesting spots was a tiny bar, hidden in a back alley, not far from the Delirium Cafe. It had a little bar in the corner, with two bartenders and a waiter stuffed behind it. It was set up with old wood tables and matching chairs which were arranged at random, all over the room – the room design made it difficult to navigate and eventually I found my seat after bumping into several people. The bar, called La Becasse, which has been in business since 1877, is well-known for its unique house beer – a sort of traditional Lambic. The beer was sweet and long-lasting on my tongue, and rather pleasant overall. It was definitely a different style than I’ve had before. Their famous in-house beer is always served in their own specialty stone stein, which is also as famous as the beer served within it.
I was beginning to feel the effects of the alcohol, and my stomach began to twinge with empty nausea from very little food and the four pints I had enjoyed. I left the bar, skipping down the street in a brilliant mood, enlightened by the pure gluttony I was enjoying, when the smell of sweet and warm waffles cut through my nostrils and stopped me in my tracks. I turned with a childish grin to the little shop on the corner, and I slowly approached the counter, which was laden with tasty, fresh treats. The shopkeeper offered plenty of options to load up my waffle with – from chocolate or sugar, or whipped cream and fruit, the options seemed endless. However, I heard that most of the toppings are only offered for the tourists, so I settled for the closest to authentic that I could order – traditional and pre-sugared. Although, I would have been unable to say no to a white chocolate covered waffle! It was hot and moist (yes, I know, everyone hates that word – haha), and slightly crunchy on the outside. It was pure heaven with each bite. Sex was the only other thing in life that would compare to my newfound ecstasy – a bit of beer, a happy, slightly light head on my shoulders, and a stomach full of hot, sweet Belgian waffles could be second to only that. I’d be lying if I said I stopped after one – but here, I digress.
I wandered around a bit more, getting successfully lost – as I always do. I saw a few more of the sights and attractions, like the Manneken Pis, the Atomium, and Rue des Bouchers, before jumping on the underground to where my CouchSurfing host’s flat was located. I arrived without difficulty, following his instructions to retrieve his keys, as he would not arrive for another couple of hours. Entering my host’s flat, I was given a bit of a shock, as the entire flat was decorated with authentic and historic furniture and other various decor items from Africa. His dining table was a hand-carved piece, with delicate depictions of assorted animals, jungles, deserts, and tribesman – the chairs were shaped like eggs, and the seat was shaped as though a spoon had scooped out part of a hardboiled egg. Being a curious surfer, I wandered about the flat, checking out every room. It was large and spread out, with a long, skinny kitchen connecting two different ends of the flat. But one of the more amazing parts was that it was upwards of 12 stories high, which meant that it was the perfect refuge, offering silence and relaxation from the chaos of the city below. Since most of Brussels isn’t built up very high, I could look out and see the Atomium and other recognizable structures. The sunset was spectacular from from his balcony – it wrapped around his entire apartment, giving me a near 360° view of the city.
My host was an interesting character. His job is to chauffeur a high profile man all around Europe – which of course, he said he couldn’t reveal his identity. He was a relaxed and happy guy, light to speak with and enjoyed speaking of humorous things, as well as historic happenings and interesting news. He was a nudist, however wore his clothing for most of the time I was there – thankfully – while I don’t practice the lifestyle of open nudity with newly met people, it was interesting to see that his enjoyment of this practice stemmed from his personality of being completely comfortable and at ease about everything – it seemed like nothing could alter his mood. We shared a nice dinner and drinking some local beers, then I slept in the guest room – falling asleep to watching the city dream from beyond the full-size window next to my bed.
I left early the next morning heading off to the train station for my train to Ghent. I walked from my host’s flat to the train station, but the path I took lead me straight through the mini redlight district of Brussels. It was early morning, with the sun still rising, however girls and creeps and drug dealers and cops were all busy in the district – it was a strange feeling walking by, witnessing what I had... A pair of cops were arresting some methhead or so that’s what he looked like to me, a guy was coughing and saying under his breath various drug names that were available for purchase. There were plenty of girls still dancing in the windows, dressed in almost nothing, tapping on the windows and making kissing faces at me, as they were wanting business. I couldn’t help but start laughing and thinking to myself, my God, the things I see on my travels.
I stuffed a lot of travel into this short trip, because I wanted to see as much of Belgium as I could before having to head back to Venice – due to the unfortunate truth that I may not be in the area again for some years. I arrived in Ghent, knowing that I only had a few hours before I needed to get back on the train toward Brugge. I took the tram to the historic center, walking through a Sunday flower market, with a traditional big band-esque orchestra playing in the middle. I followed the canal through the Sint-Baafsplein (Town Square), which lead me by all of the tourist shops and restaurants, and further on, I found the Gravensteen (Castle of the Court). It stood tall and powerful, hillside of the main canal that lead throughout the city center. I saw all of the historic center within less than an hour and I decided to grab a beer from a local tobacco shop and sit and watch the people wandering around the little Fish Market square. I decided that I liked Ghent, or rather the idea of it – I enjoyed the look and the feel and I loved the canals (of course) and the castle, but I would rather have visited the city in its pre-tourism pinnacle – but I feel that way about most places in Europe, so I guess it’s better to see these types of places before they’re destroyed and long gone.
I made it to Brugge by 1:00 PM, and unlike most of the places I see without a map where I’m instantly lost, I left the station and saw loads of people just walking across the bustling street into the ancient center of the town. I passed beautiful green parks, full of lazing travelers and locals alike, who relaxed along the canals, which were filled with majestic white swans. I had a few more things planned that I wanted to see in Brugge, than I had for the other two cities thus far. I was told by a random traveler in Italy that I should check out the De Halve Maan Brewery, and since I sort-of-but-not-really have a tiny-little-thing-called-LOVE for almost all beer, I thought why not? The brewery was only a 10-15 minute walk from the train station, so it was not long after the train ride that I was sitting down and waiting for my tour, with a cold and refreshing, unfiltered blonde beer. The tour was pretty typical (as I’ve been on several brewery tours by now), but there were a few quirks that surprised me. They still had a lot of the original brewing floors and installations still in use or at least preserved for their tour. It was quite interesting to see how beer was brewed hundreds of years ago. The other part that I found interesting was the tour stopped for a while on the grain germination floor, which lead out to the top of the brewery building – it showed views over the town, which was nice to see, but what was more was that the original exhaust tower was still standing – I’d never seen one quite like it, and to my confirmation, the tour guide explained that over the years, and because of the wars, most had been shut down and/or destroyed.
I was a good tourist, visiting the Market Square, trying more of the delicacies and snapping loads of photos of the historic buildings – however, I must say that Brugge was quite literally raped with tourists. The main square was filled ten-fold, compared to Brussel’s Grand Place – I didn’t imagine that happening at all. Another one of my sprawled notes of things to do on this trip was to check out the Cambrinus bar and try one of their 400+ beers. So, my recent chocolate purchase, and already buzzed self sat down to a couple of new and very strong alcoholic beverages. While guzzling a mix of white chocolate pieces and blonde beer, I found myself a few pints in, with a goofy smile on my face, realizing that it was time to head to my hostel.
I had very little luck finding a couchhost in Brugge, so I booked one of the best hostels that I’ve heard about, St Christopher's Inn - Bauhaus Hostel. I followed down a main street, over a canal and along a dingy street that was mostly shut down until I reached the hostel. I found that it consisted of three buildings that ranged from strictly dorms, and then their bar stretched across the other two storefronts. Inside was warm and inviting, with massive candelabra's which overflowed with hundreds of melted candles that had oozed over the stems, base and bar surface. There were hostel-goers relaxing and drinking beers, but overall, everything was quite chill – but as I saw when booking the hostel that it was famous for its bar and common areas, I expected things to liven up a bit. But not even later in the night did things get very crazy, nevertheless it was a nice chill place, with interesting decor and never-ending flow of beer at the bar. I relaxed most of the night, venturing out only for a warm meal, but I continued my beer samplings and then crashed early from having a bit too much over a long time span, to where I was just too sleeping to carryon.
The next morning, I fought with myself, deciding if I should carry on to Luxembourg or stick around Brugge – because despite the overload of tourists, I quite enjoyed Brugge, with its architecture style and local festivities. But in the end, I decided F$%# IT! And decided to get on the train and go. So, FIVE HOURS LATER, I arrived in Luxembourg, tired, but ready to see what this supposedly medieval ancient mini-country had to offer. I left the train station, instantly regretting my decision, as everything was modern and boring, and typical, and just like any other modern city I’ve seen – it even reminded me of home a bit... Boo! I continued on down the street for a while, crossing a bridge and finally finding some of the older parts in town. I enjoyed walking along the ravine edge, where you could peek down to the bottom, where a few hikers and runners were having a go up the millions of steps that took you up and down. But to be honest – other than that and a few decent photo ops, it was an overall disappointment – however, I suppose I can count Luxembourg as another country visited, but this achievement felt lackluster at best.
I wanted to see areas like the Black Forest, and hike, climbing hills or cliffs, with ancient castle at the top. While I’ve seen photos similar to what I wanted to experience, I did not find it. And one day in the country wasn’t enough to go searching to find the more intriguing areas anyway – the sun was already setting as I wandered through the city. Oh well, I thought to myself, perhaps a much later time, I’ll revisit and try again.
All in all, I really enjoyed the trip and besides spending most of it enjoying the better-things-in-life, I think I was able to see a decent amount in a short time. But the next time I visit, it will be at a much slower pace, and I will be renting a car to drive around the entire countryside, from one end to the other, down along the other side and then back again, as I think Belgium has a ton to offer, besides its cities. With that said, if you have a chance to visit Belgium, do it – it’s fantastic (and so is the beer and the waffles – oh yes!)
More travel updates coming soon! Next update from the Slovenia & Croatia
Travel update I – Barcelona, Spain
Travel update II – Madrid, Spain
Travel update III – Granada, Spain
Travel update IV – Ronda & Sevilla, Spain
Travel update V – Marrakech, Morocco
Travel update VI – Marseille & Nice, France
Travel update VII – Monaco & Florence, Italy
Travel update VIII – Rimini & Cesenatico, Italy
Travel update IX – San Marino & Verona, Italy
Travel update X – Venice, Italy (Part I)