Seconds after writing this and publishing it, I found out that Brussels airport and metro have been attacked in the last couple of hours by terrorists and it’s still unfolding. I am completely shocked and disgusted that this has happened. Nobody deserves this but Brussels is such a lovely place, nothing bad should ever happen there. I hope everyone can get to safety and that they catch the monsters responsible. Terrorists are so utterly evil, but how could even they do this? What has Brussels ever done to offend anyone? I am crying right now because this is so shocking. My heart goes out to everyone in Brussels and all of Belgium right now, and everyone affected by this in any way.
Okay so I may have gotten one tiny detail wrong last week. I didn’t get straight on a train with the intent of going to Belgium from Paris. The Parisian Lecher was basically trying to get me to stay in Paris with him and I told him that if there were no trains to Venice then I would just go back home, and I bought a reservation to Calais. After making myself feel less disgusting in the train bathroom I pored over my maps of Europe and tried to work out a route over the Alps to Italy. I wasn’t going to let one bad experience ruin the whole trip.
I jumped off the train at Lille (France) and continued to Mons (Belgium), which was the interchange to Brussels. As soon as you get into Belgium it’s really obvious that you’re not in France any more, because the Belgians are really big on their art-deco style, and you can see it everywhere. It’s so classy and 1920s, and it’s very easy to see why this is the land of Hercule Poirot. I was relieved I didn’t have to go all the way back to Calais, and after the stress of Paris, Belgium was just delightful. From the moment I stepped off the train in Brussels and saw signposts in English, I knew I was somewhere friendly.
From my travel journal:
“…They have an open tourist information centre, which is in the train station (which has a shopping-centre-like layout map) and it can reserve hotel rooms and give you area maps. It’s dead good. So I’ve had a long, thorough shower, changed my clothes and am sitting on an actual bed in an actual hotel room. And there’s a delicious box of Belgian chocolate truffles in reaching distance.
This evening I plan to have a meal out then plan my next move – likely to Luxembourg or Stuttgart,maybe Cologne. I won’t continue to wax lyrical about Brussells. All I will say is firstly, Belgium deserves its reputation for food and chocolate (they even make the vegetables taste amazing)* I ate a boiled chicken and seasonal vegetables meal with a creme brulee dessert. Secondly, the architecture of Brussells is way underrated. The city’s up there with the big tourist centres as a really beautiful place – only Brussells is totally friendly. I am staying at the Argus Hotel near Metro Louise, amongst the high-end shopping area (Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Sonia Rykiel etc), and it’s tariff says E110 on the door but I paid significantly less.
Later still: I have looked over my map and decided to go to Stuttgart tomorrow from Bruxelles (via Frankfurt) aiming to be on the 11:59 (lmao) train from Bruxelles Midi Station (just in case I forget tomorrow). This will give me plenty of extra time to buy a necklace and also to postcard-shop and take some photos, although if I keep snapping I’ll run out of disposable cameras!”
*At the time, I wasn’t the biggest fan of specific vegetables. Looking back, I genuinely have no idea what I was eating. Fast forward 6 months and vegetables were all I ate, because I went vegan!!
What I learned in Belgium:
One of the things that really surprised me at the time was how lovely Belgium is, and it’s completely underrated among the under 30’s. Having seen more of the whole country now, I think it’s a delightful destination and well worth a visit if you like a classy travel experience (rather than a non-stop party). If that sounds duller than a dry white wine, Brussels (or Belgium for that matter) probably isn’t the place for you. I did actually go back to Brussels in 2014, when my husband and I just dropped into Brussels for dinner (we were hungry, and I’ll link the story here when I get to it), and I still think it’s an incredibly sophisticated destination with unparallelled food. In terms of ambience, it’s probably how Paris was forty or fifty years ago and it makes for a good romantic getaway because it’s not packed with tourists but it’s still very ambient.
The main thing I learned though was that there’s a reason people don’t use disposable cameras any more. At the time, I thought it was the amount of space they take up. Actually, I didn’t learn about the photo quality difference for several years – I have always believed that film-cameras are way better than digital, and I think I was right until the last couple of years, when digital cameras finally started having a good enough resolution (number of megapixels) to be able to produce better pictures, and we finally got a unified digital storage method (SD cards) with a reasonable amount of storage per card, at an affordable price. There was a long time when there were so many different types of memory cards for different cameras and devices, that it was pointless buying either cameras or cards because as soon as they stopped making the cards, the camera was useless, and as soon as the camera broke, you had to buy a new set of different cards for the new camera, it was all the most ridiculous situation because of compatibility (and that’s if we don’t get started on those stupid wires we had to use to upload stuff – how many different connectors does the world need? I’m so glad that 99% of everything uses a micro USB these days).
There’s a world of difference between a disposable camera and a regular camera, however, and one of the key differences is aperture. Disposable cameras (and those cheap non-disposable fixed focus 35mm cameras that everyone used to have) have a fixed aperture that’s optimized for daytime holiday shots in the sort of light you get in the Mediterranean. That’s why these tend to come out acceptably on them. But they’re really not useful at all in low-light settings such as evenings or indoors in certain places.
Nowadays, I use a DSLR camera and I have a bridge camera as my backup. Yes, a DSLR is heavier, and OH MY GOD it was so expensive, but it’s worth it to get stunning pictures first-time-every-time when I’m on a once in a lifetime trip or at a concert.