Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Brussels, Belgium

This past weekend, Will and I took a trip by ourselves to Brussels, Belgium.  Unfortunately because the Glasgow airport that Ryanair flies out of is about an hour south of Glasgow itself, we had to miss class in order to make it there on time.  We gave ourselves ample time for the twenty min walk to the subway station, ten min subway ride, five min walk to the Glasgow Central train station, and 45 min train ride to the airport.  In retrospect we probably gave ourselves a little more time that we needed since we ended up sitting in the airport waiting to board for about two and a half hours, but better safe than sorry!

In the airport we met another student, Zach, from the US who was also studying at the University of Glasgow for the summer.  He was going to Brussels as well to visit a friend of his who was studying there, so since he was traveling alone we gave him some company.  Once we arrived in Brussels, or more accurately Charleroi, we parted ways with Zach, he having already booked his bus ticket into Brussels city center online.  He told us the tickets were 14 Euros each way, and we thought we would try and find a more economical alternative.  We went to the tourist information desk and asked for the cheapest way to get to Brussels, which turned out to be a bus to the city center of Charleroi and then a train from there to Brussels.

We found the bus we needed after some talking with our hands since the bus driver did not speak English but only French, the main language of Belgium.  Aside from French, many Belgians also speak either Flemish or Dutch.  So we made it to the train station but then had no idea where to go or what train to take.  So again, after a lot of wandering around trying to translate French and Flemish signs, numerous inquiries of “Do you speak English?” we found the right train into Brussels.  The train ended up costing about 8.50 after the 2.70 bus ride, so after an hour or so of confusion and during the hour long wait for the train, Will and I began to wonder if the bus wouldn’t have been such a bad option…

Regardless, we finally boarded the train and got into Brussels.  However, we stopped at a different train station than we had expected, so then began another struggle to find the right direction to head from the station.  We asked a woman at a tourist information desk and she gave us a map and pointed out the area where we would find our hostel, but despite my direct asking of where I exit the station and which direction I should go, her response was only “Yes, go out the station and follow the road”…. Not much help.  So we exited the station and attempted get our bearings by identifying the incredibly confusing street names on the map.  After walking about five min the wrong direction, we were able to finally get going the right way.

Once we reached the area the woman had shown us, I pulled out the map I printed from the hostel website, showing where it was.  However, we for the life of us could not find it.  We walked up, down, and all around searching for the camoflaged building.  After about a half and hour of this, we went into a  hotel and asked the concierge to give us a little help.  He hadn’t heard of the hostel, but he looked up the address online and we soon found out that the location of the hostel on the map I had printed was incorrect and we had been looking in the wrong place…  Alas, four and a half hours after landing, we finally made it the hostel!

By this point we were starving, so we went to a local grocery store to pick up some well deserved food.

Bread, Meat, Cheese and Wine- Europe doesn’t get much better than this!

While we were eating, one of our hostel roommates came in and introduced himself.  His name was Ben and he was, lucky for us, French Canadian! (aka our new best friend).  He had just graduated college with a degree in accounting and was on a month long trek around Europe.  He had been traveling with a friend for the first two weeks but was finishing up his time alone, so was glad to meet some friendly Americans to hang out with, and we were glad to have found ourselves a translator.  However, interestingly enough, he told us that although he speaks fluent French, his first language growing up in Quebec, his accent was so thick that many times he would begin speaking to a Belgian in French and they would stop him and switch to English because they couldn’t understand him.

After dinner and with Ben’s help, we headed to the famous Delerium Cafe to try out some of the supposedly 2000 beers that they carry.

Delerium Cafe
Inside the Delerium Cafe
Trying one of the two Delerium beers, Delerium Noctornum.  It was delicious.
Ben and Will trying the second of the Delerium beers, Delerium  Tremens which was voted the best beer in the world.
I gave Delerium Tremens a try too but wasn’t impressed haha.  It was too sweet for me, but hey at least I can say I drank the best beer in the world.

We then made our way back to the hostel to rest up for a big day of sightseeing.  We enjoyed a free breakfast at our hostel and then had to pack up all of our stuff because the rules of the hostel were that everyone had to leave between 10 and 2 for them to clean.  We didn’t mind because we would have been out those times anyways.  At breakfast we mapped out a route to hit all of the things Brussels had to offer.

Great View of Brussels
The breathtaking Grand Palace
Other buildings in the main square.
Classic Brussels
Belgian Brewers Museum
Sounds a lot cooler than it was.  Despite most everything being in French we did learn that Belgian beers tend to be lighter and sweeter than other beers, but they also have a higher alcohol content of about 8-10%.
Belgian Waffles
I went all out and got one with fresh strawberries, whipped cream and dark chocolate.
The Famous Manneken Pis
Much smaller than I expected…
Sculpted in 1619, it is Brussels’ oldest inhabitant, symbolizing the town’s impudently mocking and boisterous spirit.
Belgian Chocolate.  This on the other hand definitely lived up to my expectations.
Beautiful park where we stopped for lunch.
European Parliament- the head of the European Union
All the languages of the EU
Interesting artwork at the Museum of Ancient and Modern Art.

Despite the fact that Brussels was much smaller than we anticipated and we were able to walk most of the city and see everything we wanted, we were exhausted after a good six hours of walking, sightseeing, waffle/chocolate eating, and art viewing, so we went back to the hostel and took a nap.  Unfortunately we slept a little longer than we wanted and woke up after the grocery store had closed, so we had to go in search of more expensive food.  We found a little kebab place and got some delicious gyros.

Beautiful street in Brussels loaded with restaurants and eateries.

After dinner we met back up with Ben in the hostel who had gone to the famous Atomium structure on the outskirts of the city.  The three of us played some cards in the hostel and then headed out to a club.

Main Square by night.

The next morning we had a few hours to kill before we needed to make the long journey back to the airport, and since we had seen just about everything in Brussels the day before, Will and I decided to take the subway out to Atomium.

Me in front of Atomium.
The Atomium was built in 1958 for the Brussels World Fair and has become a famous symbol of the city ever since.
It is 355 ft high and is a model of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 185 billion times.
Truly a magnificent feat of engineering…

After a good look at the Atomium, we hopped back on the subway and made it to the Central Station to catch our train and then our bus back to the airport.

Belgian countryside from the train.

At the airpot we met back up with Zach and swapped stories about our weekends.  Unfortunately our flight was delayed about an hour and half because of bad weather in Hungary where our plane was coming from.  Luckily we weren’t on a time crunch, however the added time did magnify our hunger quite a bit.  Once we made it back to the Glasgow Prestwick airport and through customs, we had just missed the train back to the city and would have to wait another hour for the next train.  Not wanting to delay our diner any more than it already had, we caught a bus back to the city and walked back to Queen Margaret, stopping briefly for a small chips with salt and vinegar.

Our trip to Brussels involved lots of traveling, waiting, and wandering through an unfamiliar city where we did not speak the language, but I still consider it was a very worthwhile and fun trip.  Although it was only a few days, we were able to see and experience a lot and met some great people along the way.

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