November 3rd, 2020
Sugar, spice, and everything nice. Mix it all together and what do you get? Belguim! The land of chocolates, waffles, fries and beer. The four quadrants of a perfect world. The ultimate sugar rush. Everything that dreams are made of.
A few days ago I found myself in Brussels, capital of Belgium, with nothing but dreamy treats on my mind. I had it all planned out: I’d take an early morning train into the city, grab a coffee and a waffle at the nearest street shop and track down a few landmarks: The gothic Saint Michael Cathedral, the precious gold plated buildings of Grand Place, the famous Hotel De Ville towering out above all, known as the most prominent building in the city…
From there, like Alice in Wonderland, I’d follow the street signs to the most famous landmark of Brussels, Manneken Pis: a bronze fountain statue of a little boy having a wee (more about this in a future post).
Knowing myself all too well, I’d be hungry by then, so next up would be mussels, fries and a Belgian beer. The best of Brussels, all-in-one!
Rumor has it that the people of Belgium are very friendly and with the local language being Dutch, which is very similar to my native language, Afrikaans, I was hoping to make a new friend or two over lunch at a quaint little pub.
Whether or not my new fantasy friend(s) were up for it, I’d soon be off to what probably would have been the highlight of the day: A Belgian chocolate tasting!
Afterwards, I’d have to find a souvenir store to (don’t judge) buy a magnet and maybe pop into a comic store, another thing the city is known for, just to add to the amusement of a day in a place full of wonders.
I’d end the day with a scenic train ride back to my hotel, enchanted by a warm fuzziness you only feel when you’re in love. I’d text my new fantasy friends thank you and goodnight, and that I’d love to meet them again on my next visit to do all the fun things they suggested I do next time I come to Brussels. Then I’d fall asleep to daydreams of a perfect day that’s come true.
The itinerary of dreams, I tell you!
To my utter dismay, I arrived to hear of a recent shutdown due to a second wave of Covid-19. My face dropped when the hotel staff announced that “ALL BARS, RESTAURANTS AND TOURIST ATTRACTIONS ARE CLOSED”.
The next day, with much less enthusiasm than just a day before, I made my way into the city anyway. When abroad, I refuse to buy coffee at Starbucks, I’d rather ‘support local’. I was hoping to get a get a take away coffee from a local place along the way, but alas, I couldn’t find any.
I managed to track down Hotel de Ville, also known as Brussels Town Hall, and Grand Palace square, which were both like a dead man’s doorstep. At the beginning of Covid-19, it was a small blessing in disguise to be able to wander around cities that were free from crowds. I don’t know if it was the cold of the lack of caffeine, but this time it just felt eerie and wrong.
I took pictures for as long as my hands could bear being uncovered. After some time my fingers were completely numb and my knees ached from the cold. I always forget that 8°C feels like 0°C in Europe.
I managed to find two little corner shops that were selling waffles to-go. I made the mistake to order it with Nutella, which made it too sweet to enjoy and almost impossible to eat while walking.
Trying to follow the street signs in Brussels is like trying to find your way through a master maze – almost impossible! I’m not sure if some of the signs were turned backwards or if I’m just directionally challenged when I’m cold, but I spent about an hour going around in circles trying to track the down Manneken Pis. When I finally found it, underwhelmingly small and insignificant-looking, I heard the English phrase “are you taking the piss” escape my mouth. I grinned at the irony, pleased that I was still able to make a little joke.
At one of the few souvenir stores that were open, I decided to get a magnet of the Manneken Pis. A friend had made a comment that I couldn’t help but quote: “I’m sure the magnet was bigger than the actual statue!?”. How dull any experience would be without humor.
The icing on the cake was when it started to rain. My dream day had officially turned into a nightmare. So, instead of a ‘scenic train ride back to the hotel’ I decided to call it a day and ordered Uber.
The Belgian chocolates I bought at the airport are still on my shelf, untouched. I think I’ll save them for a rainy day; a day I need to escape into a daydream, one that I can only wish will come true when the world is no longer ruled by a virus.
Have you had better luck traveling during the current Covid-19 pandemic?