To Belgium and Back: Brussels and Brugge

Marisa Ross
March 14, 2013

A few weeks ago, my roommate came up to me and said, “Hey, do you want to go to Brussels next weekend?”

I said, “Yeah, let’s do it.”

And off we went to one of the quaintest places I have ever visited. Brussels looked nothing like London or Barcelona. Perhaps it was the neoclassical architecture mixed with regal gold-painted fonts on shop windows, or maybe it was the cute little lace and artisan tapestry shops, but there was something about this place that was just quintessentially European.

The city also had quite a sense of humor. From the Flemmish words I could actually pronounce, like “warme chocolademelk” and “yoghurt drank,” to sarcasm sported by the locals and the city’s undying love of its Manneken Pis (“Pissing Boy”) statue, I found myself constantly laughing.

Although crevices of some streets had been stamped with cigarettes, the all-too-familiar smell of tobacco smoke I’ve become accostumed to in Barcelona was replaced by a sweet overpowering aroma in all parts of the city. The smell of waffles and caramelizng sugar mixed with the warm comforting scent of chocolate tortured my senses to no end for the three days of my stay. I had to muster up as much self control as I could, and I managed to only eat two waffles smothered in fruit and chocolately goodness. Trust me, it was hard to resist more than two.

The next day, after hearing such positive reviews and insistent recommendations, my gang and I boarded a train to Brugge, known as the “Venice of the North.” Well, I’ve never been to Venice, but after a visit to this serene and picturesque city, Brugge might be difficult to top. Like my childhood bedtime stories and Disney princess movies, I felt as if I had stepped straight into a fairy tale. I heard the sound of clacking on cobblestone from horse-drawn carriages, and I was immediately brought back in time. We moseyed around the charming medieval town as we admired the scenery, watched people flurry by on their bicycles and stopped for some fries (mine covered in peanut sauce).

After walking past the canals adorned with dainty homes, my friends and I decided to take a canal ride around the city. If you ever visit Brugge, I highly recommend you do this.

We were traveling down the water, and then I saw it. It was a scene out of a renaissance oil on canvas or a spitting image of Frederick Morgan’s “A Day on the River.” Flocks of swans circled our boat in an arm’s length reach. We glideded through low stone bridges and colorful homes of deep teal windows, dark plum-colored brick walls and potted flowers. I pulled out my trusty Nikon D3100 and hurriedly lifted it up to my gaze, but when I pressed the shutter release button, the dead battery prevented me from snapping a photo. Here I was in the most beautiful city I had ever seen, and I had nothing to capture it.

But then I realized it wouldn’t have mattered if my camera’s battery did last. Brugge is just one of those places that a photo can’t do justice. As much as I love photography, a downside of the art is becoming too dependent on a manmade device. Traveling is about experiencing new things and making memories, but with a camera in hand, you’re bound to overlook some things right in front of you. As soon as my camera woes subsided, I was really able to see Brugge for what it was, and my memories of its sheer beauty will last longer than a mediocre print.

After the canal ride, we decided to pick up some candy. We walked into a random shop with tutti frutti decorations, and to our surprise, we found quite a treat – pun intended. My friends and I watched in amazement as candy was made before our very eyes. We were so mesmerized by the process of mixing, moulding and stretching the thick substance that we watched for at least half an hour. At the end, the candymakers gave samples of the freshly made hard candy. The sugary sweets were warm on our tongues. It’s rare to eat candy so fresh that it’s actually hot; it was certainly a highlight of the day.

Soon after, we returned to Brussels for a final night in Belgium where I got to have a dining experience I had never tried before. My group made a reservation at Toukool, an Ethiopian restaurant. Basically, everyone in your party shares a plate as big as the table with food piled on a sort of pancake. You use the patty to pick up food, therefore without utensils and keeping your hands clean. Perhaps it wasn’t typically Belgian, but this feast was a great end to a wonderful getaway.

Belgium, you treated me well. And for that, I say “dank u.”

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Marisa Ross

<div><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Marisa is a sophomore at the University of Florida, majoring in journalism and minoring in Spanish. She is an active writer and photographer for her school newspaper, The Independent Florida Alligator, and a varsity rower on the UF crew team. In her free time, she enjoys playing guitar, volleyball, cooking, shopping and hanging out with friends. Traveling is Marisa&rsquo;s biggest passion, and she has wanted to study abroad in Barcelona for some time now. She is most excited to master fluency in the language, immerse herself in the culture, sample exotic cuisines, and explore cities throughout Europe with new and old friends.</span></div>

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