27 Jul 2014

Eurotrip // Brussels, Belgium

Here is a question you may be asking yourself: should I, savvy world traveller, take the time to go to Brussels? Well, I have been to this Belgian metropolis and, I shall assist you in answering your question with a list called: "You Should Travel to Brussels If"
You should travel to Brussels if...
you like waffles.
you love waffles. 
you wish to experience french fry bliss. 
you don't mind people rolling their eyes when you ask if they speak English.
you enjoy eating, staring at and smelling chocolate.
you don't mind dirty subways. 
enjoy spaghetti more than normal people. 
enjoy spaghetti with heaping (I mean heaping) servings of shredded cheese. 
like inexpensive and delicious beer. 
enjoy getting lost constantly. 
are not one to question the importance of peeing statues.
you like mussels paired with french fries.
you possess polarising opinions on almost everything.
you enjoy confusing architecture.
surrealist art is your thing.
you are into the EU. 

Zelda and I arrived in Brussels in the evening and immediately got ourselves suitably lost. The directions to the hostel I had saved on my phone proved utterly useless and we were forced to rely on a rough pocket map. As we wandered through the streets I couldn't help but feel, in a way, almost disappointed. Brussels was so much dirtier than the Netherlands, and it kind of smelled weird and, not that Toronto is any different, but there were lots of homeless people in the public areas. Normally I don't mind being lost in a new city, but something wasn't clicking and I just wanted to get to the hostel as fast as possible. Basically I chalked it up to the Dutch being meticulous and, not really cluing into the fact that Brussels is, in fact, ugly. 
Yes. I said it. It's an ugly city. 
Z and I picked up a copy of use-it Brussels and right on the front page of the map it says "Yes, Brussels is ugly but we like it that way!" and I thought "ah-ha! That's it! I'm not loosing my Holland loving mind!" I say it's an ugly city not because there isn't some lovely architecture (there is) but because it all feels so disjointed. It gives the impression of it being a patchwork city of really, really old buildings and some strange modern ones, all placed on hills and seemingly at random. It is not purposeful in design. It's also a lot smaller than one would imagine. I for sure saw some repeat people, on separate days too! Despite the unusualness of the city itself, there were definitely some highlights to our visit. 

One of the cool things we did was go to the Musee des Beaux Arts, and visited the Rene Magritte exhibit. Margritte was a Belgian surrealist painter of "ceci ce n'est pas un pipe" fame. The exhibit chronicled his life and displayed an impressive array of his work. My sister thought it was "really messed up" but I thought it was interesting. I can't begin to pretend to understand surrealism but I thought, seen in bulk and in context, it's an informative and creative style of art. I was particularly taken with a piece called Black Magic. I thought it was beautiful. I took a (possibly illegal) photo. 
The other fantastic part about Brussels is the beer. Oh my the beer. Maybe I was living under an uncool rock because I did not know the Belgians brew over 80 different types of beer! The best part? Each type of beer has it's own glass. For reference here's an overview of the main options on offer. Z and I tried to sample as much as we reasonably could (at one point even a peach one was enjoyed!) My personal favourite was the Kriek. We went out for dinner one night at Skievelat, which by the way, was incredible and I whole heartedly recommend trying out, for mussels. I ordered a kriek to accompany my massive portion of food (like, srsly so many mussels) and it was the perfect pairing. I even managed to win over the staff with my mussel eating etiquette and choice of beverage, despite us speaking English. The food in Brussels was pretty great.  

The city is filled to the brim with chocolatiers, fry stands and waffle hawkers. You could eat enough for three people without walking more than two blocks. I casually mentioned to Z that perhaps fries + mayo were now tied with poutine for fry enjoyment and I got the black look of death. Apparently nothing can supersede poutine. The other thing we saw on every single menu and ended up trying one night, was spaghetti. Yes, spaghetti. I wish I had taken a photo of the plate when they brought it out because it was literally heaped with cheese. To the point that when I blended it all in, the cheese was coming up in melted strings with my spaghetti noodles. So there you go: spaghetti Belgian style. 

This is "mannekein pis", apparently it's a big tourist attraction? It was built in 1619 and is mentioned in all travel literature concerning Brussels. The actual statue is about the size of an infant but if that's not to your liking you can buy chocolate replicas all over the city...

Overall, I can't say that Brussels was my favourite city I've ever visited. Although, to be fair, my visit was sandwiched between seeing Holland (which I am now irrevocably enamoured with) and Paris, which obviously hello incredibly beautiful and romantic. So maybe it's not Brussels' fault...or perhaps it's just a strange, quirky city. On the plus side the food was fantastic and the beers were delicious. If I ever find myself travelling that way again I will be sure to stop in for some of both. 

PS More Europe adventures here

26 Jul 2014

Eurotrip // The adventures continue to Paris

Hello from Paris! I took the train yesterday from Brussels and arrived all in one piece to Paris! Paris is, hands down, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. When my dad first moved to Germany, I came to stay with him for a few weeks and I got to go on one outing to a country of my choosing. I chose Paris. I remember when I first saw the eiffel tower I thought it was falling over, an optical illusion caused by the clouds. I remember seeing all the famous landmarks like the Moulin Rouge and L'Arc de Triomphe and being both simultaneously impressed and disappointed. That happens sometimes, doesn't it? When you travel places, you come face to face with things you have only seen in pictures and in that split second of actually seeing something you've been looking forward to, your memories of it, your anticipation and what's sitting in front of you collide. It's both overwhelming and disappointing. It's funny how things work. This time, when I saw the eiffel tower, it just made me smile. Conversely, when I walked to the Louvre, I took a good hard look around me and realized that I did not remember a single thing about being there.

I mean, I know that I have been to the Louvre. I paid money to go inside. I have a photograph of me standing in the museum grounds. But in my memory there was just blank canvas. Perhaps visiting a city for the second or third time is like re-reading a novel: you always find something new and exciting. Or maybe I was just an idiot when I was 14 and was convinced that getting a crepe with nutella was the France experience (I mean, not that I don't care about that now or anything, I know what my priorities are.) 

Naturally I've been thinking a lot about the first time I came over here, ten years ago. A lot has changed since then. The least of which are my fashion tastes: my sister informed me that I proudly sported a pair of high heeled flip flops that I bought myself in Cologne. #nope #nothankyou #regret. The other thing that has changed is how connected everyone is. I remember feeling so isolated staying in Europe while all my friends and mom were at home in Canada. 14 year olds are not, I think, known for coping well with transition, especially being away from familiarity and what friends they managed to cobble together through puberty. I remember walking around Cologne feeling just so. pissed. off. about. everything. Thinking about how unfair "everything" was (what even was this everything?) and I missed a lot (and also apparently blocked all memory of Paris form my mind. Way to go Syd.) Now I'm older, and I know better than to waste time being pissed off about nothing (sorry, everything), but I also don't have to miss my friends so much. The internet has really stepped up it's game.   

Flawless use of communication tools. Travelling completely solo is, I will admit, a little bit lonely. So it helps to be able to use instagram and Whatsapp and my blog to connect with people. I realize that this is exactly what people who complain about millennials use against us, the argument that we use the internet to supplement our reality and are emotionally bankrupt, but 1. I am a millennial so fuck you and 2. Supplementing my reality is so not what I'm about. I am most certainly not emotionally bankrupt and I happen to think that the internet gives me a creative outlet, which is a helpful thing when traveling. Ha. Argument invalidated. Actually I have kind of enjoyed the shift in my blog tone from cocktails and hair tutorials to documenting. 
Well, I'm pretttty wiped after an epic day of walking around literally everywhere--the subway system is simple but there's one stop that seems to not be in use and that is the stop that I need to get everywhere? I'm working on it. 

emotional representation of the Paris metro

I have edited my photos from Brussels and will get that post up soon! Also if you follow me on instagram, I am sorry for spamming your feeds with a lot of photos all at once but wifi is garbage in this city so I can only post when I've got a good connection and I need to be emotionally validated by the internet because I am a milennialllllll

See you soon! Byeeee. 
PS Check out more Europe adventures here 

25 Jul 2014

Eurotrip // Delft, The Netherlands

Hello hello! I'm about to embark on the solo portion of my trip by travelling to Paris today! I will be on my own in the city of love for five whole, glorious, macaron filled days. Today I've got the last of my Netherland adventures to share: my day trip to Delft! I just want to say that I loved the whole of Holland. It has endeared itself to me forever. There are nothing but nice people, beautiful canals and delicious cheeses (despite the waffles, the same cannot be said of Belgium...) I feel very lucky to have had such a fantastic time adventuring and exploring with my trusty tour guide. Alright, let's get down to business: Delft! 
Delft is super easy to get to and is absolutely beautiful. 
Sophie and I spent a few lovely hours in some rainy weather wandering around the city and enjoying it's culinary delights. It's definitely worth a train ride out, even in the rain. Sophie and I arrived in the evening so we missed out on the tourist shopping experience (I'm sure my wallet is pleased), which I think is one of the primary pulls (however, hot tip, for those so inclined Delft is the home of delftware and that ish was everywhere. So if you are in the market to buy some of that, Delft is your spot.) There are tons of little cafes, shops and places to sit and people watch. It's a beautiful little city and we had fun exploring it. 

We visited the Oude Kerk (old church) just before it closed and got to take in the beautiful stained glass, domed ceiling and beautiful carvings. It was originally built in 1246 giving the "oude" some serious credibility. Sadly we didn't have time for Nieuwe Kerk (new church) which was built in the much more modern 1396. Nieuwe Kerk looms impressively over the town square and was nothing if not imposing and added an air of medievalness to our rainy evening. 
Despite the description of canals and cobble stoned streets, it's a very different place than Amsterdam or Leiden. The whole city has a very medieval feel to it, a kind of quiet magic. My hunch is that on beautiful summer days it's swamped with tourists, but Sophie tells me that it's really a student town (reportedly a veritable hot bed of engineers). Apparently the boys from Delft favour the girls from Leiden. If you're looking for a Dutch romance plot line in your life: you're welcome! 

After a bit of exploring and audible stomach rumbles, Sophie and I stumbled across De Sjees and their glorious heated patio. We made ourselves comfortable and ordered a few beers, Sophie chose Kriek and I went with an Orval, which is brewed at an abbey and is absoltuely delicious. The sampling of both was, unbeknownst to me, to be my foray into Belgian beers (it is now beknownst to me and I have thoroughly enjoyed several belgian brews and accompanying belgian hangovers). Our server looked exactly like Rosamund Pike and was so nice and sweet, endearing herself to us forever. The patio was not only heated but was equipped with soft, fleece throws to prevent the chill from seeping in. Sophie and I pretty much thought this was the greatest and had a marvellous time. 

Pro traveling tip: When you go out to eat in The Netherlands, there are meals and then there are Snacks. Snacks are what we would probably call appetizers or small plates. So, if you ever find yourself at a restaurant and your server asks you if you want snacks, do not furrow your brow, just smile and say yes because at the very least it means you are getting krokets and fries with mayo. What is not good about this scenario? Snacks for everyone!

Basically: you should go to Delft (and just visit the Netherlands in general.) The End. 

Thanks for following along! Check out more European adventures here.

24 Jul 2014

Eurotrip // Amsterdam, The Netherlands

A big hello from Belgium! My sister and I are headed to Bruges today for a day trip (apparently Belgian waffles originated in Bruges, therefore I feel morally obligated to sample them and report back with the results.) I'm very excited to share my photos from Amsterdam today! I hope you all like photos because there's a fair amount... Alright, let's get into it. 
On Sunday Sophie and I went for a day trip, which was perfectly reasonable since it's only 45 minutes outside of Den Haag. It was so wonderful travelling everywhere with Sophie, we never once got stuck in a garish tourist trap, she knew exactly how to get out them and quickly (something I deeply appreciate about her). After we arrived we met up with her lovely friend Dawn and immediately got down to enjoying some deep fried cheese, naturally. Then we were off exploring by foot. 

We did not go to the red light district or go to a coffee shop. Call me crazy but I was too enamoured with the endless twists and turns of streets ending in canals to want to go look at half naked ladies or get high (I did see the Brussels red light district when our train was arriving in the city and it made me feel sick, so I think I made a wise choice in skipping out on Amsterdam's). Instead we walked around the city for hours and hours. It was breathtaking. There's a certain feeling that I get in old cities, like London or Glasgow and now Amsterdam, where I want to sit down in the middle of the road and let all the history soak into me. It's as if the ground vibrates with all the thousands of years of feet and hooves and wheels that have traversed the streets. I think the feeling might be something akin to reverence. Amsterdam is old and beautiful and full of a magic that you can only find in very old, cobble stoned cities. If I was a writer I would love to sit for hours on a patio, sipping tiny coffees, imagining all the lives of people had in that city. I would write it all down in a book and then it would sell lots and lots of copies because people love magic and even though they claim they don't have imaginations, they really do and they love to be used. Amsterdam simply lends itself to the imagination. 

It is a city that has a ton of little quirks, for example when looking up you can see small wooden beams with hooks attached that hang over the front of residences. This is not the best quality photo, however it does demonstrate the hooks on the outsides of houses, which Sophie and my trust guide book informed me are used to move furniture in and out of windows instead of up the winding staircases. My guidebook actually has a section called Watch Out For Falling Pianos that describes these exact hooks. Sophie, who actually lives in a world where hooks are involved, just kind of rolled her eyes to express something like "oh the Dutch aren't as charming as one would imagine.." She's moving apartments in a month, so I suppose she feels the squeeze of narrow stair cases more keenly than a tourist such as myself. 

We walked our way through many different neighbourhoods, mercifully hardly any touristy ones (I can't stand tourist areas! So ironic) and imagined what it would be like to live there. At one point we saw a ginger cat lounging in a big open window, Sophie panicked for the cat accidentally plunging to it's death, however I just started imagining what it would be like to have a life in Amsterdam. I mean, you guys know my feelings about ginger cats. We shared a lot of wistful sighs and dreamy looks about the what-ifs. 
After the Amsterdam-cat-attractive man-life fantasy we bought our weight in cheese, wine, and mini stroopwafels for a sunset picnic in Vondelpark. I know, I know. It was hardly any fun at all. 

In addition to stocking up on, ahem, cheese and wine, Sophie took me to the best chocolate shop, where we bought some fancy chocolates and indulged in some cassis and vanilla macarons. We also poked around in some vintage shops and looked at lots of beautiful cafes. I don't think I've seen the inside of a restaurant since I've been here. Apparently in Europe when the weather is nice, there are only terraces. Not that I'm complaining...


Thanks for reading and following along! Check out more European adventures here. See you after being IN BRUGES! Ha, yes, classic joke. 

PS Attention fellow travellers! Here are some travel resources worth checking out: Use-It Europe is a travel site/resource designed and run by young travellers. The hostels I've stayed at have all had paper copies of the maps made by them and they are ridiculously helpful: they include walking tours, helpful information on not looking like a tourist and what local customs are. Another helpful resource is Like Where a travel website that helps you plan your trips and discover new places based on what you already like back home. Check our their feature on Amsterdam! I have added these to my travel resource page. 

all photos taken by me and are a mix of DSLR and iPhone