By the time I arrived in Brussels I was used to passport verification. The plane landed quite quickly and I have to say I was very impressed we managed to land near the indicated time, considering we had left with a 40 minutes delay. I was so tired I fell asleep during the whole flight and it felt as if we arrived in just a pinch of a second!
I was still very tired upon arrival, but the excitement grew as I realized I was going to visit the capital today. I knew I had to get to Antwerp later on so there was no time to lose: quickly, I directed myself to the ticket machine but realized to my dismay that my 6-digit credit card pin code did not work in Belgium!
Horrified and confused, I had to find a way to scribble for change as I only had two 50 € bills with me.
TIP: bring change with you on your travels – you never know when you might need it! - While most places accept paper bills, frankly I noticed some only accept coins.
The woman at the exchange counter told me there was a shop near the corner where I could ask for change. However, be it my unrested mind, panicked attitude or general disorientation; for the life of me I never found that shop! Getting out of the baggage-claiming area was a pain: it was tricky because they did not have clear signs pointing towards the exit and the room was very huge. At length, I managed to exit and step into an area filled with restaurants, cafes and shops. My challenge now was getting to the bus station, as I figured I could buy my tickets on the bus.
I got out of the airport and asked a lady working there for directions. She pointed me back into the direction where I came from and told me to buy the tickets there, as the driver only takes small bills. She said I need to go through security (super long line) but that maybe I can ask the two policemen in front to let me through. While walking up to them I mumbled “Excuse me, I just got out but it seems I need to buy my ticket inside, can I go back in?”
The guard looked at me without saying anything so, clumsily, I repeated myself in French, as I thought maybe he did not understand. But he cut me off midway pointing to the buses and telling me I can get it there. I tried to explain the situation and finally they let me in, but not before they gave me a suspicious look that made me feel like I had committed something illegal (you know, the feeling in the pit of your stomach that takes you back those moments in childhood when you were punished). I hurried in and bought a sandwich and tickets from the change.
Unfortunately, the bus did not go to the train station and I ended up in the middle of nowhere! (Granted, I was in the middle of the city, but with it being so huge and me so disoriented it felt like I was completely lost).
I managed to find a metro station and was so surprised that everything there was automated! I looked at the metro map in vain, tying to figure out how to get to the main station…. Who to ask?
While looking around I noticed a group of men talking and, seeing as how they dressed in a similar fashion, I assumed they must work at the metro. I had no more change left and had to go to a store again….
Quick tip- grab yourself a metro map before and get familiarized a little with it.
I found the metro to be different than back home as it was automated and you sometimes had to get out of the station in order to take the train in the other direction (so you had to present your ticket again).
What I did not know is that the ticket is actually valid for up to 1h (or is it 1h30?...) and you can use it on the metro as well as buses, unlike Montreal where as soon as you use it on the metro you have up to 1h30 to take a bus for free.
So I hopped on the metro and made my way to the central station. There, I took the sightseeing hop-on-and-off tour bus and sat comfortably on the top floor.
The trip was lovely: it was definitely a good way to see the city in a relatively short period of time and to have access to its history via the audio feed. I got off at the Atomium and there I ate my first waffle:
(Victory pic! ) The taste? AMAZING! It combines sweetness with hard –but not too hard-, oily –but not too slippery- (you see where this is going…) dough. I was actually a little surprised to see it came without any toppings before I took my first bite. Needless to say the taste was far from “bland"! But I am getting a little carried away with food right now...back to the story:
So the first thing I did was buy a ticket for the Atomium.
Awesome thing: you can get good discount to attractions in Brussels when you buy the sightseeing ticket
I had to leave my stuff in a locker for 1€ because they don’t allow bags inside the building. It was a pretty good thing because you can leave your things there until closing time (6pm) so I could visit Little Europe feeling light and baggage free as well (and got the 1 euro back at the end).
As I placed my things in the locker... shocker! I had “lost” my credit card. Sweat started dripping on my forehead as I frantically searched for it…no cell, no money…it was downhill from here!
Thankfully I found it in one of those places where you just have to stop and think “how in the heck could I have placed it there? It makes no sense..” while scratching your head. Crisis avoided!
The Atomium: beautiful for its history but I have to say I was a little disappointed with the inside exhibition. The thing I really liked was the view from the top “ball" but apart from that I found it a little “empty” because there was really nothing to see but pictures with how it was constructed and a little light show.
Little Europe was by far my favourite thing of the day.
I ravished in pretending I was taking a real round-the-world trip; seeing London and Paris in 2 seconds!
At the entrance, after taking the mandatory picture (which I think is a waste of money and paper because a small portion of people actually purchase these pictures and they make you take them even if you don’t want to! It is a waste of resources which is not only time consuming but detrimental to the planet as well), I made my way to visit this nicely kept “garden” with its very realistic monuments. I spent most of my time there, so much that I missed the last hop on/off bus!
Tip- obvious but check the schedule for the buses. My mistake was thinking they revolved around my own schedule!
And so my second metro adventure of the day began (by this time I was a connoisseur).
I headed into the direction of the Gare Centrale where I took a train to Antwerp. I searched for a train (as my ticket was an open ticket and I could take any train) and have to admit, in shame, that it took me a while to discovered “Anvers” meant Antwerpen in French. -Dad, I owe you an apology for all those time you told me I am going to Anvers and I attributed it to a fault in memory due to old age, while I repeated “no, Anvers is French, I am going to Antwerp in BELGIUM”. (Imagine the horror as I saw the train to Antwerp disappear and get replaced by a train to Anvers!) -
I had no Wi-Fi in the station so I had no way of contacting my friend and realized we had not set a meeting place. I waited at the entrance in hope of finding her and a few minutes later this smiling stylish girl walked towards me and said my name. Seeing the “Belgian exchange student in Canada"…in Belgium…was pretty weird and I felt as if we were back at my home Uni except the country was switched!
We headed to her place which was right next to the station (contrary to Montreal, it is cheaper to live in the center of the city so most students have apartments there). I put my things down and changed –seeing how stylish she was I had to put something “better” on than my travelling attire.
We were pretty hungry so we went out to eat some famous Belgian fries!! Fun fact I learned on my travel: French fries are actually of Belgian origin because the people who came back to America remembered “they came from the French part of Europe” and assumed it was France and not the French part of Belgium, actually!
The fries here are eaten with mayonnaise or other sauces, wrapped in paper and as a dish (not a side-dish). I took my fries and we sat down in a lovely area which resembled both a park and a street. I find that very typical of Europe where, because of the tight streets, you often find areas where you can sit on a bench and not feel like you are sitting next to a busy street but rather a small park. I felt so cool eating my Belgian fries and sitting down with my friend –like a local. Rosa’s friend joined later and we sat at a terrace and ordered beer. I drank Stella Artois –as my Belgian friend made sure I would get a real good Belgian experience.
When we got back home, I nervously called my bank back home to get my pin changed and was super frustrated by their cold response “Sure, we would love to help as soon as you visit a local branch…in Canada!” Could I really tell them that I hated them right now and that when I left and changed my pin they just told me to have a good trip instead of “hey, don’t change you pin, it won’t work abroad”?
Honestly, I do not recommend using RBC as all my experiences with them have not been very pleasant due to their customer service not being efficient and only superficially “professional”. A Canadian woman whom I met on a trip to Bruges told me she and her company switched to CIBC because of this issue.
So, without hope, I went to take a shower where I got attacked by Rosa’s strange cat!
The cat, who I have to say is a little bit on the evil side, jumped in the shower with me and it took me forever to get it off the sink. It was going to spill all the bottles on the floor! My attempts bore no fruits as it hissed at me and I was forced to watch the “demon” from the corner of my eye. It may sound a little silly me telling you the story this way but I swear when I went back up to the room that night guess who was waiting at the top? That’s right, the cat had passed in front of me and was not letting me pass, scratching me. After various attempts to dupe it, I finally got into the room where I fell into a nice relaxing sleep.