A Breath in Belgium

The first steps off the plane in Belgium felt refreshing, particularly after a journey that had lasted well over 13 hours. I had left Los Angeles in search for the leisurely pace and the organic air of Europe.
My first stop in Belgium was Bruges. In Bruges I felt as if I had entered a fairytale as I was surrounded by old world style grey brick buildings and a lofty canal system similar to Venice, but with a charming Belgian twist. As I explored the city with my friends I began to feel even more like a character in a fairytale complete with a tea time consisting of a traditional Belgian waffle; as I ordered one without any toppings my Belgian friends gave me a strange look and asked “So you just want a plain waffle?” with my response being “Heck yes!! a Belgian waffle in Belgium, my dream is complete!”. Each bite of the buttery, crisp, golden goodness of the waffle took my breath away. After living my dream, we headed back outside when right at that time the sun started to shine bright hiding the grey it was before. Before leaving Bruges we passed through a beguinage. The beguinage was filled with merry yellow easter flowers, quaint white Dutch style houses, and a pure air unlike any place I’ve traveled to before.
The next place to visit in Belgium was Brussels. In Brussels I was dumbfounded that the primary language spoken is French. I continued to tell my Belgian friends how I felt as if I was in France, but they gave me look that completely stated ‘this is Belgium not France’. Walking around Brussels we visited one of their more famous or possibly infamous statues the Manneken Pis. It was interesting to see masses of people surrounding an edifice of a boy peeing, nonetheless it was an unique item to see. Before leaving Brussels one more stop had to be made and that was at the Grand Place, the central square in Brussels. In the square you are surrounded by opulence as gold filigree decorate the buildings of the square. Before leaving the presence of such opulence, we had to take a selfie - or well a few - as we were left in awe of such delicate workmanship.
An opportunity to road trip in a foreign country, “ah yes hello” as my friends and I decided to drive from Ghent to Antwerp. During this drive I learned a very important Belgian phrase, ‘is’t nog ver?’ meaning ‘are we there yet?’, but it really wasn’t that long of a journey as Belgium is a small country and to actually drive cross country would take a maximum of 3 hours. Antwerp, I discovered is where the hipster chic reside as I walked past kitschy stores selling all sorts of creative items ranging from furniture to paper goods. As my friend was planning on moving into a new apartment soon, we perused many furniture shops looking
for patio chairs. After entering one specific furniture shop my friend found exactly what he was looking for, worn looking green metal chairs. After purchasing the chairs we carried them with us to a botanical garden in a hidden corner of Antwerp; in the garden there were beautiful and unique specimens of trees and flora. When it was time to leave Antwerp we and the chairs made it to the railway. When a train finally arrived we saw it was heavily crowded; being dead tired from walking the whole day we desperately wanted somewhere to sit when my friend said “guys we have our own chairs” and so we sat on his green metal chairs leaving Antwerp to our stop.
The last city I visited before leaving Belgium was Ghent. In Ghent the environment is just right, as it has the hustle and bustle of Brussels as well as the fairy tale feel of Bruges. History shapes the city of Ghent, this is especially so as there is a castle in the middle of the city! Our day in Ghent started out with picking up freshly made pain au chocolat from a cottage like cafe; then starting our tour around the city. First stop, my friend showed me the university where he had studied for both his undergraduate and graduate level studies. At his university my friend showed me a gem of a spot that he was told about in his last year of studying there. The area was hidden behind an old brick building, it consisted of an orchard atop a grassy hill overlooking a river below; this was a prime spot to be in during the spring when students have picnics to destress from classes. After, we wandered to the Gravensteen, a castle lying in the middle of Ghent. In the castle we were teleported to the middle ages as we walked through dungeons and viewed swords used by knights. Going up narrow towers and walking to lookout points the most stunning views of Ghent were to be seen. Atop the castle you could see the university, the train station, and cathedrals clearly from a crisp smog free air, something not to be taken for granted as that seldom happened in Los Angeles.

Sheeva Abolhassani

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