European Rail Adventure: The Beginning

Day 1 – Edinburgh, Scotland to Brugge, Belgium

I’m free! It’s done! I can’t believe it. My year in Edinburgh had finally come to an end. As with most endings, it is bittersweet. I am excited to be done with school for the time being, but I am very sad to be leaving. It took me a while to settle in, but now I don’t want to leave. It feels weird, knowing that I wont be returning to the UK for a while, but that is a story for another time. Now Devon and I are officially off on our great European adventure! I can’t say how regularly I will update this, but I am going to try my best. Our first stop – Brugge, Belgium.

This was not my first time in Brugge. However, the last time I was in this beautiful medieval city, I was one of 39 other high school girls on a glee concert tour of England, France, and Belgium. It’s hard to truly enjoy a city when being shuttled around like a herd of cattle, but Brugge managed to leave a distinct impression. How could it not with those picturesque canals populated by elegant swans and busy little ducks. The easy flight from Ediburgh to Brussels made Belgium seem a natural starting point for our journey. Plus, starting in semi-familiar territory was comfortable for me.

We had a rather uneventful flight into Brussels, and boarded the shuttle bus for the hour-long ride to the train station (because of course RyanAir wouldn’t fly to the more central airport). Upon arrival at the station, Devon and I proceeded to walk into the wrong entrance and get a bit turned around before finding a map and retracing our steps. The second attempt to navigate Bruxelles-Midi was much more successful. We activated our Eurail passes and were off!

The train to Brugge was only an hour long, and Devon and I both love train rides. I don’t know why it is, but I feel very at home on trains. Maybe all of those long hauls from Durham to Heathrow rubbed off on me. We figured it might be worth splurging on a taxi once we reached our destination as it was our first night and the hostel was a half hour walk away from the station. We were getting in rather late, so buses would be less frequent. It’s never fun navigating a strange city in the dark after a plane flight.

Now, that would have been a great plan had we seen that the taxi stand was temporarily relocated due to construction. We didn’t. Devon was hangry, I was tired, and we were both carrying heavy bags. A half hour walk was not what we wanted.

Neither of us were thrilled at the prospect of carrying our backpacks that far, but there weren’t really any other options at that point. We trudged single file through the streets of Brugge, me glaring at my phone screen trying to decipher the Flemish street names, Devon following behind cursing herself for agreeing to do this with me (I assume). About halfway through the march of death, Devon and I both agreed to carry only one pair of leggings and two shirts each and burn the rest of our belongings. No bonfires have taken place yet, but I will keep you updated.

Finally, miraculously, we found our way to the hostel, checked in, and freed ourselves from our baggage. The relief was short lived. We both needed food – fast. It was about 9:30 at that point, and most restaurants were closing. Perks of living in a small European city. We diligently plodded down Sint-Jakobsstraat looking for anything edible. Defeated, I began to mentally prepare myself for the prospect of a hungry night when lo – a beacon of hope in the darkness: ‘Welcome in El Greco’ the sign said, ‘Open untill …’.

Our saving grace

Not daring to hope, we crossed the threshold and yes, they had a table for two for dinner. Devon almost cried when the waiter brought out a basket of bread. The food was delicious, the waiter was lovely, and they had free wifi. The balance was restored. After dinner we schlepped ourselves back to the hostel for a much-needed shower and rest.

Day 2 – Brugge

The sun rose on the second morning of Devon and Genna’s Great European Rail Adventure. After a full 9 hours of sleep, we were feeling pretty good. With the trauma of the previous night far behind us, we headed off in search of waffles. It’s Belgium. We had to. It was relatively early, so the small cobbled streets were largely empty. The streets were lined with cute little brick buildings and hundreds of bikes.

Day 2 – We were ready to find some waffles

Anyway, back to the waffles. Little did we know that only a short walk from our hostel was a slice of heaven on earth: Lizzie’s Wafels. This place was amazing. The woman who took our order was incredibly friendly. We chatted about our plans and her own trip to New York City this October. I am constantly amazed at how everyone in Belgium can speak two or three languages. I mean, I knew in theory that there are several official languages, but watching people switch from Flemish to English to French and back is seriously impressive.

We ordered two waffles and casually people-watched from our perch in the café window. The shop was located just off the Markt on one of the little side streets. The combination of modern shop fronts with the traditional brick building facades was a little odd, but also endearing. The café itself is small but open. One has a full view of the counter where a man prepares each waffle by hand. At first, the prices seemed a little expensive, but when we received our meals, it was so worth it. The waffles were huge! Twice the size of any other I had seen. They were delightfully crispy and light. Mountains of fruit and a tub of homemade chocolate sauce (basically just melted chocolate) topped off the beautiful masterpieces. Apparently, this waffle recipe has been handed down for generations. There is one 93 year old woman who frequents the shop because the taste of the waffles reminds her of her childhood.

Yes, those are two whole bananas with my waffle. For scale.

We spent the early afternoon weaving our way through the streets. Beginning in the main square, or Markt, we oohed and aahed over the Belfort and the impressive buildings in the Burg square. We rested by the canal by the Groeningemuseum reading for a while before heading to one of the many tables outside the various cafes and restaurants dotted along the side streets. We sat snacking on frites while Devon wrote and I read. After a quick phone recharge session in the hostel we headed back out into the city. Armed with a new map from the hostel, I planned to drag Devon around to a few sites.

First stop was the local ‘secret garden’ not far from our accommodation. Once an eyesore, this old crumbling, abandoned house has been filled with herbs and flowers by locals. A comforting ‘Enter at Your Own Risk’ sign graced the door. We then strolled along the canal, turning northeast. We walked for a good fifteen minutes until we found the windmills. We basked in the shady park for a few hours. Devon read, and I updated our budget spreadsheet. We even got mistaken for locals, though we weren’t much help.

Windmill Bonne Chiere (PC: Dev)

Once our tummies started grumbling, we headed back to the city centre. I wanted to go look at one of the many almshouses that was near the park, but I totally forgot because I was enjoying sitting in the shade so much. It is warm here, guys. I’m used to Scotland. We are pushing 75°F/23°C. My body was not prepared for this.

We headed back to the Markt for dinner. Of course we needed to have at least one dinner in the main square to watch the buildings light up as the sky darkens. Apparently the tower of the Belfort is crooked so it is impossible to take a perfectly symmetrical picture of it. For the sake of my OCD, I tried not to look too closely. We ate at an Italian place because pasta. I literally cannot go more than a few days without eating pasta. Sorry not sorry.

The Markt at night. It’s a little blurry but worth it. (PC: Dev)

It was at this point, sitting with a plate of pasta before the gorgeous Belfort in the bustling town square of one of my favourite cities, that I became slightly overwhelmed. The prospect of taking on all that I had planned began to seem impossible. Luckily, Devon was there to set me straight, and we began to concoct a plan to streamline the trip.

Next stop – Brussels


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