Northwest of Brussels and about an hour by train is the city of Brugge. If you’re under 26 and willing to sit in a second-class train car the price tag is 12 Euro roundtrip- it was my broke post-grad dream.
So, last Sunday morning Alayna and I woke up with no plan but to get ourselves back to Brussels-Zuid (or was it Brussels-Midi?) in pursuit of the canals, cobbled streets and medieval architecture of Brugge. As it would have it we slipped into a first class cabin without really knowing it and settled in to watch the Belgian countryside pass us by. The ticket collector pretended not to notice that we were supposed to be in a second-class car and we saw two cows galloping side by side (I was beside myself about this and have been telling everyone, because, have you ever seen cows gallop)?
Even with the sky a bit weepy when we arrived, all that we knew about the city was immediately evident: it is beautiful. Its beautiful in its novelty, in the way that stores and restaurants are tucked into buildings that were first built in the 1600’s and in the way that canals brush up against ivy clinging to medieval walls. It was enchanting. It didn’t matter that it was raining.
This time we had no map, but it didn’t seem to matter. Bridges and squares and side streets cobbled and uneven seemed to put us right back to where we began. We walked along the canals. We window shopped at open-aired stalls. We got stuck in Canadian tour group at least six times (their Canadian identity only evident in the maple leaf tags hanging off all of their backpacks).
And then the sun came out and my green jacket came off for the first time since getting to Belgium. We ate a waffle and then we found our way to the center of the city, Market Square, with the Provincial Courts and the Belfry holding court over a mass of restaurants differentiated only by the changing color of tables clothes. It was warm and the square was buzzing with people and we thought that raspberry beer and people watching was the natural answer to the question mark filling the rest of the day’s agenda. We sat for hours chatting about everything that had filled the spaces since we had last seen each other, face to face in a New Jersey mall some time in January.
It was just catching up in a foreign country.
Eventually we got hungry and shared half a roasted chicken and some Belgian frites, got on a train and found ourselves back in Brussels. I was sunburnt. We were both a bit tired. And, admittedly, a bit hungry again.
On a Sunday night at 11 pm, not much is open in Brussels.
The front desk staff of our hotel pointed us towards the only open restaurant close enough to walk; I was wearing a men’s flannel shirt and boyfriend jeans, Alayna had taken out her contacts and wiped off her makeup. This is what we looked like when we found ourselves at a fancy Italian restaurant ordering Minestrone soup and laughing about how no plan always turns out to be the best plan.