An Honest Reflection on Belgium

on August 19, 2017

I’m currently flying above a hazy navy sky, and beneath that, the faint outline of patchwork farmland. As I tap this out on my iPhone, miles below Belgium fades smaller and smaller in the distance.

It seems a bit premature to give, or even form, my opinion of an entire country after four days. I mean, I had no life-changing, spectacular feelings the first time I visited England…five years later when I returned, I fell in love with it and moved across the ocean for it. So I’m not here to offer you blanket statements. But I will say – I did not fall in love with Belgium. But I don’t believe Belgium fell in love with me either. Still – there are moments I am grateful for (even the less-than-sweet ones).

 

In Brussels, the air smelled of cigarette smoke and urinals, mixed with sweet waffles. The grey, faceless buildings transformed into bright comic strips that spanned five stories, or ornate gold architecture. It drizzled gray, and then the sun beat down. One night, I was given free wine for waiting five minutes for a table, the next morning I was charged triple for my hotel breakfast by a concierge who looked down his nose at me. As my fellow blogger (who now calls Brussels home)ย Isabel said, what is low-range for Brussels is mid-range for the rest of us!

I am grateful for the many Belgians who were full of kindness. We were met with smiles on the street, patient directions, a kind woman at the train station who told us about a young persons discount. On Instagram, I posted a photo of Brussels, and was met with messages about hometown top tips, including the best frites in town.

 

On our final day in Brussels, everything seemed to go wrong. After we were charged over โ‚ฌ100 more than expected on hotel checkout, things kept going downhill. Little moments: being cut in front of at the grocery store, charged an extra 50p for cream in a cup, our airport being a further 20km from the city than expected. Of course – many of these things are not Belgium’s fault. They are mine for ineptitude or carelessness or stress, they are moments which happen in every city on every day. I think there’s a sliver of something, even if those sour moments, that I can be grateful for. After all, they piece together my memories of Belgium.

And there were good moments as well (thank you to Carolann’s gratitude project for reminding me!). First and foremost, we spent a lovely dinner with Isabel, her husband Miha and baby Max. We laughed and I ate the best Mexican food for months, and the strongest margaritas too. We found a secret sheep garden in Bruges, ate fresh mussels, drank the best hot chocolate I have ever had whilst playing cards tucked into the back of an old tea house. We found a water fountain with sparkling water. A pure white, Persian cat in a window in Ghent, with the sign “#cocosilvershadow” stuck in the window’s corner. We passed corners of chocolate shops and ivy-climbed walls and dangling lights.

Overall, Belgium was sour and sweet. I am not desperate to go back, but I am grateful for even the moments which I did not enjoy. And who knows – it might be like my experience with England. I could still fall in love with it, years from now.

Sarah xx

Follow along on my Europtrip adventures on Instagram!ย 

This post is part of Carolann’s lovely link-up that is aiming us to bring more gratitude to our lives.ย 

  • Love all the ivy-stroked architecture, fantastic tones in these shots! ๐Ÿ”ฎ๐Ÿ™

    http://www.patientexplorers.com

  • Addie Gray

    I totally understand what you’re saying! I felt the same way when I was in Belgium this May. Brussels is a strange mix of gold-gilded architecture and parts of town only a few blocks away where I didn’t feel safe walking as a solo female traveller. I did love Bruges, though, and I hope to be able to visit more of Belgium in the future! (Also glad you tried out the Old Chocolate House. Delicious, right??)

  • How cool that you got to see Isabel!! Thanks for an honest post – travel will not always take you to the best places ever, and not every trip will be the “best trip ever,” but we can learn a lot from wherever we go, and travel and seeing new things is certainly something to be grateful for!! I can definitely relate to this post, too. A few years ago, Nick and I went to Boston, and everything went wrong. At the time, I said I hated Boston and vowed never go to back. Now I will go back and I look back on that trip with gratitude that we got to go exploring!

  • I’ve only been to Brussels and Bruges. Have mix feelings about Brussels even though nothing bad happened while I absolutely fell in love with Bruges. How nice that you met up with Isobel ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Oof – I know how little things going wrong can color your view of a city or place … I was in Brussels a couple years ago and loved it, but we were only there for about 24 hours! Bruges I wasn’t much of a fan of, but my parents (predictably) loved it. Beautiful writing, as always.

  • glad you could still find some good moments in your trip. I have similar feelings about my time in Seoul – another time, different circumstances, and maybe I would love it. or maybe not. hoping your next destination is a bit more welcoming!

  • Feelings about places are so subjective, and that’s why I love travel (and reading other people’s writing about travel). You can see a place in infinite different ways – my experience will not be the same as your experience, nor anyone else who has or will visit Belgium. How cool is that!
    Ok you’ve caught me in an upbeat mood. I do love reading honest posts like this, because things are not always sunshine and rainbows. I have only visited Belgium on a tour of the battlefields of WWI, which as you can imagine wasn’t exactly Instagram Gold. However, one of the more worthwhile trips I have ever taken.

  • Aww Max’s concerned look, haha. I’m sorry to hear you had a rough time with your hotel and Brussels, I hope they get an awful review :(. My favorite part of Brussels’ so far has been the kindness of its citizens. I feel so guilty, because most of the time I’m in this “defensive” attitude (mostly due to being Mexican and not trusting anybody, lol), and I don’t realize when people go and help out someone else that was like right besides me. I’m trying to get better at it though, it’s inspiring seeing kids go out their way to help the elderly or moms with babies :). We had soooo much fun on Saturday haha btw. I’m so glad we got to meet and that you are in Slovenia now!! It will be the breath of fresh air you need!

  • That’s so awesome that you got to meet up with Isabel during your trip! And that sucks that you didn’t have the most amazing experience during your trip to Belgium, but I love that you’re keeping an open mind about having another visit with the mindset that you could fall in love with it. And all of the cigarette smoke was definitely my least favorite part about our trips to Europe! I loved being in the Parisian cafes, but I hated that when we sat outside, we were guaranteed to be inhaling cigarette smoke the whole time we were eating.

  • You really painted the picture with your description of how Brussels smells lol. I can smell the urinals and waffles now! ha And sidenote: You wrote this all on your iPhone? I’m totally impressed! Besides stalking on IG and FB, I can’t do much on my iPhone lol.

  • I like how you approached the situation with so much graciousness. We cannot like all places we visit. Plus, things get a little bit more complicated when the trip is full of complications and hard times. At least you enjoyed as much a s possible. By the way, your photos are beautiful! #wanderfulwednesday

  • I love when bloggers I follow meet in person! That’s so fun you got to meet baby Max. He is so cute!! Although I fell head over heels for Belgium the first time I visited–the second time I was let down, especially by Brussels. I think it smells a little better in the winter when I visited ๐Ÿ˜‰ glad you are able to look on the bright side–you can’t fall in love with everywhere, right??

  • Aww that’s a shame you didn’t fall in love with Belgium! I was hooked at first visit! We often contemplate moving there! That’s a pits about the hotel, airport and even cream though! Never had that before! Hopefully a return visit will be better! #WanderfulWednesday

  • First, I love your photography style so much!! A few of these really brought me RIGHT back to being in Brussels and it was a feeling I hadn’t really felt for years – so thank you/well done ๐Ÿ™‚ I really enjoyed Belgium but as far as Brussels itself, I wasn’t its number one fan or anything (and spent five nights there which was faaar too long). But! Belgian beer will always agree with me – so there’s always that! Really enjoyed reading your honest reflections here and looks like you did end up having some memorable times!

  • I agree with Cynthia – your pictures are amazing!! I find it sad to hear that the service in Brussels is so varied but I guess that’s just typical for a tourist hotspot like that! I definitely want to visit one day for the waffles and frites alone ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Cigarettes and urine! I’m sorry you had some bad experiences there, but I admire your ability to look at the positive and negative. I’ve always wanted to go to Belgium, but now I know to possibly book some time away from a big city and be prepared for some mishaps (if I ever get the chance to go).

  • Lovely honest post. I think we sometimes forget that not everywhere has to be The Most Amazing Destination and it can be disappointing when it’s not. Your measured view, even after just a few days, is to be admired! And I agree – gorgeous shots ๐Ÿ™‚

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