- Capital: Brussels
- Location: Northwestern Europe
- Language: Flemish and French
- Population: 11 million
- Currency: Euro
In short, visit longer and do more than I did. My post below will by no means give Belgium the credit it deserves. I only had 24 hours in the country and most of that involved taking public transport, buying food, and roaming the streets in order to find my hostel. Explore the different cities and throw yourself into the mix of French and Flemish cultural influences. Take the time to do as much as you can. That said, I hate to play up stereotypes, but definitely try the beer and chocolate. The rumors are true.
Of all the places I've been, my trip to Belgium was by far the least planned. And by that, I mean that I literally didn't plan it whatsoever. It all came about as I was looking for flights from Moscow to New York in order to get home for Christmas and New Years. Like usual, I was looking for the absolute cheapest option available, and I found this particular one that was about 150 euro less than the rest, but had a 20 hour layover in Brussels as a result. Nonetheless, I decided to book it and figured I'd spend the time exploring the city. It was December 23-24.
I wish I could give a better description of this city, but most of it consisted of wandering through the streets and the metro in a jet-lagged haze as I attempted to find the hostel I had just booked the day before. It does, however, make for a pretty interesting story, so that is what I'll tell you.
I arrived in the evening with just a backpack on and a screenshot image of the directions to my hostel from the airport. I was tired and wanted above all else to sleep, but I needed to focus. The directions said I had to take a train to a specific metro and then walk for about 15-20 minutes. That was what was between me and a nice, warm bed. I began my search, but was soon interrupted by a man desperately asking for 86 euro in order to take a train to Budapest. seeing as I didn't have that, as well as the absurdity of the request, I declined. He didn't like that and began to demand again, so in turn, I began to make myself look and act increasingly more deranged in order to drive him away. Finally though, I found the trains and once and for all was able to get away from the guy. The downside, however, was that the train happened to be 14 euro, which gave me a clear reminder I was back in the West. (I had been spoiled over the past year and a half living and traveling in the very affordable, former Soviet countries). Nonetheless, I paid the fare and hopped on the train.
About half an hour later, I made it to the metro connection. I don't particularly remember much from the ride, which leaves me to assume it was fairly normal and uneventful, but as soon as I got off, I came across the second thing that already made me miss Russia. The sign read 21 minutes for my particular metro, as opposed to the 2 that I had gotten used to. It was time for me to play the waiting game, which felt a little odd since the station was entirely deserted the entire time. But eventually it came and I was in route again to my destination.
The ride was smooth and uneventful, but when I got out, I finally came across something that made me happy to be out of Russia: the temperature. Moscow had been well below freezing for the past two months, so when I stepped into the mild Belgian air, I was quite relieved. Also, the streets were eerily empty. No cars, no people, no sirens, just me and the dark, quiet roads the whole way to the hostel.
When I finally entered, though, I was faced with probably the starkest difference between West and East: the backpackers in the hostel. In Russia, the backpackers you meet are often in their late 20s or 30s and are traveling solo, but when I stepped into this Brussels hostel, everyone was so young, in big, closed off groups, and speaking English. I felt like the creepy old man on the periphery at the ancient age of 26. But I didn't let that bother me. Nor did I let the infuriatingly trivial conversation the group behind me was having about Instagram bother me either. I just opened up a local Belgian beer (which fully lived up to the expectation), opened my book, and read/drank until I fell asleep about 30 minutes later.