Thursday, 28 August 2014

Part 1 - All the B's: Belgium, Brussels, Brugge, beer...bwaffles...

Monday 25 August was a bank holiday in the UK. Public holiday for all us Aussies – in fact, I have no idea why we had a day off. I just did some incredibly mundane research as to the reason behind the bank holiday and put myself to sleep, and didn’t really find a proper answer. In all honesty, who cares? We had a day off. Woo!

Therefore, a few weeks (months? Beginning of July. How long have I been here? What’s my name?) there was a call to action, Belgium on the August long weekendBOOM. Naturally, my fear of commitment (lol) kicked in as it was weeks into the future and I didn’t know what my plans were..but after some time passed (and after Cory and Nicole had done all the work planning and researching), I waltzed in, deciding I would in fact piggy back off their hard work and join them on the little weekender.

The Friday passed incredibly slowly. We were messaging each other on Facebook all day (did I just get you into trouble?) because we were all already on holiday mode. When 5pm eventually rolled around I ran out of work and instantly my shoe broke. The path to the train station was also blocked. I couldn’t help but think, “Is this an indication for the rest of the trip?” but squashed my negativity and powered my way – the long way – to the train station. Worst. Tube. Ride. Evar. All of Britain was on that damn train, going to the airport. Finally, I met Cory and Nicole at the airport and we made our way without too much incident through security and customs.

We boarded the plane and then got off it again (well, not really, but it felt like it). The flight was about 45 minutes; they rushed us through our drink and cookie before we descended again. Honestly, the instructional video on what to do in an emergency took longer than the flight. Once landing in Belgium, we realised our mistake of having little French knowledge and a significant lack of idea of how to get to our hostel. After a particularly rude encounter with the train service counter staff (see? It did make it into my blog ) we jumped on a train – hopefully the right train – and got off at a stop – hopefully the right stop.

Our first step out into darkness in Brussels with the yellow lights of the building, and everything sparkling and shiny from the now-cleared rain was rather magical. An extremely short and lovely taxi ride later, we arrived at our hostel. Little to say here; there were some slight room mix-ups but first things first: the bar for our first Belgian beer.

“Your sweetest beer, merci!” and thus began my love affair with Belgian beer.

Poor Nicole ended up in a room by herself with the snorer-from-hell (although Cory and I had our own snorer) and periodically through the night we would Facebook message each other to complain. Aside from the lack of sleep, the hostel was very nice with an ensuite bathroom and a proper shower. Upon checking out the next morning, it was time to figure out how to get to Brugge. Breakfast first, though. We found what was probably a pub (and I was, naturally, quite willing to jump straight into the breakfast beer but decided to keep my decorum) and had breakfast. It was delicious – an omelette and a cappuccino. Now, I probably normally wouldn’t write much about this, but the cappuccino – which, dear friends, as you know I really only drink mocha – was di-vine. Cream and Belgian chocolate on top. While I was gushing over my coffee, Cory was sticking his face in his, going for the Belgian Dip.

It was time to leave Brussels. As we meandered our way through the streets, stepping into chocolate store after chocolate store, the heavens opened up and we scrabbled for our umbrellas. Rather soaked by now, it really didn’t matter, so we splished and splashed our way back to the train station to figure out how to get to Brugge (or Bruges, I will probably alternate spelling).

The train journey (and yes, we managed to get on the correct train) took about an hour, and Cory and Nicole took the opportunity to get a little shut eye. Because I had my eyeballs in (contacts…for those who haven’t heard me go on and on at length about it yet), I didn’t want to fall asleep and watched the scenery go past instead. Countryside, Belgian cows, Belgian fields, Belgian industrial areas. I had gently closed my eyes when I felt a small brush on my arm – we were here. Good thing Cory was on the case (this was to be a running theme for the next few days as Nicole and myself especially discovered directions were not our forte – although Nicole did redeem herself. I, on the other hand, in true Sasha-style just faffed around and flittered along and actively contributed nothing of any use to the trip – except to take all the group selfies).

We emerged from the train station, bleary-eyed and sleep deprived, to a beautiful sight. Bright blue sky, fluffy white clouds, cobble stone roads.  A green park with a calm canal that we walked beside as we made our way to our hostel (a la Cory’s navigational skillz). It was love at first sight – and we hadn’t even made it to the town centre yet. I’m convinced Cory has a map uploaded into his brain with GPS navigation because I honestly do not know how we got to all of our places without any ado and I certainly would not have been able to find my way back again.

We arrived at our hostel, climbed about a hundred stairs to our room (“So glad I don’t have much luggage”, we all exclaimed) and settled ourselves into our room. The hostel provided a hilariously useful tourist guide and map, and both Cory and Nicole were organised (note: I wasn’t) and had their Lonely Planet guides out. We made a shortlist for the afternoon and set out: Chocolate was the first order of the day. Along the way, we passed through the main square of Brugge and stopped. Still. Out came the cameras. The architecture, the sunny bright day, the blue sky, the detailed sculptures and carvings that adorned the buildings. A little mermaid here, a cat there, a series of figures. In front of us, the ornate clock tower, the horse and carriages, the cobblestones. We stopped here for a long while taking photo after photo. Mine, mostly selfies. Every time I went to selfie, I would find Cory laughing at me and my “selfie face”. No matter. Must take all the selfies!

Our first port of call: The Chocolate Museum. Once inside, the gorgeous smell of chocolate wafted through the air. Here I learnt that Belgian chocolate is so incredible because they have  “stringent chocolate composition regulations” – brought in in 1884. None of this “I’m not sure if that chocolate will be any good” – it’s all good. Here I learnt I was an awful tour guide (in comparison to our excellent Map Reader Cory, and Sign Reader Nicole, we had Shit Tour Guide Sasha), and we missed a couple of rooms – but this turned out to be a good thing (so maybe I did it on purpose?) because it meant we arrived in time for the final chocolate making demonstration for the day, spoken in fluent French, Finnish and English, and for our handmade praline (a soft centred filled chocolate, usually hazelnut flavoured).

We were hungry now. While at the Chocolate Museum we had bought entry tickets to another museum but we had run out of time to see it that day. Guess what the other museum was. Go on. A Frites Museum. A Fry Museum. A Chip Museum. Hysterical. However, this would have to wait for tomorrow as it was now time to eat yet again! A place recommended by Cory’s Lonely Planet guide was on the agenda – and after a short misdirection, we found it and made our way inside. We were presented with a giant tome of a menu – so big you could beat whales to death with it – and instantly felt overwhelmed. I was adamant I was getting the mussels, and thus turned a blind eye to everything else on the menu. I was now confronted by the choice of beer which constituted most of the spell-bound book and mildly panicked. Cory spotted the beer paddle first, and I jumped on the bandwagon – why choose one beer when you can have four? I can’t speak for the others but my happiness was simply overwhelming: four Belgian beers, mussels, frites, and we had just left a chocolate factory. I was practically beside myself. I can’t remember what the four beers were; cherry and blonde were the first two, the next was a dark ale and the final was perhaps a normal wheat beer? I struggled a bit with the dark ale, and Cory proposed a trade for his cherry beer. This escalated my giddiness to new heights and I was truly beside myself.

The mussels were delicious (in white wine sauce) and soon I had a mountain of mussel shells beside me. My companions enjoyed their food too, although to be honest I was utterly engrossed in my own experience that I think I may have zoned out of life for a while. In the blink of an eye, our two hours was up and it was time to leave. Utterly squash packed with food, we found our way inside some chocolate stores. Once inside, the scent ensnares you; a switch goes off in your brain telling you that you must purchase some chocolate, you must eat some chocolate, all the chocolate, and now. We lamented that we were unable to send a smell-o-gram to our friends and family – I don’t know how anyone could work there and not be enormous, I would not be able to control myself with that dizzying delicious scent. Overcome, we each bought a bag of mixed chocolates and made our way to the square to review and devour. [Insert more selfies here].

We had mixed feelings towards the chocolates; none of us were particularly fond of the white chocolate ones (made from cocoa butter and containing no cocoa – the more you know!) and after eating most of our bag, we decided we would leave the rest for later. We attempted to find a bar in an alley way (which we thought was called Alley Bar but wasn’t) which sells the highest percentage beer in Brugge, but as we missed it we made our way to another bar via some gorgeous twilight canals and cobblestone alleyway. [Insert some more selfies here].

We rounded a corner and found a little corner bar that looked cosy, getting us out of the chill of the evening air. Spotting a table, we perched ourselves upon it and proceeded to spend the next few hours until darkness fell chatting and drinking beer and talking selfies, of course. Nicole wondered, “Why do they have so many fruit beers?” Neither Cory nor I could answer – the answer to which we would find out on the morrow. I discovered that I am rather a fan of Hoegaarden rose. We watched the world go by from here as daylight turned to dusk turned to night. A promo girl approached and asked if we wanted a free beer each. Um, yes? We were also given a little card and asked to hashtag a photo of the beer, hence why there’s a few of those around Facebook… Feeling like we had eaten and drunk our fill today, we decided to head our way back to our hostel to call it a night. On the way, we passed yet again through the main square of Brugge that was lit up and beautiful for night time.

More selfies, and the discovery of a lightning storm in the distance saw us poised, finger on the shutter, attempting to take lightning photography on our various devices. We stayed like this for quite some time, enjoying our successes when we would, somehow, capture the sky lit up like it was daylight. We shivered and shook in the cold, and finally turned to move back to our hostel.

“Look at the light over there!” I exclaimed.
“It looks like a shower of arrows, “ Cory replied, and we stood agape watching the rain fall, alight in the spotlight of the building. I fumbled to get my camera when I realised what was happening.
“Run!” cried Cory, and we were suddenly hit by a ferocious downpour that had encroached while we stood watching it.

The three of us sprinted for the nearest doorway – the same thought everyone else in the square had - to catch our breath, put away our cameras and unfurl our umbrellas. I was giggling rather manically; I thought the sudden onslaught of rain – while we stood and watched it, no less – was hysterical. We waited for it to ease, jumping between shop fronts, before meandering our way back to our hostel, soggy and disgracefully full.

Because my tales are always a rambling adventure, I will leave this off here as Part 1. Nothing much else happened that night aside from finding that our originally empty room was now full of people (damn! It was such a pipe dream to keep an empty room…) and me devouring the rest of my chocolate because I am a little piggly-wiggly. I’ll continue the rest of the days in my next post J

Much love xx

First arriving in Brugge. Beautiful.

In the square, beautiful day!

With my...mussels!

With paddle!

Staaahp! You're too perdy!

Chocolate selfie!


My blog is called Thrown to the four winds.
This restaurant was called 4 winds.
Here is me, throwing caution to the four winds.

With my free beer

So. Ridiculously. Pretty.

Photo of the evening. The sky lit up from the lightning strike.