As mentioned in my previous post, I’d recently booked a cheap flight to Brussels. Well seeing as it’s now February, I guess it’s no longer that recent. Let’s get updated then, shall we?
Back in mid-November, I embarked on a weekend solo trip to Brussels, Belgium. Although my main motivation for visiting Brussels was the $50 flight that I’d scored, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the city. I had been to Bruges in 2011 while studying abroad; but other than that, Belgium was quite a mystery to me. After braving my very first Ryanair flight (hello tiny seats!), I successfully navigated the shuttle into the city and managed to find my hotel without taking an Uber or taxi. That first night, I asked the hotel staff where I could find a nice restaurant in the area. When I finally found the place that they had suggested, I was the only one there (it was about 9:30PM). One of the owners saw that I was by myself and came and sat down with me. We had a nice chat as I enjoyed my (delicious) calzone with the promise of visiting again before the weekend was over.
I spent the majority of Saturday morning exploring sights that I’d previously researched. I used the app CityMaps2Go to find my way around (bonus: it works without data!). There was a lot to see and I spent most of the morning walking the city. I also let myself wander a bit to see what I could discover. The thrill of getting lost in a new city is one of the best feelings. My favorite part of Brussels by far was the Grand Place-Grote Markt, or the main city square. The beautiful square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses the City Hall. I found it so magical that I Facetimed my mom so I could share the moment with someone!
After an eventful morning of sightseeing, I took a rest at my hotel and anxiously awaited the Beer and Chocolate Tour that I had booked. Although this particular tour was a bit over my budget, it had positive reviews on TripAdvisor and I figured that it’d be a nice way to familiarize myself with the city (okay, and with Belgian beer). This tour ended up being the best part of my trip! It consisted of a small group of about 8. The first part of the tour was all about chocolate. Our guide Marie took us to her favorite local chocolate shops and let us try a variety of flavors. I even got to try basil-infused chocolate (very good, by the way) and pure cocoa (not so good). She was also really great at providing us with her own personal insight and history of Brussels as we walked from place to place. The second part of the tour was all about the beer. We got the chance to try 6 different types of beer at local pubs and learn about how they’re made. The tour concluded in a traditional Belgian bar with a glass of beer and a toast. Most of our group decided that since we were having such a good time, why not stay for another drink (or two)? I ended up drinking more Belgian beer and walking around the city with new friends. We were an eclectic group of Canadian, British, Australian, and American travelers of varying ages. We even managed to stumble into a random bar where “Wonderwall” was playing live. It goes without saying that we belted out our best rendition (which turned out to be not very good, after). The night ended with some famous Belgian frites to soak up the alcohol and the promise of new Facebook friends.
The next day was Sunday, my final day in Brussels. I had the morning to explore before catching a flight back to Prague. Although I wasn’t feeling my best (too much beer?), I managed to get myself out of bed to see the magical square one last time. I also picked up some Belgian chocolates at Chocopolis, one of the shops that Marie had shown us the day before. As a hangover cure, I indulged in one last batch of delicious homemade Belgian frites. Lastly, I stopped by the restaurant that I’d visited my first night and had a coffee and a chat with the owner, my new Brussels acquaintance.
Although I came to Brussels not knowing exactly what to expect, it ended up being one of my best trips yet. Exploring the city with new friends and meeting a local were definitely a few of the highlights. Although I’ve said it before, I do truly adore solo travel. That sense of pride you feel after successfully navigating a new city on your own is unprecedented. You’re forced out of your comfort zone and into the unfamiliar. You end up meeting amazing, likeminded people along the way and begin to realize that no matter where we come from, we are all the same. So, go on, fellow travelers. Don’t be afraid to (safely) put yourself out there. You might be surprised what you can find.