Belgium and Amsterdam

When I was in Paris, I had to make a choice. Where do I go next? I had two weeks before I needed to be in Czech Republic for a family event, and I needed to fill the time (I know, life is hard :p). Do I go to Spain? No, it is way too hot in August. Spain is awesome, but it will have to wait for another trip. How about the south of France? Tempting, but overly crowded at this time of year. I would be joined by virtually the entire city of Paris! What about up north to Belgium? Wait a second. Belgium. Belgian chocolates. I like chocolate! Belgium it is!

And that is how my next destination was decided by my stomach.

I took the bus from Paris to Brussels. It took four hours and only cost about 30 euros, as opposed to the 100 euros it would have been to take the train. I don’t know why more people don’t use the bus option with companies like Eurolines. My hostel was right in the centre of Brussels, just off the main square. So cool! On Friday night the square was jam packed with young people sitting on the ground in groups and drinking beer.

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About eight seconds from my hostel
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Street performers on Friday night in the main square

Brussels has some really neat sites. I saw the Atomium, a monument built for Expo 58. I took the requisite picture of the pissing statue. The Royal Palace is free to visit in summer, so I had a quick look. I particularly enjoyed the room where the ceiling and chandelier were covered in jewel-scarabs.

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Atomium
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Manneken Pis
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Royal Palace
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So many bugs!

I knew that I wanted to try some mussels in Belgium, but they were way too expensive at restaurants. A group of us from the hostel joined together and bought mussels and other ingredients at the grocery store. It was awesome! One guy did virtually all the cooking (he wanted to!), but I did help chop garlic.

Belgian meal, chocolate included 🙂

I visited the ruins of the Coudenburg palace under the Royal Square. The palace had burned down in 1731, and they built the square over top the ruins. I also went to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts with a guy from my hostel. I really lucked out with this guy. He had in-depth knowledge of mythology and religious art, and he could tell me exactly what I was looking at, which I really appreciated. It was like having a free tour guide!

From Brussels I headed to Amsterdam. For my accommodation, I did something a little different this time. I was a bit tired of city centres, and I had enjoyed staying in campgrounds in Scandinavia. I found the perfect place for me right outside Amsterdam, the Lucky Lake Hostel.

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Colourful by day
Even more colourful by night!

I stayed in a lovely cabin dorm, and the hostel had a great outdoor kitchen. The atmosphere was very mellow, which I appreciated. I could bike to the nearby village for groceries, and relax by the lake.

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Bike tour through the countryside
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No blog about Amsterdam would be complete without a windmill
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Lake right by the hostel

I was joined in my cabin by identical twin sisters, one of whom is a musician. I love meeting new people with awesome stories, and she is by far one of the most interesting people that I have ever had the pleasure of sharing a dorm with. She had been travelling around Europe and Turkey for several months, and arranging all her own gigs as she went along, whether they be in bars, in hostels, on boats, or on the radio! One day she asked me, “Is it alright if I practice my guitar right outside the dorm with the door open?” and I answered, “I practically insist that you do!” Her voice was absolutely beautiful, and I was enchanted.

I spent one day touring Amsterdam, but that was enough for me. I had only one site that I truly wanted to see, the Secret Annex where Anne Frank hid with her family during the war. I had read the Diary of Anne Frank when I was about twelve years old, and I was drawn in by her story. I came to the museum at exactly the wrong time of day, and I ended up waiting almost two hours to get in, but it was worth it. Although there is no furniture left in the hiding place, you really get an idea of how cramped it must have been for the eight inhabitants. The windows are still covered in blackout curtains, which make the space seem even smaller. The only thing left from the war time are markings on the walls where Otto Frank tracked the growth of both his daughters.

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The line up is very long every day in summer. The museum gets over a million visitors a year, which shows Anne Frank’s ongoing impact on the world.
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The museum, with the Secret Annex on top

From Amsterdam I went back to Belgium to a city called Bruges. I wanted to do a World War 1 battlefield tour that I’d heard about from a girl at my hostel in Brussels. The tour was wonderful and very interesting.

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St. Julien Memorial commemorating the Canadian First Division’s participation in the Second Battle of Ypres of World War I
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Tyne Cot Commonwealth Cemetery
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Canadian recipient of the VC
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Tyne Cot
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To this day, farmers are still finding leftover ammunition in their fields
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Plaque at Hill 60
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The landscape at Hill 60 is completely unnatural. It was formed by one of the largest explosions in history on June 7, 1917.
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Concrete bunker at Hill 60
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Memorial gate in Ypres with names of all the missing
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A reconstructed trench
They took us to the Essex Farm Cemetery, where John McCrae wrote his poem
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Monument at the cemetery

Bruges is a beautiful old city that was left virtually untouched by both wars, and I enjoyed walking around the town. I loved seeing the dog who always sits in his window watching the boats go by, and walking along all the canals. I also had one last chance to indulge in Belgian chocolates. Yum yum!

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Puppy!
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Lovely canal

Thoughts on Travelling Alone

My trip will be 10.5 months in total, and I will have spent 7.5 of those months travelling solo. For me, that was the best way to do it. It’s not like travelling on my own was new to me either. I was all of nine years old the first time my parents plunked me on a plane alone and sent me across the ocean to visit my relatives in the Czech Republic. I started going on short solo trips around France when I was 17, during my high school year abroad. I knew I would be fine, and I was never worried. Plus, everything from finding accommodation, to making travel arrangements, to staying in contact with home is so easy nowadays because of the Internet.

There are also many great advantages to travelling alone, such as:

You never have to make compromises. You do what you want to do when you want to do it.

You are never lonely for long. If you are staying in dorms or friendly guesthouses, you will find people to do stuff with. Really cool people too!

It’s very easy to make friends with other solo travellers, since it’s only natural for us to form groups. My attitude from the start of my trip has been “I have friends all over the world. I just haven’t met them yet!”

That being said, there are disadvantages:

It is really annoying when you have to go to the bathroom in a train station and you can’t leave your stuff with anyone. Those stalls are not big enough, and going through those gates when you have to pay is tricky!

You often can’t share costs with anyone, like for taxis or food. I literally chased another solo traveller girl down the street in Siem Reap, Cambodia, asking if she’d like to share a tuktuk for the day to explore the temples. Luckily, she agreed. The only problem? We were having such interesting conversations the whole day that I forgot to pay attention to the temples!

On the rare occasions when you do run into problems, you are completely on your own. But I like to think it helps build character 🙂

 

2 thoughts on “Belgium and Amsterdam

  1. Teta B

    Very useful to describe the pro’s and con’s of solo travelling! As usual, very well written and interesting. Good work!

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