One night whilst in beautiful Europe, after an unexpected Flower Power party, the girls and I decided to plan a road trip. There’s something about road trips through Europe that stir up feelings of whimsical wanderings and the promise of something great. You never know what’s going to happen and you never know what you’re going to find.
After a few hours of solid shut eye, the girls and I rendezvoused at approximately 10 am by the Nijmegen train station. Half-awake and soaking in the last bits of autumn sunshine, here we were, adventuring once again. This time on a road trip to Belgium. Franzi had brought her car so naturally she was our designated driver. Still exhausted and yawning, we were off. Onward to the city that held the Food of the Gods, pure and decadent chocolate. We were going to Brussels.
After getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road, we had one more stop to make before we were well on our way. We had all agreed to meet at the train station but Jannika hadn’t arrived as yet. She was not answering her phone all morning and we were starting to worry. Eventually we headed over to her apartment and knocked frantically on her room window. Miraculously, a few minutes later, a sleepy-eyed Jannika peered out from behind the drawn curtains. Seems we had all partied a little too hard the night before! After giving Jannika a few minutes to freshen up, we climbed back into the car and were well on our way!
Five girls safely intact and ready to find and explore Brussels….check. A car full of gas… check. Road trip playlists… check. Snacks… check. Girly talk and extreme giggling… a definite check!
We left, not looking back or stopping for anything. Despite the good weather, we had packed our umbrellas in case of any unexpected showers, as was always the case in this part of the world. So far, so good, the sun was shining and the skies were clear. Nothing could ruin this day for us. Well nothing except one little detail that hadn’t crossed our sleepy minds – a map! We had left the map behind!
After the shocking realization (and a few minutes of silence followed by muffled awkward giggles) that we were well on our way to a completely new city with no map or GPS, we decided it was too late to turn back. We had quite a distance to go, some two and a half hours of a drive to be exact. Turning back now meant that we would certainly not have enough time to explore the Promised Land before having to head back home. So, like the brave little soldiers we were, we ventured on, following the signs for Antwerp and Brugges, hoping to eventually end up somewhere in Brussels. Did we have a backup plan? Of course we did! If we didn’t find Brussels, we’d at least end up in somewhere in Antwerp… and that would be okay too. I guess diamonds from Antwerp could substitute for chocolate from Brussels any day.
So here we were: five Transnational Water Management students who had decided to road trip to Brussels without a map!
I don’t know what it is about travelling in Europe really, that makes the idea of getting lost so appealing. Maybe it’s because you never know what you’re going to find: a quaint little city, a beautiful art gallery, even love…. or maybe it’s the idea of wandering into the unknown, feeling like your girlfriends will always be by your side, learning about the world and yourself in the process that makes it so dreamy.
Two hours later, we were in Brussels!
Gorgeous beautiful Brussels!
As we continued on our walk, we were met with one of the most beautiful parks in all of Belgium, Park du Cinquantenaire. With warm sunshine all round, it’s only natural that it was filled with tons of locals and tourists.
We stayed a while and soaked in the warm sun.
Of course we stopped at the occasional street map. We had to check that we weren’t heading into complete and utter oblivion.
We explored a little more.
Eventually we found a store and bought a map. Why we didn’t think of that sooner, I don’t know.
As always and without a doubt, our aimless wanderings brought us to something beautiful: The Cathedral of Saint Michael.
Surrounded by beautiful architecture and intricately stained glass windows, this cathedral is believed to welcome artists who are on a spiritual journey to understand both the mysteries of God and humanity. Sari and I were in our element. We love this kind of stuff.
After the cathedral, we continued walking into the city. This brought us to a little Greek Restaurant where we decided to have some lunch before heading into La Grand-Place, the iconic Brussels Town Square.
With its outstanding Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic architectural styles, The Grand Place is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and known as one of the most beautiful squares in all of Europe. It’s easy to see why.
Beautifully detailed sculptures and golden gilds lined the buildings and glistened in the afternoon sunlight.
The Square itself is famous for the many cafes and little chocolate shops lining the walkways.
By now you can imagine that we were in chocolate heaven.
If there’s one thing you should know about Sari and I, it’s that we share a common love for art, chocolate, books and well, random wanderings (more bluntly put as getting lost). If the two of us are left alone in a foreign city, you’ll probably never find us again because we are either spending too much money on chocolate and unnecessary souvenirs that we have developed mysterious bonds with or we have somehow stumbled upon an art gallery and wandered inside without telling anyone. Sometimes our whimsical nature gets the better of us.
Thank goodness for Nikara, always keeping us in line and making sure that we were still alive. As we continued on, it was pretty hard to ignore the sweet smell of warm Belgian waffles wafting along the cobblestone streets. Resistance was futile. We needed waffles.
Let’s look at that baby one more time, shall we?
We walked along, eating and exploring, exploring and eating; until we eventually came across one of Belgium’s national symbols, Manneken Pis.
Manneken Pis stands for Little Pee Man in Flemish. There are so many stories behind this infamous little statue. He is often dressed with an outfit for every occasion. You’ll see him all over Belgium, wearing anything from a Santa costume to national dresses from around the world. Strange but cute, at least when he is dressed!
After a good laugh, there was still some time left for a little wandering. Onward we ventured.
Not long after, we could see the sun beginning to set in the distance.
As sad as we were to leave a place shadowed with such beautiful architecture and wafting sweet scents, we knew our time in Brussels had come to an end and with an 8:45 am Management of Ecosystems class looming the next day, we figured it be best to head back.
After consulting our map and contemplating the quickest way back to the car…
We decided on catching a train back to Albert – Elizabeth Avenue.
Tired and ready for bed, we figured getting home would be quick and easy. After all, we did have a map now. Franzi was a brilliant driver and with Nikara’s sense of direction, we could never get lost. So with Sari and myself falling asleep in the backseat, we made our way around the Atomium Roundabout. With the darkness looming we drove slowly around the traffic circle, looking for the right exit. We didn’t see it. We drove around again… and again.. and again… eventually heading in the right direction. Told you we would not get lost! With hand and heart fully equipped with Godiva chocolates, Brussels postcards, beautiful pictures and wonderful memories, we headed back to our little home away from home, Nijmegen.
Cesare Pavese once said,
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”
I guess he was right.