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Sunday, June 24, 2018

My Super Frugal Trip to Brussels, Belgium




It has been a good long while since December, and people keep on asking me when I'll post my next post about what else I did when I went on a super frugal trip to Belgium in December. I am really bad about follow up with these things, because while I'm on the trip, the first day or two, and on a high from all that I'm doing, I'm so excited to write about the post and share it with you, and then the trip gets more under way, I'm busier and have no time to write while on my trip... and then I get back home and it's back to real life.

But I have another trip coming up, more on that in another post, and I realized I can't not post about my previous trip before I post about my next one.
I will say that as much as I enjoyed Brussels, I enjoyed Bruges much more, so that really was the highlight of my trip to Belgium.

As I previously wrote, my first "official day" in Belgium was in the airport and waiting for my ride from BlaBlaCar to Brussels itself from Charleroi airport, and then taking public transportation to my AirBnB.
The second day I took the train to Bruges and spent the whole day there.
My third "day" in Belgium was my first day that I actually spent in Brussels, and my second day in Brussels was the day after that.

Because it's been so long and I got a new phone since then, I actually lost quite a few of my pictures from my old phone, so I don't have all the pictures from my time in Brussels.
Oh well.

While we were able to swing such a trip financially, to be able to stick to my budget I tried to spend as little possible on each aspect of the trip, and for that reason I looked to see which attractions in Brussels were free. (About my money mindfulness; I made the decision that my day trip to Bruges would be the most special part of my trip, so I was willing to spend more there on things that would be most meaningful, and then spend as little as possible in Brussels to keep down the cost of the trip as a whole. Money mindfulness: deciding to spend and not spend money in a calculated way that is meaningful to you and aligns with your values.)



This is the palace, and I think I remember that the flag signifies that the royal family is there.
I searched on the internet and found out lots of information about free tourist sites and things to do in Brussels, and I found out that many museums are free for the first week of the month, or the first Wednesday of the month, and it just happened to be that I was there on the first Wednesday of the month, so I had so many options open to me.
To narrow down my choices, because I don't have so many opportunities to travel, or so many days available, I wanted to not just go with what was free but also with things that were unique to that specific location. For that reason I nixed art museums, even ones that I heard were great, because they didn't shout "Belgium" to me, and you can go to art museums in any country.

The first thing that I decided to do in Brussels was to go and try to visit where my grandfather, Samuel, used to live. His family left Brussels during World War 2, and prior to my trip there, I contacted my uncle Boris to ask him where in Brussels the family lived, and got the address. I was told that they renovated the whole street and there wasn't any remnant of the family home and shop left, but that when my uncle Boris was there, there was a tiny little "museum" in one of the buildings on the street showing the renovation process and what it used to look like before.
I found the address, took pictures there (and lost them on my phone), but couldn't find the mini museum.
Oh well.

After that, I did a little walking tour of my own of the center of the town, taking in sights, and wandering wherever piqued my interest. I discovered a comic book museum with lots of comic book character sculptures.
The guide from my second tour of Brussels, in Grande Place/Grote Market
Later on that day, I went to a tour of what was called "The European quarter" where we were taken around some government buildings, including the palace, etc... On this tour, for the first time, I learned about the atrocities that happened when King Leopold and his armies conquered the Congo in Africa, and how many people were killed or had their hands cut off in the pursuit of making him as wealthy as possible from the rubber there.



The tour also included a tour of the "African area" of Brussels, and that bit kind of raised my hackles as an American with American views on racism, because while the guide was telling us about how Africans were brought from the Congo and put on "display" in little villages in the city center so everyone could see how "backwards" they were, and was telling us this in horror, after that, he showed us around the "black shops" and so much of that part of the tour focused on stereotypes and treating black people as "others" and it just turned me off a lot. (And oh, the tour guide couldn't be racist, since he has an adopted black brother, according to him.)

Our tour continued to the European parliament, where our guide told us about how the EU works, and some inane things, involving the the rules about all cucumbers in the EU need to be straight, so any that don't grow straight aren't allowed to be sold. Or how the fact that the EU splits its time between Brussels and Strasburg, France, so that every single month, for a week, thousands and thousands of employees and all their documents need to be moved to Strasburg, which is a collosal waste of time and money, according to our tour guide.


In front of the Parliament, there was a whole display dedicated to Simone Veil, who had recently passed away. An Auschwitz survivor, she was the first female president of the EU parliament.




In front of the parliament, there was a remnant of the Berlin Wall, which I've heard so much about, but it was so different and amazing to actually see it in front of me, and to be honest, I was pretty shocked about what it looked like. It was a shortish cement wide pillar almost, graffitied with lots of different colors, so different than the stark "black and white" that I'd expected it to look like. It was surprising to me how much a wall like that made a difference in the history of the world.

Additionally, in front of the parliament there was a sculpture garden that its reasons were unknown, but it was a bunch of ostriches with their heads in the dirt, and that really made me smile, because that seems a good representation of governments in general.

The free tours are paid for by tips at the end. I paid 5 Euros for mine.

The free tours are a great way to meet other frugal minded travelers, and the people in my group were sweet, and one of them, a British vet named Sarah and I decided to stay in touch and travel together for the rest of the day.

We wanted to go on a tour of the Sablon district, but not enough people showed up, so the tour never happened.



Sarah and I went to Grand Place/Grote Market together and saw a beautiful if long sound and light show that lit up the entire thing. I captured it all on my phone, and fortunately, though I lost my phone, my sister in law had it and was able to send it to me.



One thing I found interesting and confusing about Brussels is that unlike Bruges that has the official language of Flemish, Brussels has two official languages, Flemish and French, and therefore every sign had things written in both languages, if not more, and every place had at least two different names. It made it confusing when I didn't realize that two different places were one and the same, just names in different languages.

After the sound and light show in Grand Place/Grote Market, we were debating what to do. I'd heard from people in an international women's travel group that I'm in that there's this great bar called "Delirium Bar" in the center of Brussels that is a place where lots of travelers go, and it's a great way to meet people. So Sarah and I ended up going there and hanging out for a couple of hours. I nursed a gluten free beer and she got one drink, and that gave us "access" to the scene. We met so many people there, it was great. Some were Spanish musicians on tour, some were British people working in some government job. It definitely was a great way to pass a bunch of hours in an enjoyable environment.

The next day I knew my time was limited, as I had a ride back to the airport via BlaBlaCar at 7 pm (even though my flight was early the next morning, I knew from my trip to Poland that you don't want to wait until late at night to go to the airport, because there isn't public transportation available, but rather, you go earlier and intend to spend the night at the airport.



What I did my last day in Belgium was start off the day by going on a tour of the center of Brussels. This time, the focus was on the buildings in the center and less the government offices. We learned all about the "uniquely Brussels" statue, Manekin Pis... which basically is a little sculpture of a peeing boy over a fountain. They have lots of costumes in which they dress up the statue, and when I was there it was dressed in an astronaut costume. Apparently there's a whole museum dedicated to the statue's costumes. I have to say... not a fan. I really, really, really don't get what the obsession is with it. Every single tourist shop seemed to be selling repicas of peeing statues, from large statues to small statues to lace with a design of a peeing boy to naked peeing boy cork screws.



And apparently there even was a girl version made, Jeanneke Pis, which is a naked little girl squatting and peeing.
I don't get it.
But whatever, that is one thing Brussels is known for, so of course I made sure to see it as well.

The tour also talked a lot about chocolate, something Belgium isrse I made sure to see it.
 famous for, and we got to see some giant chocolate sculptures.

After that, I rushed to a print shop to print out my boarding pass for my flight (since you could only print then out 48 hours in advance and I left my house before that, and they required print boarding passes, not via the phone) and then decided that with my last few hours available, I'd go to the museums that had to do with the European Union Parliament, since that is something unique to Brussels.



The first place I went to was the Parliamentarium, which was free, first of all. It was an interactive museum that taught about the history of the European Union, which, quite frankly, I knew very little about. It taught me about the very first steps that led to the forming of the EU, how the EU worked, and they gave you head sets and something that gave you an audio explanation of each exhibit. At the end had this fun map on the floor that you could move a device over that area so that showed you a video about and taught you things about that country.



I kind of was rushing through that a little bit, because I wanted to go to the Hemicycle, to listen to a plenary session at the EU parliament, and they only let people in at specific hours, and you had to get there well in advance. Security was very heavy going through, they took everyone's passports, but then once inside you got to sit on the balcony above the hemicycle (what I learned is the name for the area where the Parliament sits) while it is in session. It was really amazing to experience, seeing the translation going on for the people while they were talking in different languages. It almost reminds me of what I see happens at the UN. The session that I sat in was talking about disabled rights and how to make the EU more disability friendly. It was fascinating and interesting to hear the discussions and I must say it opened my eyes a lot (and I thought they were already open).


After that, I rushed back to my AirBnB (stopping on the way to make supper, but that's for another post) and then ran back out to make it to my ride to the airport.

The one thing I felt I missed out on was going to the House of European History, near the EU Parliament. Oh well. If I had more time I would have gone, but I ran out of time.

My two days in Brussels were really wonderful. I was so glad I got to experience it the way that I did, and learn so much, see unique things that I wouldn't see anywhere else, all without spending a lot of money. Total for the two days in Brussels for what I did? 10 euros for the walking tours, about 5 euros for my gluten free beer, and a few euros for public transportation. Totally worth it!

Would I go back to Belgium?

Yes and no. I am so glad I went there on a last minute trip and I'm so glad I got to see so many amazing things and learn so much. It was totally worth the money I spent on the trip.

However, since my budget is limited and I have a love of adventure, I don't think I'll be going back there, because I'd rather travel to some place I've never been to before than go back and see a city more in depth. I would have liked to have another day or two to spend in Belgium, so I could have made my way to Ghent, but all in all, I'm very happy with how my trip turned out.

For now, I'm done talking about my trip to Belgium, other than one last thing: what I spent on food, what I ate there and what I foraged there, and my total tally for the trip.

But for now? Belgium was great. A perfect place for a budget vacation. Very easy to get around without a car, lots of low cost things to do. And very friendly people.

2 comments:

  1. Awesome! I loved reading this and am still very much looking forward to your Brussels food post. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete

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