This is the last post about my trip, I promise! And it’s more of a photo essay anyway…
As you may know, I’ve been getting into film photography for a while now. For my Euro trip, I decided it would be fun to bring my film camera along, even though everybody told me I was crazy for lugging around two cameras plus films (really, the weight wasn’t bad. The films are light, and since my film camera only has the 50mm lens on it, it’s not that heavy either.)
I ended up shooting 4 rolls of film during my 5-week trip. Here’s the terrible thing, though: only about a third of the shots came out! One roll was broken, which was my fault, I made a mistake when unwinding it. But for the rest, I think there was something wrong with the film – I bought expired films because they were cheaper, thinking it wouldn’t matter. Stupid me. (I refuse to believe I was that bad of a photographer, because in the same roll, a shot would come out perfectly while the very next one would be foggy/blurry/overexposed.) I’m only glad that I didn’t rely on the film camera, so I still had plenty of good photos from my DLSR.
In the end, here are some of the best shots I got:
This hasn’t put me off film photography while traveling, but next time, I’ll make sure to bring good films!
On my second day in Belgium, I got up early and went to the station to buy my weekend ticket to Bruges. The train also went past Ghent, another town I wanted to see, so I decided to stop there on the way back in the afternoon.
Bruges has been on my list of dream destinations ever since I saw In Bruges – it’s not a romantic film by any stretch of the imagination, but it does a great job of contrasting the romanticism of Bruges with the horrible violence of the plot. Besides, if you’ve read my Germany travel diary, then you know that Bruges is just the kind of medieval small town I’m interested in.
And Bruges didn’t disappoint. It is perhaps not pretty in a “gingerbread house” kind of way like Ladenburg and Quedlinburg in Germany, but around every corner, down every alley, there was something to catch your eyes and make you want to stay there, perhaps forever.
Then I took the boat tour around its canal and I wanted to stay there even more. In fact, I almost missed the train back because as I was walking to the station, I kept darting in and out of alleys to check out a cute house.
Of course, there was the food – waffles and fries and chocolate, mostly. Oh so much chocolate.
Another highlight of Bruges is when I stumbled upon a wedding at the city hall. I think either the bride or groom must be British, because they had some kind of folk dance, and all the performers spoke English (Google tells me it’s a Morris dance). All the tourists stopped to wait for the couple, and we all started clapping and snapping pictures when they came out. It was really lovely. The waffle man across the square told me that there was a wedding almost every Saturday, and there was one where the newlyweds rode away on a motorcycle! That must have been quite a sight.
Finally, late in the afternoon, I bid farewell to Bruges and headed to Ghent. Ghent is often said to be just as pretty as Bruges but not as touristy, so I wanted to check it out. Just my luck though: the day I visited was also the start of the Ghent Music Festival, and the place was crawling with people. Still, when I got away from old town center, things quieted down considerably, and I was able to find some lovely spots. So even though I couldn’t stay as long as I liked, I did manage to see the best of Ghent.
One thing I did differently on my visits to Bruges & Ghent is that I didn’t have a map or any guide with me. I pretty much just followed the crowd and stopped at whatever struck my fancy. Sometimes I quite literally stumbled upon a point of interest – such as the graffiti alley in Ghent, for example. I’ve read about it and was mildly interested, but didn’t really try to look for it, and then, while I was wandering away from all the noises of the center, there it was!
It was a miracle that I didn’t get lost. But then again, being lost in this may not be such a bad thing:
Originally Belgium wasn’t even on my plan for this trip, but then I remembered an old family friend living in Brussels, who would totally let me stay with her, so I figured this would be a good chance to add another country to my list. I chose to go there during the weekend because, like Germany, Belgian rail has a weekend ticket – you buy a “zone” ticket for half the price, and can travel anywhere you want within that zone from Friday night to Monday morning. I planned on visiting Bruges and Ghent, so that seemed like a really good deal.
I arrived by bus from the Netherlands on Friday afternoon (the bus ticket cost 9 euro, which is a steal compared to the 45 euro train ticket). It was too late for any activity, but I spent a very happy evening walking round, seeing all the sights like the Grand Place (or Grote Markt) and the surrounding streets. All the shops seem to sell nothing except for chocolate, lace, and waffles, but since I just had a huge dinner, I decided to save them for another day. I also saw the Arc de Triomphe at the nearby Parc du Cinquantenaire, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence – so it’s kind of ironic that it actually reminded me of Paris more than anything else.
And of course, I saw the Manneken Pis, the famous sculpture of the little boy peeing, just off the Grand Place. I’ve filed it with the Mona Lisa and the Little Mermaid as “things that are a lot smaller than you thought”, because it is ridiculously small – as you can see from the photo.
But there are plenty of reproductions around, some a lot more colorful and entertaining than the real thing.
On Saturday I went to Bruges and Ghent (they will have their own post), and on Sunday, I saw more of Brussels. Half of it I spent in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts – it’s mostly standard “art museum” collection, but the Art Noveau stuff is drop-dead gorgeous. Also bonus point: the museum cafe has really good cakes and is not as overpriced as other museum cafes I’ve seen.
I also visited the frighteningly huge Palace of Justice (which has been covered in scaffolding for 20 years), a nearby church, and, in the afternoon, saw the Atomium (it was too late to go inside, but I don’t mind) as well as the Japanese Tower and Chinese Pavilion (which are near the residential Royal Palace). These Oriental buildings are part of the Museums of the Far East, which sadly were closed in 2013 for renovation (and considering the speed of renovation on the Palace of Justice, I doubt they will be opened any time soon.)
All in all, I had a fun time in Brussels. I may not be one for big cities, but I’m glad I stopped by.