A Day In Brussels


Moments ago I lamented to William that I was finding it difficult to summarise our eight hour adventure to Brussels in my signature rich, nuanced and enticing style due to the fact I was barely conscious while we were there, to which he replied 'yeah, neither.' Sadly, this is not an exaggeration. You see, this whirlwind Belgian jaunt took place on a Sunday back in October, and the Thursday night prior I had made some poor choices at a work party (it's not unprofessional if it's your boss who's buying the shots) that had eventuated in my being easily the most inebriated I had ever been. Truly. Including Family Easter 2011 and that time I went out with the Balinese royal family. Now I am not proud of this, and shan't go into details (recounted to me in the days following), but it's not the worst someone has pulled up after a party thrown by that particular office and at least I didn't leave in a water ambulance like one guy did at our mid-year boat party on the Thames.



Despite our group chat the next day being alight with concern that I may have died in a gutter somewhere in Covent Garden, I had made it safely home (shout out to Uber and Emilia from the SEO team who managed to keep me somewhat upright whilst 'twas ordered), where I promptly fell asleep fully clothed in my own bed. I remained there for all of Friday, but managed to drag my lifeless form to Heathrow on Saturday morning to pick up William, who was arriving from Melbourne for a two week visit. Impeccable timing. Fabulous work by a responsible girlfriend. Unfortunately by this point it had become quite clear, as someone who has been drinking for over a decade and never had quite such a rough time post-merriment, that I had managed to give myself a hektik case of alcohol poisoning, the repercussions of which are only now winding down several months later. As a result, I was not in the best of conditions for a day trip to The Continent.


However, we had impulsively booked tickets to Brussels a few weeks before and one can not let a lil bitta alcohol poisoning stand in the way of adventure, so come Sunday morning it was off to St Pancras. Me, feeling like death, and William with his pretty little head in a cloud of jetlag. In a slight digression, I still can't get over how easy train travel is and would happily do all my sojourning by rail from now on. Not only do I appreciate the convenience of going directly from city centre to city centre without having to navigate airports, but I frickin love trains. Love the chug, love the view, love the productivity boost I get from being trapped in one place but without the stress of being in the sky. Solid case of the ol' Choo Choo Fever. If the Eurostar would like to #spon me, I am free. Conversely, upon leaving the train station and setting course for the city centre we encountered one of my worst nightmares: a market. I hate markets, I hate carnivals, I hate parades. I don't like public areas being unnecessarily crowded, and while I can tolerate, say, a refined Christmas market, refined this was not. I hastened my step and we reached our destination in record time, hampered only by one instance in which I was temporarily distracted by a grey jumper. We all have our kryptonites.


Whilst on the Eurostar I had googled 'Things to see in Brussels' and the most common recurring result was, I must say, a surprise. For those of you who are uninitiated, allow me to introduce you to the Manneken Pis. He is apparently the main thing you need to see when visiting this particular European centre of culture, and his image is e.ve.ry.where. Really. They dress him in different outfits. They made him a sister. (We did also get a photo with the peeing girl, but for some reason she's behind a prison-like grate in a crevice in a weird side alley, and also looks a bit more confronting. Apparently there's a dog but we missed that one.) If he were sentient I have no doubt they would bestow upon him the key to the city in an elaborate public ceremony. My personal impression was that, similar to many other figures of such reputation - Christina Aguilera, Prince, the Boss Baby - he is very tiny. But Pis he does. Keep doing you, my leaky little friend. Every happiness for the future.


After Old Mate Manneken Pis, sprouts and the E.U. headquarters, I'd say the main thing Brussels is known for is food. Waffles, fries, chocolate. Fab. Great times. All well and good, except for if you have severely poisoned yourself 48 hours prior and can not stomach anything at all. I'm not much of a chocolate person, but I am still sad about having missed out on a perfectly valid excuse to eat multiple rounds of fries in one day. It would have been for science, but instead there was only sadness. At least I got this nice pic of waffles. Little victories.


Aside from being the first time I had traversed international boarders without the emotional security of a functioning liver, this brief excursion marked another important milestone in that it was first time Will and I had traveled together. I don't count him flying to Perth in August as traveling, because Perth is a second home to me and on his end it was more of a reconnaissance mission than anything else, and in our 3.5 years of friendship the furthest we had been together was one of Melbourne's outer suburbs to visit our friend Ben. Luckily it turns out we travel very well together, as further evidenced by the following weekend which we spent in Italy, and the now ten month long relationship we have managed to travel through with relative success, and did not need to request separated seats on the journey home.


Let me just say, unless you have been to Brussels, you can not grasp the reality of the inescapable mascot that is the Manneken Pis. At first I had assumed it was something quirky to see, take a photo with and then move along but no. Oh no. Brussels, it would seem, is ALL about the Manneken Pis. Every shop window. Every piece of tourist merch. Every corner you turn, there he is, holding his bits, looking simultaneously haughty, depressed and quite frankly threatening. For a city with such a proper, straight-laced sounding name and as headquarters of the EU, I can't pretend that I wasn't slightly taken aback by the absolute omnipresence of a provocative nudist cherub, but to each their own. My personal favourite iteration was the Minion shirt, and though I am sad I didn't purchase this for our future child, we did pick up a lovely matching fridge magnet and bottle opener. The first official purchase for our home as a couple, and a touching foundation for a long and happy life.


One of the most impressive parts of Brussels, in my opinion, was the Grand Square. I managed not to take a photo of the one building that was most my aesthetic, which I have since learned was the Museum of the City of Brussels, but you can still see from these photos that overall it's really pretty baller. This particular site is where I came to the conclusion that I would probably have enjoyed Brussels more in the rain, because 1. I'm a moody little darling and 2. it was a lovely sunny day which was great and all, but that's not really the kind of lighting I'm looking for in my neo-Gothic European architectural experiences. Even so, I battled through the atmospheric hardship like the trooper I am and managed to enjoy my surroundings, but I must say I was not a huge fan of the colour palette they've chosen for these flower baskets. No offense to the Fremantle Dockers, from whose team uniform this ravishing combination has been borrowed.


Another pivotal moment that occurred whilst in the Grand Square was the realisation as to why we were both feeling a bit disoriented and overwhelmed. First of all, the fact we'd just popped on the train for an hour or so and emerged in a new country was a bit confusing for two people from a country where the nearest city to one's own is a ten hour drive away. Secondly, and more importantly, neither of us actually knew why we were there. We had never had a particular interest in Brussels. We had not planned to do anything specific in Brussels. We did not actually know anything much about it at all, we had just seen cheap tickets, thought it sounded like a good idea and booked them, without any further thought until the time came that we were physically planted on firm, Belgian soil.

When it sunk in that we were feeling so disjointed due to the fact that neither of us really understood where we were or how it was that we had come to be there, rather than that we'd made a huge mistake and were fundamentally incompatible as a romantic pairing, I did my first Big Laugh post-poisoning. Little milestones. I also decided then that we should make a scrapbook of our adventures together, so as to establish some sort of purpose amidst the confusion, and off we trotted to find the perfect postcard of the Manneken Pis.


After wandering in circles for a period of time unbefitting one in such a state as I, the time came that I insisted we find somewhere to sit. The original plan was to hit up some famous Belgian chip mecca, but they did not have any seating and I did not have any capacity to ingest their wares, so we needed to find somewhere else, which should not have been a difficult task. I did not care if it was for a drink, I did not care if it was for food, all I cared about was that it be a place for me to recuperate, unhindered. Unfortunately, I designated the task of choosing a venue to William, who led us up and down the same street multiple times before settling on a venue by the name of Drug Opera.
Needless to say relying on Will's power of decision is not a mistake I will be making again.

("Can you put a little note here at the end? Note: William has read this and is very upset.")


Various ailments and emotional whirlwinds aside, Brussels is a very pretty place. It reminds me a bit of pretty much everywhere in Europe, like if the hills and gardens of Paris were to meet the streets of Basel, with a few Tuscan corners, some Scandinavian grandeur and a nice little neo-gothic twist sprinkled in for good measure. And then the added guarantee of at least one naked pissing baby around every corner.


At some point we must have stopped for food because here's a picture of some burgers. I do vaguely remember this. I'm still so bitter that I missed out on eating all of Belgium, but at the time I think I was just trying my best to strike a tolerable balance between feeling nauseated by literally everything and trying not to faint from malnutrition. The dream. I really want a burger now.


After refuelling to the best of our abilities, we decided to carpe diem and go a bit further afield. Or Will decided we would, and I didn't want to be left by myself so I begrudgingly dragged my corpse behind him. To be fair, this is when things started to pick up, so if you're visiting a new city it probably is best that you make a point of covering slightly more ground than the bare minimum old town alleys around a statue of a baby that The Google told you to see. This part of the day was quite an uphill journey, but surprisingly more literally than metaphorically, as it turns out the higher you get the prettier it is. I'm a sucker for a winding European street, and another perk of branching out was that the majority of the tourist population was still back where we'd left them, so I was able to wander freely without my London-Honed Pedestrian Rage kicking in.


I really do love a good European city. Even in my borderline incapacitated state there were still glimmers of light peeking through when we would see a particularly picturesque venue or side street. Truly, the ability to push through any situation in order to get a good insty is one of the qualities I admire most about myself, and as a functional adult I've even been able to transition this into a genuine interest in the aesthetics of the world around me, OUTSIDE of my phone. I know. Sometimes I see something nice and don't even take a picture. It's nuts.


That being said, nothing lifts my mood like good photo material. From rainy days on our year 11 drama trip to New York to stomping around the various capitals of Europe, once I know I've got a good shot I'm a transformed person. Some may call it shallow and millennial, I say it is the innate creative inside me seeking constant artistic fulfilment and inspiration but it's honestly whatever don't even worry about it live ur life. Truly though, there is very little that a good gram canny fix, so despite feeling as though I may collapse at any point I soldiered on, and after climbing QUITE the gentle slope we reached the Mont Des Arts. Apparently I was too incapacitated to take a proper photo of the city from the platform (I vaguely remember there being a busker smack bang in the middle of my shot, leading to a huffy resignation on my behalf), but the view itself was enough to lift my spirits and encourage further exploration, much to Will's relief.


Something that has been a growing focus of my background thoughts recently is my newfound EU citizenship. Having only been officially Hungarianised a couple of years ago I'd not really thought much about it beyond the fact that it would allow me to stay in London for as long as I wanted, but now that my focus has shifted away from England my scheming has escalated. I've now decided that I want Will and myself to live in Stockholm for six months, so I'm going to learn Swedish on Duolingo. I tried to learn Hungarian for shits n gigs one time and that did not go particularly well, but Hungarian is hard and also I don't really want to move to Budapest so I have higher hopes for this endeavour. I'd wager the pronunciation is gonna be an interesting time. Granted, most people in Stockholm do speak fantastic english anyway because Scandinavians are good at everything, but I feel like I've already learnt enough subconsciously from reading the translations of Swedish blogs for it to be a worthwhile endeavour. Honestly tricking me into this relationship is the smartest thing Will has ever done because not only has he improved his entire life he's also bagged himself unlimited access to two more continents. You're welcome. Let's go to Sweden.


Back to Belgium now, and the excitement reached fever pitch with simultaneously the best discovery of the day and my biggest meltdown. Let us start with the negatron and say that prior to this trip my G7x had broken so I was without a travel camera (still am, hence additional iPhone-documented trips to Paris and Sweden), and at this time I was still using my old phone so the camera on that was not particularly fab, so long story short I had a moment of frustration over the poor image quality and needed a sec to calm down. I blame my physical exhaustion. And no one can prove me wrong. However, the scene of this meltdown was the extraordinarily picturesque building you see above and below, otherwise known as the Royal Palace of Brussels. Never have I seen something so clearly designed to fit into my instagram theme. That. hedge. maze. tho. Tbph the photos do not do any level of justice to the building itself, but we are not going to go into that, lest I break down once more.


The final part of our day consisted of a lengthy stroll. By this point Will had some sort of hayfever going on and we were both just absolutely done, but the walk itself was nice. Lots of shady streets and tall buildings. Brussels seems like it would be a very enjoyable place to live, similar to how I never know what to tell people to do if they're visiting Melbourne, because it's the kind of city that you can only really make the most of by living in. Eventually we made our way back to the train station and onto a very delayed Eurostar back to London. Waiting to board that train is when Will officially asked me if I wanted to move in with him, which was something we had already decided months before, but still felt very Big and Exciting, so Brussels has got that honour as well as the title of First New City Together and First Day Trip To Europe Whilst Incapacitated.


"That time we went to Brussels for eight hours and zero reason" has gone down in the history of our relationship, and is now successfully immortalised in scrapbook form. I have since been told several times now that Bruges is in fact the place to be when it comes to Belgium, but once we've ticked that off I can see a return visit happening. As much as we do consistently joke about a reprise, there's so much we missed this time around, and I'd like to see how different it is when I a) realise that's where I am and b) am not recovering from sleeping off what should realistically have been a stomach-pumpable faux pas. I also need to buy more Manneken Pis merch to stockpile for when we have a child.

Why did we go to Brussels? I still don't know, but it worked out okay.

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