My awareness was fraying at the edges. It was morning in Brussels, but per my internal clock, who knows? Three nights in Ohio skittered by, each one wonderful but marked by progressively less sleep. Next was a transatlantic flight, which was marked by more anxiety than sleep as I sat isolated, thanks to a kind flight attendant, blasting music into my ears so I wouldn’t hear other passengers retching on the bouncy flight. I got off my string of flights in Brussels eager to spend some time exploring on the ground, but also a little jumbled, not entirely aware. I glanced at the train track number for my train to Brussels from the airport and climbed onto the first train that pulled up.
About half an hour passed and I realized something wasn’t right. “We’re not going to Brussels are we?” I asked my seatmate. “No…. sorry…” she replied. Well, shit. The conductor called out that our next stop was Antwerp. I disembarked. Good thing Belgium is a small country; I bought a ticket to Brussels and got on the correct train this time, and the detour was only a bit over an hour. Had I continued on the wrong train, I would have hit Rotterdam, then Amsterdam. Next time.
I arrived at Brussels Central Station, finally, a bit disoriented, plodding under the weight of my backpack. I circled the station, crossed a street, climbed stairs to a lower street. I met my partner, Ben, at the door of the building we were staying in and climbed up the narrow and uneven stairs to the top floor. I was landed in Brussels, a bit shaky, more than a little tired, but eager because here I was.
After dropping my packs on the floor and neatening up a bit we walked out into the city. I didn’t know what to expect, really. This was my first time in Belgium (airport aside), and I hadn’t done a whole lot of research. I had no notions of what to expect. My tiredness was gradually shed, especially with my first waffle, and I rapidly came to greatly appreciate Brussels.
During our couple of days in the city we wandered around on almost exclusively on foot, from the historic squares in the center to the European Union buildings through parks scattered in between. I also went on a run with a local running club in the Sonian Forest, which stretches out for acres to the southeast of the capital area. These simple activities highlighted part of the reason why I enjoyed Brussels so much: it’s a human-focused city. It’s easy and safe to walk around. Many streets are closed to cars, and many of those that aren’t have little traffic anyway. The public transit is great, both within the city and across the country, as I had accidentally found out. Green spaces are easy to reach. And, though this has nothing to do with city planning, I adored the food – namely the waffles and fries.
On our first night in town, we walked to a restaurant about ten minutes away where I enjoyed a dining on a veggie burger and eavesdropping on the various languages being spoken around us. On our stroll back, we ducked down into a dungeon of a bar, which was a delight. The mood, set by the staff, was friendly and goofy, an expanding lamp-like glow in the dim underground bar. This feeling swirled with me the rest of our time in Brussels, despite the rain that persisted. We simply strolled around and enjoyed ourselves.
Brussels is a city for people. We weren’t doing anything special there, or going after any particular sites, really; we were just having a nice time. My mind solidified as we alternated between exploring and relaxing and I regained my sharpness without a press of anxiety. I felt no pressure to see certain things; only to see. I could watch the ducks, or sit and eat some fries, in one of the many parks or squares just and experience this place. There’s something to say for that.