On Saturday, day 126, I left Canada for the first time in almost 19 years, and travelled to Europe for the first time in almost 34.
(Yeah, I haven’t travelled much in my life. I want that to change.)
It was a big step, not gonna lie. I was super nervous about whether there would turn out to be some problem somewhere or everything would turn out okay. Going through the international security gates was a big and scary step, one that I had to consciously choose to make.
Passport check in Schiphol was also scary—in anticipation, not in fact—but I didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter.
So there I was, in Amsterdam. My family, who’d flown from Montreal and had arrived a couple hours earlier, were waiting for me at that big checkered cube thing that’s apparently a popular meeting spot.
Then we set out for Brussels. The first week would be spent going around Belgium, the second week would be for Amsterdam.
Some shenigans with trains followed—shit happens, right, and I’m sure the train system is tops, but there was work being done on some tracks which required us to take a longer route, and then we had to switch trains at Rotterdam for some reason that I forget right now.
Aside from that I really enjoyed the journey. It looks like the Netherlands doesn’t do suburbs, or at least not the North American kind. There’s no big urban sprawl of big detached houses. All I saw was either (a) a lot of row houses in small towns or conurbations, or (b) bigger houses in rural settings, nothing in between. I approve of this. We talk about promoting densified living but the Dutch have got this shit figured out. Plus, people on bikes. So many people on bikes. Plus quaint little canals. And wind turbines in fields. And I saw my first windmill! It was just from a distance and went by too fast for me to take a picture, but that’s okay. I’ll take more.
On our real first day we went on a bus tour of the cities of Ghent and Bruges. I took so, so many pictures, and for the first time, I couldn’t decide which would be my hashtag-dailypic.
But then my brother and I decided to climb the Bruges belfry, and the choice was clear.
On day 2 we stayed in Brussels and visited a few churches, museums, and neat public places. The Grand-place, just a block from our hotel, was particularly impressive with its neo-Gothic façades and ornately decorated spire. Since we had some extra time to kill I proposed we go visit the Atomium. Turned out to be even better than I expected, with great views of the surrounding area and a nice dose of 50s retro-futurism. Plus, we learned how to get around the Brussels metro, which is never a bad skill to have.
That evening after everyone else retired to their rooms, I was feeling restless and in need of some air and photo opportunities. I quickly checked out Google Maps and found a few likely spots, then set out.
My official pic of the day was of a building bathed in the light of the setting sun, but in hindsight maybe I should have waited a bit and made a picture of the Anspach Fountain my official one. But no take-backsies! Is that going to be a rule? I don’t know.
On day 3 we visited the little university town of Louvain-la-Neuve, where my family and I lived way back in ’79. It’s a nice place, with some pretty students enjoying the warm spring weather, but as for reminiscing? Ehh. It was too long ago, the memories are too dim, and most everything’s changed so much anyway.
Oh well, I’m not upset about it. The point of this trip was to create new memories anyway, not revisit old ones.
Plus, the Hergé Museum! We happily spent a couple hours there.
Part of me kind of wanted to head out tonight, but no landmarks caught my eye, I’m too tired. Fortunately I saw that coming, and snapped a picture of Rue du Marché aux Poulets. It showed the lovely textures of old town streets like this one, the varied materials, colours, window styles and window heights, signs of a city growing organically over centuries. And, a few modern signs. That’s not a bad thing. People here live with the old, but are not bound by it. Touches of modern are good, as long as you respect the foundations.