Belgium’s Treasure

As Brooke and I sat near the famous Mont St. Michel in northwest France, we tried to decide how we were going to continue on our planned journey of southern France. The trains were all full, and the buses were more expensive than we had hoped. Nothing major was drawing us to stay in France; we had seen the major city and had a dose of smaller town life in Rennes. We then decided on a new plan after an hour of discussion, something that relied solely on spontaneity. We were going to go to Belgium.

We had planned on visiting Belgium, but not for another several weeks. We basically turned our whole February itinerary backwards, but it was one of the most exciting things we have done yet. Being spontaneous is such an important aspect of this trip; the fluidity is something that we need to protect and practice. We have the luxury that many tourists don’t: we don’t have a lot set places to be or times to be there, which gives us more freedom to explore and roam.

After an almost missed bus ride from Rennes, France to Paris, and then another bus from Paris, we finally arrived in Brussels. The city definitely has a different vibe to it at night, as we quickly found out. We walked for a few miles to get to our hostel and it was a little more intimidating than what we had been used to. Once we saw everything in the daylight, it was so beautiful and relaxing. Everything is very antique in Brussels; a quality that many travelers come to Belgium for.

The city has several popular market areas, where the scent of waffles and chocolates floats out of shops, trying to draw you in. The blue skies and nice weather made for the perfect day to see the sights. Brussels has several large art murals based on comic books, so we were able to marvel at bold colors on our walks as well. We treated ourselves to some great dinners and desserts, some Valentine’s Day treats, and watched some street performers in the evening.

Several days later, we decided to continue from Brussels to another spot in Belgium. We have an unlimited Eurail train pass, so we’re trying to take advantage of that as much as possible during the three months that it’s valid. These trains run smoothly and nearly right on schedule. I was surprised to see so many young people aboard; people just like us and some even younger were headed to new destinations for the weekend. I love seeing excited faces and being able to relate to their joy of heading to a new place. We arrived at our next stop, enjoyed lunch in a park next to a serene canal, and I went on a peaceful walk along the southern area of the city in the evening.

The next morning, we walked along the cobblestone streets of Bruges, a small Belgian city that runs solely on tourism, under the guidance of our tour guide, Kai. Kai is a New York native who followed his heart on a backpacking trip to Europe 11 years ago — and he’s been here ever since, learning the history of the cities he lives in to give travelers like us the details of how these places became what they are today. Hearing about the gorgeous city of Bruges through his information brought such a vivid picture to it all; what was once a port city protected by moats and archers, is now one of the most popular spots in Belgium. We also learned from a kind old man whom we had met in a city square that there were over 10 million visitors to Bruges last year. To put that number into perspective: there are only about 25,000 people that live within the actual city borders.

Kai said one thing that really stuck with me as we spoke with him: “Make miracles. They happen every day.” As Brooke and I have been traveling for over a month now, there have been some days where we are just exhausted. Hopping from place to place so quickly can get tiring, especially with long hours of travel and expensive activities. But when Kai said that short phrase, it put everything back into perspective. We are seeing the world, and we should enjoy every single second of it. Nothing should limit the happiness we feel because miracles can come to life right in front of our eyes.

I’ve begun to think more about what I consider to be a miracle when traveling; things like a breathtaking sunset over city horizons, seeing acres of bright green grass in the countryside, or having perfect weather to accompany our first day of sightseeing. Moments like having a great conversation with a stranger, catching the bus right before it leaves, enjoying to local delicacies, or finding out the walk to our hostel is shorter than we thought. The miracles are the people, the places, the emotions. The instances that remind you both of home and the reason you decided to travel in the first place.

These miracles are what keep me in awe of this beautiful world. They are the treasures hidden among the miles of destinations we seek to discover.

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