Belgium: Chocolate, Beer, and Cars that Slow Down

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There’s good news and bad news. Bill –for some reason– always likes to start with the good news, so the good news is that we’ve arrived to Europe! Belgium, specifically. Within the first twelve hours, I had beer, chocolate, waffles, mussels, ice cream, and frites (fries), and I did not fear for my life while crossing any street!

WHAT A NICE CHANGE.

The bad news (“bad”) is that I’ve already been to the four primary countries in the European leg: Belgium, Netherlands, England, and Ireland. There are scavenges listed also in Luxembourg, Whales, and Isle of Man, so Mark and I are hoping to hit at least one of those, but the problem is that we have only four days to do so–by Wednesday night, we need to check in with the group in Dublin.

It was definitely a culture shock, in the best possible way, to go from the chaos of Vietnam/Thailand/Sri Lanka/and Cairo to the calm, orderly, English-speaking country of Belgium. When we landed in Brussels, it was as if we’d entered a ghost town, which is certainly not the Brussels I remember. The first time I was here, four years ago, I thought this city was crowded, dirty, and not-at-all pleasant.

My my, what a little perspective can do.

On our first evening here, Bill made history and commanded us to take the night off, “No scavenges allowed until 7:01 a.m. tomorrow morning!” BLESSED DAY!

We drank beer, and then Mark and I joined the two father-daughter teams and had family-style meal of mussels, chicken in pastry puff, meatballs, and fries (Allen insisted that I, as the food blogger, order for the table). That night we finally had a break from the constant go-go-go we’ve experienced since San Francisco.

But on Sunday, the games began again.

We didn’t have a solid plan, so when we ran into the father-daughter teams at the central station, we all decided to make a Belgium loop: Antwerp, Ghent, and Brugge.

The father-daughter teams did the loop; Mark and I got “derailed” (by choice) in Antwerp.

piano in Belgium

This is Toby Jacobs, just chillin’ in the streets of Antwerp, making beautiful music

Antwerp is a wonderful city! I loved it! It’s the only one of the three I hadn’t visited before, and I concluded that I would move there. The architecture was beautiful; there were coffee shops and chocolate shops on every corner; the streets were peaceful (although by 4:00p.m., people started to emerge from wherever they’d been hiding); there was hidden comic street art around the city; the people were friendly and willing to help the lost; and the bike trails were amazing.

Random street murals (a scavenge was to find four)

Random street murals (a scavenge was to find four)

One of the challenges we had was to bike/stroll through Middleheim Museum, which we saw was quite far from the city center, and since we hadn’t biked yet, we thought, why not?

Belgium has a rent-a-bike system throughout the country in which people can pick up a bike at one of the stations, enter a code, and then drop it off at another station (station = fancy bike rack). We faced some confusion meriting the help of locals, but once we figured it out, we were off on an adventure—and let me tell you, biking through Belgium (and, I’m guessing, the Netherlands) is totally worth it.

First of all, they cater to bikers. I knew this in a theoretical sense, but seeing it firsthand was phenomenal. There are bike trails running alongside every major road, and once we hit the parks, it was just trees and trail. Fun fact: I am 100% out of biking shape—75 year old men were passing me. But I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Looking as though I’d never ridden a bike before

Looking as though I’d never ridden a bike before

The “museum” itself consisted of a giant park filled with hundreds of structural art pieces, connected by winding mazes of trails, bridges over streams, and people walking around on their own scavenger hunts. Bill had asked us to locate pieces by three artists, which we assumed would be easy until we saw the scale of the park and the number of pieces; there was no way we’d just “stumble” upon them. We procured a map, which was helpful, but one of the artists was not listed and required the help of several museum staff (and the internet) to garner the general location.

We did, however, find it. And this scavenge turned out to be one of my favorite outside of Egypt.

Two other highlights from the scavenge list:

We tried “Jenever” (which, I’d like to note, is basically my name as well as a type of liquor similar to gin) at De Vagant with the help of our bartender, Sarah. She rocked. We tried two: a traditional jenever aged in whisky barrels—it was like drinking whisky without the fire and aftertaste, i.e., perfect—as well as a hazelnut infused jenever with cream—it was like drinking Bailey’s Irish Cream, i.e., bliss.

Toasting to Jen(ever)

Toasting to Jen(ever)

We walked the Sint Anna Tunnel, an underground foot tunnel that took us under the river (to the other side) for a stunning view of the city.

That was Day One in Europe.

On Day Two, I had the worst day of the entire trip.

(The next blog will have the story.)

(Just as a reminder: if you’re enjoying our travels, please visit our websiteand help us spread some kindness in the world! We’re raising money to donate to orphans, clean water, and refugees. $10 or whatever you feel comfortable giving! Thank you!)

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