My Weekend in Brussels and Amsterdam

On the weekend of November 16th to 19th, I went to Brussels and Amsterdam with a group of eight friends who are all studying in Edinburgh this semester from Georgetown and Penn. This was my last big group trip of the semester, and I was very excited to see these two cities! On Friday afternoon, we took the affordable and convenient Airlink bus (which I have taken from Waverly Train Station in Edinburgh to the Edinburgh airport many times this semester!) and set off for our flight to Belgium–which was Ryanair, of course! My Ryanair plane after I landed in When we arrived in Brussels, my group of 8 friends and I took a cab into the city proper to our hostel, Jacque Brels Youth Hostel. My three Georgetown girlfriends and I set up the bunk beds in our private 4-person room and got excited to start exploring Brussels that night. (You may be wondering why I’m giving extra detail about my hostel room, but don’t you worry because your curiosities will be satisfied with the comparative description of my hostel in Amsterdam…) Then, my group of friends and I set out to see Brussels by night! During our one night in Brussels, we went to the famous and tourist-filled Délirium Café.

Op uw gezondheid! (I’m not sure how to pronounce it, but that’s the Flemish phrase for ‘cheers’.)

Délirium has the Guinness World Record for the bar that offers that most beers–with a record of 2,004 different brands of beer in 2004. Today, Délirium has closer to 2,500 beers, including Belgian Abbeys, strong dark beers, lighter fruit beers, and even chocolate beers. While I was there with my friends, I tried the Delirium Tremens!

 

 

The next morning, I made plans to meet up with my friend Caleigh (who I’ve known for 11 years and who is studying abroad in Brussels this semester from Villanova). On the walk to Grand Place, where my friends and I were meeting Caleigh, we past the Congress Column,which commemorates the 1830-1831 formation of the Belgian state and constitution, has a statue of the first King of the Belgians–King Leopold I, and has a memorial for the Belgian soldiers of World War I with an eternal flame.

We also past the Roman Catholic St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral on our walk to the city’s central square. It was nice to see the beautiful cathedral in the daylight, because we had also past the cathedral the previous night on our first walk around the city of Brussels.


 

 

 

 

My group of friends from Edinburgh and I met Caleigh in the Grand Place, which is the central square in Brussels. The square is the location of the city’s Town Hall, and the square is the biggest tourist destination in Brussels.

Next, Caleigh, my friends from Georgetown and Penn, and I enjoyed our first Belgian waffles of the day! (Rachel and I had three each that day…when in Belgium, feast on Belgian waffles, right?) Then, we went to see the famous status, Manneken Pis, which translates from a Dutch dialect called Marols to “Little Man Piss”. It is a very small bronze statue of a little boy urinating into a fountain, and it is a famous landmark in Brussels. There is an interesting tradition that goes with this statue; several times a week the statue is dressed up in costumes of different nationalities, military uniforms and other trades and professions! The collection of the costumes of Manneken Pis is displayed in the City Museum in the Grand Place, and I definitely want to go see that exhibit the next time I go to Brussels! While we were walking around Brussels, we saw many chocolatier shops! For example, Godiva and Neuhaus are Belgian companies and have numerous stores in the city.

I also learned that another Belgian treat is the biscuit called Speculoos.
Caleigh pointed out that Speculoos at one store that was shaped like St. Nicholas for the upcoming Feast of St. Nicholas which is on December 6th in Belgium.
Next, we walked to the Place Royal (or Royal Square in English), to the Royal Palace of Brussels, and to the EU buildings in Brussels. We went to the Parliamentarium, which is a European Parliament’s Visitor Center and has exhibits about the history and activities of the EU.

Although I had less than one full day in Brussels for this weekend trip, I was very glad that I got to see several of the famous things in Brussels, eat some Belgian treat, and visit with my friend Caleigh! With stomachs full of Belgian waffles (topped with chocolate and strawberries) and Belgian chocolates, we said goodbye to Brussels and headed to Amsterdam by train. Upon arriving in Amsterdam in the evening, we were not only greeted with foggy weather and an interesting aroma, but also, we were greeted with the sights of beautiful canals and elegantly lit streets.
We checked into Bob’s Youth Hostel and headed to drop off our carry-all backpacks. (Are you ready for the hostel comparison?) Our room at Bob’s had about 30 metal bunk beds, walls with interesting graphics and odd phrases decorated by other ‘guests’ of Bob’s, and numbered lockers that correlated with the numbered bunks. (At least Bob had thought about the safety of his guests’ possessions, right?) This was definitely the ‘roughest’ hostel I have stayed in, and it was probably my last one for the semester too!
After a comfortable sleep in our hostel (or, not so restful, peaceful or comfortable for those woken up by a hostel employer’s angry shouts at someone who had allegedly not paid for a bed that night), we set out to explore Amsterdam!
My group of friends decided to rent bikes for the day from Green Budget Bikes so we could explore the city as part of the prevalent ‘bike culture’. In fact, Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the world, and there are about 1,000,000 bikes in the city. The trail of the nine neon green bikes of my friends and me traversed the bike paths of Amsterdam, as we rode along numerous canals and streets with beautiful buildings.
We locked our bikes at one of the many bike racks along the canals and walked to the Anne Frank House. The Anne Frank House is a museum in the
building that has the Secret Annex–where Anne Frank and her family hide from the Nazis between July 6, 1942 to August 4, 1944. I really had wanted to tour the annex and this museum during my trip to Amsterdam. I found the experience of walking through the annex and learning more about brave and mature teenage Anne Frank very interesting and emotional. 
After visiting the museum, we hopped back on our bikes and headed to the largest park in Amsterdam, Vondelpark. On our beautiful bike ride through the city, we ‘rolled’ right into the Sinterklaas Parade. None of us had known that Sunday November 18th was the scheduled 2012 date for this annual Dutch tradition, but I’m very glad I was able to see the parade! This parade celebrates the arrival of Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas, into Amsterdam with his helpers who are called Zwarte Pieten. The people in the Netherlands believe in what is known as the ‘Sinterklaas season’, during which Sinterklaas travels around the Netherlands, visiting hospitals, schools and homes and bringing presents to children–which Piets deliver to homes through chimneys. 
There were numerous people dressed as Piets walking, playing instruments, throwing little candies, and dancing in the parade; interestingly, and oddly, all the Piets were dressed in blackface and traditional costumes. I’m glad we came across this big traditional parade while in Amsterdam!
We continued our bike ride to Vondelpark, where we biked around the ponds and took some great pictures as the sun began to set. Then, we headed to the city square called Museumplein, which has three of the major museums in Amsterdam: the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum of modern art. While we did not have time to go into any of the museums during this trip, I enjoyed going to this square. I definitely want to go to the Rijksmuseum of Dutch art, crafts and history and the Van Gogh Museum next time I visit Amsterdam! In Museumplein, we took the ‘obligatory’ picture–that is, the picture with the iconic “I Amsterdam” sign.
After the sun set in Amsterdam, my group of friends returned our rented bikes, walked (quickly) through the red light district, went out to dinner at a nice thai restaurant, and admired the beautiful canals of Amsterdam!
The weekend trip to Brussels and Amsterdam was a great one! I really liked both of the cities, and I look forward to visiting them again sometime. Both cities have lots more that I want to see and do; to name a few, I’d love to visit the City Museum and other museums in Brussels, eat more Belgian waffles and chocolates in Brussels, visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and try Heineken in Amsterdam. As you can tell from my lengthy descriptions and numerous pictures from this weekend, I had a wonderful weekend in Brussels and Amsterdam with the group of my friends from Edinburgh!
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