A Week In Belgium
My trip to Belgium this past July was actually not my first. The first time I visited the tiny, chocolate capital of Europe was about 4 years ago with my mother when we went to visit her best friend/my godmother. She insisted that me and my mom would stop by during our trip to Lithuania – since the flight to Brussels was literally less than 2 hours. This year, I had a chance to go again, and it reminded me why I'm still so in love with this elegant country and everything it has to offer. Even though for about 5 years of my childhood I lived in the center of Europe, I never actually got a chance to travel much.
When I tell people I lived half of my childhood abroad they assumed it was a glamorous thing, but the reality of it was, I was just living there because half of my family was there -- we stayed put. And this is definitely not to say it was a bad thing! I feel proud that I can say that I experienced what it was really like to grow up in European country and experience all it's grace and beauty -- from breathtaking countryside to the arrival of Eurovision each year.
Anyway, the year my godmother told me she wanted us to visit, it was absolutely liberating. Belgium became a really important place to me -- the first European country I actually visited and saw except Lithuania. That trip -- 4 years ago -- was rushed, though. This year, I was older, more drained from the stress of college and American politics, so I wanted to use this trip to one of my favorite places a nice and relaxing one.
The trip was slow, relaxing and a perfect form of escapism. The second morning there I woke up in my godmother's beautiful apartment in the center of Brussels. I took my time to get ready. I took in the view. There's something about waking up in the morning in a new place that feels like you can do anything. I did a lot of sight seeing and touring around for the whole week, but something about this quiet morning and just taking in the sun from a different side of the world, was special. That day I walked around for a while on my own, visited a park, sat on a bench and read and just took everything in. There's something impeccably serene about traveling to a place where no one knows your name, who you are or what you're doing. It's so good to go somewhere and have a day where there's nothing specific on your to do list -- just to wander around and simply exist. That's how I felt on the second day of my trip and I didn't know that's what I needed. Sometimes less is more, you know? I feel like there's so much pressure when traveling to do everything and not to miss anything. The pressure to see all the famous sights, all the well known spots, and have a perfect experience in each. What I learned during my trip is that sometimes the simpler the better.
I also think the reason I was able to take in so much of this trip as opposed to my last trip was that I brought my camera and was able to play around with capturing different parts of Belgium. The best way I could describe the feeling this country left me was the pictures I took. So here's a short diary of some of my snapshots.
Architecture, Buildings and Cobblestone Roads
Brussels has a certain type of royalty to it that I right away noticed when I visited there years ago. The center of the city is an enormous square called Grote Markt, that was literally a marketplace back in the day. The buildings surrounding the square are covered with intricate engravings in gold and bronze, which shimmered against the sunlight as we arrived to look at it again. The square is bustling, not so much with market people but with tourists and visitors. We briefly walked around some other areas of Brussels and admired the larger-than-life architecture.
The term "like out of a fairytale" doesn't even begin to describe the city of Bruges. One of the oldest cities in Europe, this tiny town is surrounded by canals and made up of cobblestone and old European architecture that is absolutely breathtaking. It felt like you were going back in time walking past castles, mansions along the canal and amazing buildings with old engravings. Everything looked like it was still in the middle ages -- except for the tourists, of course. But my godmother and I were able to find the quieter parts of the little town and walk through them and take it all in. I'm glad I had her with me because now I know the spots to go to that aren't so tourist-heavy -- rather just some streets were you can walk and take it all in, maybe even pretend you're a famous dutchess for a day.
My godmother and I were able to find a hidden spot to have lunch -- away from the tourists. The restaurant was squeezed between buildings in an alley and it was the perfect spot to cool down and have the cutest little dishes that were just the right amount of food.,
On our way back from Bruges, my godmother insisted we stop by another town called Gent. This town had the similar style of architecture; cobblestone roads, zig-zag towers and canals weaving through the streets. But overall, Gent had a different sort of energy. This might sound odd but it felt more lived in, from my perspective as a visitor at least. In Bruges, it was much more tourist heavy and every corner of the city seemed to be overflowing from outsiders, which was fine, but I wanted to really get a taste of what life is like here. Gent showed me this, through the overall mood and vibe that it gave off when we arrived. When we got there there was even a music festival happening in the middle of the city which was really cool to walk through.
Humans in Belgium - B&W
Something I really want to start practicing more is taking photos of people in cities. Especially when traveling, I wanted to capture different people and how they were living their lives in Belgium. This country comes with a lot of unique diversity that I feel like many people don't know about. It's where the European Union's headquarters are and it actually has 3 main languages: French, Dutch, and German (as well as Flemish in the Flanders area). The country is tiny, but it shows that just because a place is small it doesn't come with an interesting history or identity. I was able to capture some people throughout my trip, in Brussels, Bruges and Gent. My favorites were by far the more unexpected ones and the ones where you can tell the people were natives of Belgium and were just enjoying a regular day in the city they live in. I'm pretty proud of some of these moments I was able to catch.