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Travel in Europe

Moving Away From the Space Heater: Part 1

Space heaters, in their many forms, are a motif in my Spanish life.

I am the prototype of the friolera; or as we’d clumsily call it in English, a person who’s always cold. During the winter months in Seville it’s a challenge to pry myself from the source of heat (though I should make more of an effort because lately it’s warmer outside than it is in my apartment).

This entry part one in a potential series (that I may or may not continue) about me getting out of Spain. Nay: getting out of Seville. Or on less ambitious days, getting out of my apartment.

I’m the least well-traveled auxiliar here. It seems like wanderlust is a virus and I’m one of the few who never caught it. Some days I feel insecure and unworldly for having so few notches on my belt of foreign countries, but then I remember that I’m a frugal homebody, so it’s only logical.

But now I’m halfway through this year (OK, these nine months) in Europe and it would be shameful if I spent the rest of it shuffling between Mercadona and my space heater. I don’t have access to an endless cash source (or my parents’ credit cards), but I’m good enough with a budget to pull off a few trips this spring.

Europe probably won’t crumble into the ocean when I leave in June, so I don’t need to do a marathon of the entire continent, but still—once my visa expires, when am I going to be back here with easy access to cheap, albeit crappy, Ryanair flights? Who knows. Gotta live for today, not for tomorrow. Live, laugh, love~~*~ Eat, pray, love. Travel, eat, gain weight, pray for miracle weight loss. [Insert favorite live-life-to-the-fullest cliché here.]

So let’s get down to it: I went to Brussels for a long weekend.

This was my first time traveling north in Europe and the trip came at a time when I was feeling particularly antsy in Andalucía. When I tell people that I work part-time in southern Spain, everyone defaults to this image of me on sunny afternoons relaxing under a palm tree with a rum cocktail in hand.

The anticlimactic reality: I spend my afternoons in front of the space heater, editing blog posts for myself and for others (usually for others). Up until this week it would have been far too cold to loiter around the Guadalquivir and guzzle Cruzcampo by the liter. So, if you can believe it, I was thrilled for a vacation to someplace overcast and devoid of palm trees (but replete with good beer, chocolate and fried food).

To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations for Brussels. I posted a Facebook status before I left and asked for touristy recommendations. I also spoke with a few friends who had already visited. The most common response was: “Meh I mean whatever it’s a big city, it’s cold, I drank a lot of beer.”

To all the naysayers who dampened my enthusiasm for this trip: You’re haters. I’m calling you haters, right here, right now. On a blog. Because I’m a coward.

Full disclosure: My impression of Brussels was enhanced through spending most of the trip with a native Belgian. I traveled with four other auxiliares from Spain and we visited Katalina, a friend who studied in Seville last semester through Erasmus and is now back in her hometown.

She was our guide throughout Brussels and provided an itinerary, led us through public transportation and (most importantly) spoke French. In Spain I don’t feel like an ignorant American because I can speak the language, but everywhere else in the world, I revert to being self conscious about my overwhelming ignorance.

We stayed in a hostel that Katalina’s family owns, a few metro stops from the center of the city. The map provided by the hostel had a bunch of goofy descriptions next to all of the sites it highlighted. The first one that caught my eye: “Brussels is ugly and we love it.”

This was one of the foremost gripes I heard from others who had been to Brussels—that it wasn’t a good-looking city. This map had a lot of attitude and I wish I had thought to bring it back with me. The map explained, in so many words, that, “There’s a lot of quirky weird shit going on here, and we’re into it, so hopefully you’re into it, too.” I liked the attitude of the map. It convinced me, perhaps incorrectly, that everyone from Brussels shares the same attitude as the sassy map narrator. This made me like the city more.

Sometimes in Sevilla I feel out of place when I’m not wearing sky-high Marypaz wedge pleather heels that match a trendy outfit (i.e. sequin-bedazzled denim shorts over purple tights), finished with a full face of makeup.

Plus, the “in-between” options for going out often feel limited here: There’s the old-man bar on the corner or a discoteca.

Brussels was a breath of cold fresh air—there were clubs and there were old-man bars, but there were also bars tucked away in alleys that brimmed with character. They didn’t feel overly casual or excessively formal. Exhibit A: A bar we visited that apparently doubles as a venue for puppet shows:

Sweet bar in BrusselsAt the puppet bar I ordered a beer called Kwak that was served in a contraption that reminded me of a sideways guillotine.

Kwak quack.

My kind of locale.

We also visited the famous Delirium Café, home to roughly a motherload of beers.

Delirium Café

I enjoy good beer, but I would be entirely full of bologna, as my father says, if I pretended to be any kind of connoisseur. But something about beer—moreover, a city with a selection of non-Cruzcampo beer—really made me feel… at home?

When we walked into Delirium, I took a big whiff of the stale bar air and thought to myself: “This feels like happy hour in D.C.” It put me at ease.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Ford-loving Midwestern simpleton, but Belgium’s appreciation for beer made me feel closer to home; like I was in on something. I wasn’t actually in on anything, other than drinking heavy brews with all the other tourists, but it was a nice feeling all the same.

We also visited this bar with a name I cannot pronounce:

The Poechfendllelrikerkkrhr Bar.

The interior of the Poechfendllelrikerkkrhr Bar was warm and charming (question: do Belgians have a puppet fetish, or are the decorations in two of the bars I visited just a coincidence?).

Decorations at the Poechfendllelrikerkkrhr Bar.

Here you can imagine about 10 different pictures of me grinning and holding assorted beers in glasses that bear their brand names.

We also saw the other, non-alcoholic sites, including the statue of the peeing boy and the Grand Place. A few of us went to the Magritte Museum, which was well worth the measly 2 euro entrance fee (with student discount). I feel a sense of obligation as a travel blogger to post photos of all these sites, but instead I will suggest that you use the “Image search” function on Google. I’m not an exceptionally talented photographer; posting every mediocre shot I got of the Grand Place would be embarrassing for all parties.

I will, however, share a helter-skelter collection of some of my favorite photos from Belgium:

This is a chocolate rendering of the famous pissing-boy statue at the Chocolate Museum in Brussels. Do not go to the chocolate museum—we all agreed it was the worst part of our trip and in general, a waste of money. It's organized more like somebody's great-grandmother's attic than like a museum.

We went to a flea market on Saturday. If it were not for Ryanair baggage restrictions, you bet your ass I would have bought this.

And this. Bottoms up.

Duh.

We also went to Bruges, a small town about an hour away from Brussels. Adorable, though we didn't have great weather. We visited a brewery in Bruges but the photos aren't worth uploading.

There you have it. Belgium.

Next up in the potential Move Away From the Space Heater Series: the Canary Islands and (drum roll) the French Riviera. Joder y’all, my travel plans just got real refined. If anyone wants to teach me to speak fluent French in three weeks, I’ll give you what’s left of my Belgian chocolate.*

*There’s nothing left of my Belgian chocolate.

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Discussion

2 Responses to “Moving Away From the Space Heater: Part 1”

  1. I don’t think we went to the same chocolate museum, based on your photos. Brussels would have more than one.

    I didn’t travel that much either; I did manage to get to Brussels, however! I liked it, but I did freeze my ass off.

    Posted by Kaley [Y Mucho Más] | March 4, 2012, 8:31 pm

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