Spontaneous trips can go one of two ways. They are often either the best thing ever, full of fun and surprises with your lack of expectations making everything 10x more amazing… or they can be nothing more than a massive waste of both time and money. Last weekend I took a spontaneous trip that was, surprisingly, neither of these. It was fun, a nice break, and left me feeling pretty satisfied with the whole experience. But not blown away.
Due to a combination of the lovely guys at Hostelworld bestowing a free night’s accommodation on me that I needed to use up – thank you, Hostelworld people! – and living in Amsterdam, the place that we embarked upon our spontaneous weekend was Brussels, Belgium. Just a two and a half hour drive away, it was an easy choice, despite Belgium never really making it high on my list of travel must see’s. It’s famous for chocolate, amazing beer, waffles, frites… the home of the EU… but not too much else. It’s not somewhere that I would necessarily go well out of my way to visit, but due to the simplicity of getting there, the decision was made, the hotel was booked and off we went.
My expectations were pretty low if I’m being completely honest. My boyfriend had previously visited and wasn’t blown away in the slightest. In fact, I almost had to twist his arm to come with me! He told me it was built up, pretty boring and all in all a drab place to visit. When we arrived… well, I can’t say that I saw anything to the contrary. My slight hopes for some kind of an adventure in Belgium were dashed and, driving through the seemingly endless grey, boring buildings and constant stream of heavy traffic I could only hope that this wasn’t it.
Thankfully the hotel was nice. Although a bit out of the way and in a pretty residential area, the outside looks were deceiving, and inside, a relatively fancy (compared to our previous dodgy hostel experiences) room awaited. Settled in, we headed out into the frosty streets and headed to the city centre.
The walk was… okay. Not only was it cold, but everything also felt a little bit shady. A friend had told me of their experience in Brussels a couple of years ago, and I felt sure that they were being dramatic when they said they felt a tad uncomfortable walking around the streets of the city, but first-hand experience made me regret the doubts. Sirens were constantly roaring from one street or another, and groups of young-ish, gold chain wearing guys seemed to be everywhere. And then there were the cars. The aforementioned traffic was insane, drivers weaving in and out as if they were completely oblivious of the flocks of cars and people that surrounded them.
When we finally arrived in the centre it was… nice. We had a beer, was approached by a particularly inebriated old guy who insisted we just had to go to the bar next door with him (I’m pretty sure he was hitting on my boyfriend, as his zeal for company dwindled somewhat at my appearance from the bar), and then stumbled across the Christmas markets. The Christmas markets were actually really beautiful, and seeing as the Christmas markets are STILL not present in Dam Square in Amsterdam, it was my first experience of feeling a little bit Christmasy this year. We drank deeeelicious Gluhwein, burning our frozen fingers in the process, listened to some great buskers, and wandered around the pretty lights. After stopping in a shop for a flugel, we had dinner in a nice restaurant and proceeded to enjoy the cheap-ish, nice beer into the night.
The next day we were at a loss at what to do. We hadn’t looked into touristy activities, and to be honest, I wasn’t really bothered about that stuff anyway. Perusing the hotel’s many brochures and leaflets we found a flyer for Mini-Europe, which is quite literally a park filled with miniature sculptures of Europe. It sounded lame to me, but cold and with nothing to do, we decided to go. Surprisingly it was really fun, if not absolutely ridiculous, but we got some nice pictures of our wintery mini Eurotrip… Eurotrip over, we had some frites and headed home.
So, my spontaneous trip to Belgium? Meh. It was alright. A solid 6/10.
There was recently a discussion on #TTOT about spontaneous trips versus planned trips. It seemed the participants were torn… Spontaneous trips can be incredible, but a planned trip often means that all of the stress and hassle involved in any kind of travel is almost eradicated. My conclusion? Everybody needs a bit of spontaneity in their life. These trips can blow your mind as my Barcelona trip did, they can utterly disappoint you as my first Berlin trip did, or they can just be pretty damn average, as I found in Brussels. But the point is that often it’s not whether the trip is spontaneous or has been planned for a year… it kind of all boils down to the place that you’re going. Maybe Belgium is just pretty ‘meh’ after all. (Don’t hate me, Belgians!)