Hello again! Before you continue reading, please note that we followed all government guidelines during our trip. Stay home and live vicariously through this blog post (screen licking optional).
Four hours from Bielefeld is Brussels, the capital of Europe, where we spent a weekend exploring the city.
A new type of travel
Despite the changes to travel (you know why), everything seemed to be working in our favor. The train wasn’t crowded or overbooked, hotels were cheap, and the weather in Brussels was unusually sunny. With our birkenstocks and facemasks, we were ready to go.
Brussels is the second most multicultural country in the world with 180 different nationalities. 62 percent of residents are foreign born, which makes walking the streets a game of guess-that-language. It is vibrant, friendly, and relaxed–not really what I was expecting from the seat of the European Union.
Navigating the city is easy, although a little overwhelming. Brussels is a mishmash of old and new with wide streets full of traffic winding around the city like a modern day moat. Within the city center, some streets are so narrow they would barely pass as back alleyways. Then shops line these same narrow streets with cafe tables and umbrellas. Restaurant workers stand out front and hawk their menu to passersby, waving to open tables, passing out menus, and shouting specials. And if you don’t understand what they’re saying, just wait a couple seconds to hear it all again in a new language.
The best souvenirs are the ones you can eat!
We spent the weekend walking and eating and doing both at the same time. We took a chocolate walking tour through the city, learning about the history of Belgian chocolate and how Brussels became the birthplace of truffles, nougats, and anything covered in chocolatey goodness (including waffles).
We washed our chocolate down with some not-so-old-fashioned Belgian beer. Belgium’s beer scene is rooted in tradition but over the last decade has seen a growth in the craft beer industry made famously popular in the US by – ironically – old school belgian beer (looking at you, New Belgium). The Brussels Beer Project was like stepping into a stateside craft brewery. We felt like we were back in the tasting rooms in Fort Collins.
We opted out of going to the beer and chocolate museums, and decided to get “cultured” at the House of European History. This museum is at the EU headquarters, and is free. It is a great history lesson about Europe and the development of the EU.
The museum was completely empty, and we had 5 floors of exhibits to explore by ourselves. To be honest, it’s awkward being the only people in a huge museum. We both felt like we were inconveniencing the people who worked there. But it was nice to get close to the exhibits and be able to look at things without being jostled by other people.
I enjoyed the museum and the exhibits which walked through ancient Europe to current day. It definitely woke me up and pulled the wool from my eyes in regards to my perception of the EU. Since moving to Europe, I have seen this place sort of as a utopia, the EU at the helm of an amazing government and society that provides so much for its people. But what I learned was that it was (and still is) an institution filled with strife, controversy, and major problems…just like everywhere else.
So…What was it really like traveling during a global pandemic?
I know you’ve been wondering.
Here’s the truth: Yes, it’s great that the EU is open and we can travel to certain places, but traveling during a global pandemic is stressful and not the best idea. We visited Hamburg right before the lockdown, and compared to this trip, it was totally different. There are less people on the trains or at the tourist attractions, and tickets and hotel rooms are cheaper. Yes, we felt safe; every place we had to register our name and address, things were cleaned, masks were mandatory, and temperatures were checked (we even brought our own thermometer).
But I don’t think it is worth it.
Travelling is already stressful enough. But now, you’re putting yourself and others at risk. I spent the trip checking the COVID-19 updates, double checking restrictions, and watching the numbers rise. We went to Belgium right at a time where the infection rates were growing and while we were there, a neighboring district was put on lockdown and all travellers returning to Germany were put into quarantine. In Bielefeld, the majority of new cases are from people returning from vacations abroad. I’d rather not be added to that list.
But I swear, if Germany cancels Weihnachtsmarkt, I am going to Scandinavia for Christmas.