February 2nd, 2015:
Wow, it’s already February… holy crap the first month of the year went fast!
Other than all the time I spent in Portugal over the holidays, the main purpose of my trip to Europe was to hang out with my wife, Felicia, who is currently in graduate school in London. As you can imagine, after a hugely busy 2014 wedding season and not seeing her for 3 months the last thing I wanted to do was carry around my big “work cameras” (Canon 5D3‘s) while hanging out with her and exploring these cities. I really just wanted to relax, catch up with her and maybe take a few pictures in the process. That said, I brought along my newest toy and one if my favorite cameras I have ever owned, the Fuji X100T.
All the images in this post are created with that camera. While the x100T does have some limitations, the fact that it is super light (just under 1lb) and the image quality is damn nice, combines to make a near perfect little travel camera for daily use. If the primary purpose of an outing is not a photoshoot (or even if it is), this is just the thing to bring along – small, easy to use, beautiful image quality and always there when you need it. I can’t rant enough about this piece of gear.
Anyhow, here are a few pictures from our meanderings in London and Antwerp.
Me and my Fuji X100T on Christmas day, drinking a pint.
My day started this morning at 3 am when the guy sleeping above me decided he should begin snorring with wild abandon, and destroy any semblance of a decents night sleep for the rest of us in the room. I kicked his bed a few times, but to no avail, the rest of the night was just a series of falling asleep and waking up to him snorring. To top the night off, someone had turned the radiator all the way up so the room was so hot I was nearly sweating. When I finally rolled out of bed at 9:30 this morning, still groggy and missing my free breakfast for the second day in a row (they stop serving at 9), and when I glanced out the window what did I see? Rain, and lots of it. Ok, I thought, it’ll clear up in a couple of hours, just like it has been for the last few days. No big thing. Anyhow I don’t really have any plans for the day.
I started working on some writing and photo editing on my computer for a couple of hours, sitting on the veranda while watching it rain and hoping it clears up. After a while the rain got slightly lighter and I made a dash to the internet cafe around the corner to get everything uploaded and published online. At this point I was still hoping that the day would turn out nice (or at least less wet), there was a chance, maybe.
Around noon I went back over to the hostel to put away my computer and see what was going on. Liam and Dan were about to head out through the rain to see Mannekan Pis (dress as a Boy Scout today) and some statue of Jesus laying on his side, both within 100 meters of each other but about a kilometer from the hostel. I had seen these sights before, but I had to do something with my day, and besides I was hungry and it was a good way to find some lunch. After our walk through the rain, the Brits were less than impressed with the statues and just settled on finding lunch with me. Lunch and a beer later, it was still raining and we were thinking about going to the movies to fill this dreary afternoon unfortunately nothing in English started until seven. We decided to go back to the hostel and possibly make it back to the cinema this evening.
As soon as I was back, the disturbed night of sleep I had last night hit me and I crashed for a few hours. When I woke up, it was still raining. I got up and showered, and decided to wake up some people at home with phone calls because I still had my phone card with like 150 minutes and I am leaving for Ireland tomorrow and this card won’t work there. I woke Joanna up with my call and she got me caught up on her life and all the Islands gossip and I told her some stories about the World Tour so far. We talked for about 45 minutes then she had to get ready for her day and I had to get the Brits so we could go down to town through the rain and get a movie. We made it through the rain and watched The Constant Gardener.
After the film we went on a waffle hunt, it was Dans last day in Belgium, he hadn’t had one yet and knew his life would never be the same if he missed out on this experience . We meandered the streets in the rain for a few blocks and found a little shop selling waffles, we both ordered waffles covered in chocolate, and started our walk home through the downpour. I made it back to the hostel a little after 10 and wasn’t really in the mood to drink (everyone gasp!), so I read for a little while and called it an early night. At least the snorring guy had left our room, even if the rain never let up for the whole day.
I know everyone swears by Amsterdam for being the party city of Europe, but unfortunately my drug of choice isn’t weed. I love my drinking and I don’t think I could have settled in a better city for my habit than Brussels, it is easily the beer capital of Europe. Most of you may probably think of Germany as soon as beer comes to mind, but they are known for quanity (It’s good I won’t lie) not quality, if you want the best beers in Europe you have to head to Belgium. I have so many choices it’s slightly dangerous, yet so tasty.
I woke up this morning and gathered my camera to go out to take some pictures, it was too bad that it was overcast and gray and I only found a few thing to take any pictures of, like the Mannekan Pis (See Jo’s comment yesterday for a history lesson). But I did go in the museum and learned all about the history of Brussels, how the city was founded, and saw many of the costumes of the Mannekin Pis (which they always dress up as hundreds of things and have fun with). No pictures unfortunately because the museum wouldn’t allow it. Rain looked like it was on the horizon, so I just grabbed a panini and headed off back towards the hostel.
After reading for a while (this months National Geographic, which I bought in the airport when I left Prague) and watching the hail, I got to talking with Dan and Liam. We decided to head out and have dinner then go back over to Delirium (same bar as last night) for a few more random rounds of beer. For dinner I had a bowl of mussels and fries (a Brussels specialty), and mentally prepared myself for another night of drinking. When we arrived at the bar it was less crowded than the night before, most likely because it was Sunday, and our first round only took 15 minutes to get.
The hours of the night moved quickly and before I knew it I was chatting up all sorts of girls and getting them to pose for me. Some of the young ladies I have pictures of I don’t even really remember talking to. After about twenty minutes away from our table I take a glance back and what do I see? Liam (21) and Dan (20) hitting on these two “healthier” women (30 and 32) from New York who came complete with the “We’d fuck them up” (actual quote) attitude. I left the boys to there own vices for a while and found a table of hot Finish girls to talk to for a while. After a while I realized I was too drunk to carry on any sort of decent conversation, so I set a new goal of trying to save the boys so we could head off and get a kebab and stagger back to the hostel.
I started my day with a lack of sleep but still gathered enough will to take a walk all over the old town city center and try to see some of the sights. I started in the main square and worked my way out trying to set myself straight in this city. A few hours of this and I came across an internet cafe where I could upload the last couple of entries and check my email. From there I was near one of Brussels main sights, a foot and half tall statue of a child pissing. I am not really sure why its so amazing, but everyone wanted a picture and they sell replicas all over town, so there must be a great story behind it. Maybe tomorrow I’ll go to the museum and try to find out the history about it.
Around two in the afternoon, after I had enjoyed a cup of Belguim hot chocolate in a cafe, I headed back towards the hostel for a little siesta. A few hours of sleep worked wonders and when I woke I remembered it was dad’s birthday and I went off to find a phone card to call him. I bought a 5 euro card, which in most countries is about 20 minutes, but after I entered my pin number the automated woman told me I have 250 minutes to the U.S. Score! But it means now I have to call everyone I know because I just can. I had great conversation with Dad about his birthday party (his 50th) he was setting up, and how I’ve been doing.
I was able to talk two british guys (Dan and Liam) in my room into going with me to the bar I was at last night to try some more of the Belguim beer selection. When we got there, the bar was pack (I forgot it was Saturday) and we had to wait for 15 minutes for our first round, which I just ordered six random beers (2 each) hoping to have a varied selection of what they were offering. With 2000+ choices how am I to know where to start, I’ll just trust the bartender to choose well. Most of the beers we got were around 9%-11% alcohol, so it was closer to the alcohol content of wine than beer, but it was incredibly tasty. Since I had bought the first round of two beers each, Liam and Dan just naturally assumed we each would buy the same amount and get slightly drunk (well more than just slightly). The only bummer today was that my trial version of Microsoft Office expired and I need a 25 character password (hint,hint) or my grammer and spelling will begin to suffer as I write everything on wordpad.
So hopeful that I would be able to stay for the Holiday weekend in Amsterdam, first thing in the morning (8:30 or so) I went to reception and hoped for a cancellation. When I got to the desk there were four other Japanese kids that had the same idea as I. Unfortunately there was no room for any of us and I just decided to pack my bag and head on over to the train station and pick at random where to go.
A side note, about three weeks ago I had found a ticket on Ryan Air for $1.99 plus tax ($24) from Brussels to Dublin for May 2nd and since I had so much fun in Ireland last time I went (in Feb. 2005 with Francisco) I decided I couldn’t pass up such a great flight and snatched up the ticket. So it wasn’t completely random the direction I was headed, but I didn’t really have the intention to spend four nights in Brussels before Ireland but that looked like what was going to happen. Lonely Planet-less I jumped the train to Brussels hoping I could find some trouble. (Lonely Planet-less is referring to the fact that I have absolutely no information about the city I was headed, not even a simple map.)
Two hours later, just outside of Brussels the conductor comes around to check our tickets. He looks at mine and says “You need a supplement, this ticket is for the regular trains and this is a private train line”
Great, I thought.“How Much?”
Freakin A! I had already paid thirty just for my regular ticket.
I shelled out the extra $22 and Thought about the good old days last month when I could cross half of Eastern Europe for the same price a supplement to the train ticket in the west. This part of the world is hurting my budget. I arrived in Brussels and started looking around for tourist information.
I took a look around for similarly lost looking backpackers that might have a clue. Nope. Damn.
Found a little internet café in the train station and searched for a hostel in Brussels and got directions. Sweet, I was on my way.
Eight metro stops later I was checked in and had paid for four nights hoping I would find stuff to do in this city for that much time. It doesn’t really have the tourist vibe that cities like Amsterdam, Prague, and Krakow have. Maybe it’s just waiting to be discovered. I took a walk through the park nearby and headed into the old town section (by sheer dumb luck, still no map) and was astounded by what I found. Waffles! On every corner, no wonder I can’t stay skinny. I had been here before for two nights in 2001, but don’t really recall much of those few days and am already slightly impressed with the city. I mean, Waffles! After my walk and dinner of Panini and waffles, I headed back to my hostel and ordered a beer. “What kind?” the bartender asked.
“The darkest you have.” He gave me a smile and pulled out a bottle “made by the monks” that was 9.2% alcohol. Monks sure are nice. After a couple of those I was talking with a Californian girl (Nor. Cal.) who was on a school break from Spain. It was around 9pm now and we decided to go out and see the Brussels night life. She knew of a bar where she had spent most of the day which is in the Guinness book of World Records for the most beers offered in the world. 2004 beers as of two years ago, but the bartender said it was currently around 2200 beers, and he had only tried 900 of them. I didn’t know where to start, I wish Josh was with me for support in this endeavor. I had three different beers, all spectacular, and we headed out to go dancing. I promised myself I would remember where the bar is since I have four days here in Brussels. We dance for a couple of hours to a shitty DJ, and grabbed a cab back to the hostel.
I had my doubts about this city but it looks like I’ll be able to fill my days with something. Most likely Waffles, Beer, and twenty year old Californian girls although that one (can’t remember her name) leaves in the morning so I’ll have to find some more.