Paris and Bruges and Brussels, Oh My!

Paris is unapologetic. She wears her heart on her sleeve. She twinkles and dances by the moonlight, pushes and begs in the light of day. She knows other cities, how they build themselves up, moulding into distinct personalities, black or white. She is the grey. She is the spectrum entire. She laughs in the rain, rejoices in the sun, cries when it pours, sweats in the heat. She is you. She is me. She breathes life into cold hearts. She is beautiful without trying, yet she tries hard. Sometimes, not always. She embraces her flaws and places the bad next to the good. She doesn’t scrub herself clean for travelers to deem her worthy for their lens. She embraces her dirty, her clean, she is the in-between. She looks you straight in the eye and dares you to tell her no. She dares you not to hide. She dares you to be who you are. Give them the good and give them the bad, she’ll exclaim, and to hell with those who can’t see that the imperfect falls perfectly into place. Paris. Paris. Paris is. Paris is everything.

— excerpt from “From London to Paris on Week Three”

It’s been over two years since my first visit to the City of Lights, and it is just as beautiful as I remember.

Perhaps even more so — it was the middle of winter when I last came and the difference the change in seasons makes is unbelievable.

On Monday, I said a rushed goodbye to my family at the Madrid airport and took a cab to the train station to meet Charlotte in Paris. After spending a beautifully perfect week together road tripping around Galicia, it was hard to leave them behind. For the first time, I was able to explore the place my dad’s family came from and even meet most of them for the first time. As excited as I was about backpacking around Europe for two weeks, it was still a bittersweet goodbye.

I took two trains from Madrid to Barcelona to Paris and met up with Charlotte at the station. We made our way to the Airbnb we had booked nearby and crashed almost as soon as we arrived. We were both exhausted and wanted to wake up early and take full advantage of our day in Paris.

Before all that though, we had to go back to the train station early in the morning and book our tickets for the next few trips. We had decided to travel using the Eurail Global Pass, and we were still figuring it out how the whole thing worked.

From my end, it had been stressful enough trying to figure out how to get to Paris from Madrid. We knew some trains required reservations but we hadn’t realized how complicated it could get and how much extra it would cost. The Eurail Pass is pretty great if you look at it as a discount pass rather than a one-size-fits-all ticket to anywhere (which is basically how it’s advertised).

After waiting in line for an hour and then another hour with the attendant, we finally had at least the next half of our trip booked. By then it was already noon and we were starving so we took the metro to the Notre Dame Cathedral and grabbed lunch in a little restaurant near the Seine.

It had been a cloudy morning but by the time we finished eating, the clouds had all but disappeared and the sun was shining brightly as we walked to Notre Dame and then down the Seine all the way to the Lock Bridge and the Louvre.

It was sad to see most of the Lock Bridge removed but at least there was still some of it left on the sides of the bank. We didn’t want to spend such a beautiful day inside so we took the standard touristy pictures outside the Louvre and kept walking down the gardens all the way to the original Laduree where we enjoyed some tea and pastries and macarons.

We kept walking all the way down the Champs-élysées, window shopping as we went until we reached another Laduree location. I had been inside this one last time I came and wanted to show Charlotte the insane selection they had so we went in to see if we could pick up a couple more macarons and came out with a box of 16. Because why not.

We reached the Arc de Triomphe and went all the way up to see the view. Then we walked all the way to the Eiffel Tower, stopping at a mini-mart on the way to pick up some wine, arriving just as the sun was setting. After a couple thousand pictures, we plopped ourselves down and enjoyed our wine and macarons watching the sun go down and the evening set behind the Eiffel Tower.

It was the perfect ending to the day. We didn’t want to get back to the apartment too late so we began the long trek back along the Seine. Daylight seems to last forever in Europe. It was around 9pm when we started heading back and the sky was still pink and blue from twilight. We walked all the way back to where we had grabbed lunch earlier in the day and took a cab the rest of the way.

Who says you can’t do Paris in a day?

We were up before dawn the next morning to catch our 7am train to Brussels via Lille. My aunt’s friend, Ina, lives there, and we were so excited to stay at an actual house and relax a bit from the stress of staying in unknown places with unknown people.

While we waited for her to pick us up at the station, we went to book our tickets for the last half of our trip. It was such a relief to finally have everything confirmed and in our hands. By the time we met up with Ina, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders — now I could really start enjoying myself.

Ina has known my family for decades — she and my aunt were best friends in Venezuela, and she had been living in Brussels now for years so it was great to have someone show us around and tell us about the city.

She immediately recommended we spend the day in Bruges and she’d show us the important things in Brussels later. We’re so glad we took her up on the recommendation.

After dropping our things off, she took us to the train station and we hopped on a train to Bruges (free with our Eurail passes holla!) We grabbed lunch at the main plaza by the Bell Tower, where I had the best mussels I have ever had in my life. After lunch we took a boat tour around the city — so worth it. It was another beautiful day and the city felt like a fairytale come alive.

We couldn’t leave without getting some authentic Belgium chocolate. During lunch we had looked up the best chocolate place in Bruges and had decided to check out a little place called Dumon Chocolate.

Now I am a chocaholic. And I can say, without hesitation, hands down, no contest, that was the best chocolate I have ever had in my life.

We got a little sampler box with about 15 pieces and sat outside trying each one out. I don’t even know how to explain this experience. Every single bite was a surprise. The most unbelievable combination of different flavors with types of chocolates… I even liked the caramel which I have never in my life enjoyed.

We ate about half and had to go back in to tell them just how much we loved it. We didn’t have enough money for another box but we picked four more pieces and added them to what we had left over to save for our train rides the next day.

We headed back to Brussles in the late evening, where Ina picked us up to show us around. It was 8pm but the sun hadn’t even set yet so we went to see the Grand Palace and the Mannekin Pis and the Atomium.

We ended the day at Cook & Book, which has to be one of my favorite things we’ve done by far. It’s a basically a bookstore combined with a comic store combined with a restaurant, set up in a half-circle around a plaza. I could have died and gone to heaven with all the books and the artsy decor. We had a late but delicious dinner and then headed back to Ina’s place.

Today we slept in and it was glorious. Our train to Berlin wasn’t until 2pm so after a quick shower, Ina took us to her favorite waffle place for a late breakfast where my life was forever changed. It was like my whole life I have had the wrong idea about how waffles should taste and I was finally shown the light.

Like Leslie Knope could never.
So thanks Belgium for forever ruining mussels, chocolate, and waffles for me.

We are now currently en route to Berlin via Koeln where we will be staying until Monday. After that, we’ll spend a day and a night in Amsterdam from where we’ll head to Budapest then Salzburg and finally Prague (suggestions / tips / advice always welcome!)

Only ten days left and so much to look forward to.

But for now it is time to enjoy the countryside go by and gear up for a weekend in Berlin with some good friends.

Until next time, au revoir!


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