It’s been a long while since I updated this, and it’s about time that I finally explain what happened in Brussels. But to start, I went from Heidelberg to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg.
Luxembourg was only a day trip – but thankfully, I had a pretty full day there. The bus from Heidelberg to Luxembourg wasn’t long at all – surprisingly short, in fact – and it dropped us right in the center of Luxembourg City. From the train/bus station, I hit the ground running, at first to the supermarket so I could get some food to eat for the day and the day after. After picking up food, I went to the old part of town (and the more scenic part, I’d say). It was very green, old, and hilly, but quite picturesque and quiet.
Now, despite my short time in Luxembourg, I really, really liked it. It was incredibly quiet and peaceful – I don’t think I saw a single tourist – and the sound of nature far outweighed the sound of people talking. It was incredibly serene and a really well-spent day. I ate my breakfast-lunch combo thing and headed to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Bock Casemates of Luxembourg City. Essentially, they used to be part of a castle/fortress complex which was destroyed in the late 19th Century, but it was essentially an underground city built into the rock (as seen in the far left of the picture above). There were shops, armories, etc. and the military used it as a sort of marketplace/living area for years – it dated back to the 17th Century. In World War II, the Bock Casemates were used as shelter for Luxembourgers in bombing raids, saving tens of thousands of lives.
When I finally trekked up to the top of what used to be the fortress/the entrance to the underground Casemates, I was being charged quite a bit to get in, since they wouldn’t accept my ISIC card since it had expired once I left Salzburg. I explained that I was just a student travelling around, and after a little discussion with the guy selling tickets, I was allowed in on a student discount. The casemates were pretty cool, albeit expensive – around 12 Euros if I remember correctly, but not as much with the student discount. The price wasn’t exactly surprising – Luxembourg is INCREDIBLY wealthy, especially for such a small country, and it was used as a tax haven for years, up until around the late 2000s.
Anyways, back to Bock.
Being in the Casemates was eerie, to say the least. Dead quiet, minus your own footsteps. The Casemates extended for quite a while and got pitch black in some areas, so you really had to navigate by touch – which could definitely be dangerous, as the entire thing is uneven and rocky.
After the Castle and the Casemates ruins, I headed further uphill, to the new part of town. Even for as stunning as the Old Town was, the New Town was quite breathtaking as well. The architecture in the city was quite cool, and I even got to see the Duke’s Palace – Luxembourg is still a Duchy, and it’s the last remaining Duchy in the world!
I wandered around some more, and ended up back down at the Old Town again, but this time closer to the river:
I ended up finding my way into a tunnel built into the side of the mountain, which ended up being an art gallery that one could walk through for free. There was an elevator that took you up to the top of the mountain, and I ended up meeting some teenagers who sounded like Americans, and I asked them where they were from. Well, turns out, they weren’t from America after all – one was from Sweden and the other was Danish, but their American-English accents were impeccable. I mean, so good that I thought they were American. I was blown away and they laughed when I told them I thought they were Americans, and they explained that they went to some international school which is how they knew each other.
From there, I wandered around some more, but it started to get dark, so I headed back to the train station so I could charge up and get on my next train – one to Arlon, Belgium, and then another to Brussels.
The train from Luxembourg to Arlon, Belgium was meant to come in at midnight – and it did. I was the only person on the train – no, not an exaggeration (I was literally the only person on the train, minus the ticket checker). I took a video of it on Snapchat but forgot to save it unfortunately. I think it was just because it was late and it was only a 30 minute train ride, so no one was on. I was supposed to board the next train at around 4:50, so my original plan was to sleep in the train station, as I’d done in Austria – if you have a Eurail Pass or a ticket for a train, generally they let you do that.
However, I was pretty upset when the train entered and the train station was locked and closed for the night. I would have slept in the train, but that was also closed, minus it being in the station. As the workers on the train left, I was the only person in the station, and it was 50 degrees out and I’d mailed all of my winter clothes home, so I was freezing, to say the least. There was nowhere for me to sit or sleep minus a bench outside, and it was FREEZING cold, so I just bundled up and tried not to use my phone so it wouldn’t die before I got to Brussels. I ended up finding a hotel nearby, which I went to see if it was open (dumb decision, because hotels aren’t open at 2 am for reception apparently) and stumbled into the only person I saw in my entire time in Arlon – a drunk student carrying a six pack. I thought about asking him if I could get a place to stay but decided that was WAY too sketch for me, so I just went back to the station and bundled up. Needless to say, it wasn’t comfortable, and I didn’t get any sleep the entire night.
When the train finally opened up in the morning, I was (obviously) the first person in. I couldn’t feel my hands and I was absolutely miserable, but the 3 hours on the train to Brussels was like the light at the end of the tunnel – 3 hours to sleep!
I finally got into Brussels, around 8, and I couldn’t check in until 3 pm. So I went to the hostel – MEININGER Brussels (highly recommend, minus the location – I’ll explain later) and explained my situation, and they let me sleep in the lobby. I ended up uploading photos and running laundry while I waited, and a nice Australian girl offered me cookies, but I declined and we talked for a little while, then she went back to reading.
When I finally checked into my room, I immediately fell asleep (of course) and woke up when one of my roommates, a Ukrainian guy around my age, named Kryshtopenko. He was a really cool guy – we talked for awhile as I was writing and uploading for a blog post, and we decided we would go out in the evening – he had been in Brussels for a few days and recommended Delirium Café – a bar with over 3000 beers from around the world (the largest collection of beers in the world), and multiple floors and a basement, each dedicated to different types of beers.
When we went to Delirium, I was told that I had to try two beers in particular – a cactus beer and a cherry beer – the Floris Cactus and the Delirium Red. The Floris Cactus was green – photo included for proof. It was really tasty – sweet with a little sour – and low ABV, so it seemed more like a juice than anything. It really made me want to just buy cactus juice, because it was DELICIOUS.
After Delirium, we walked around for a while and saw Het Zinneke – the dog version of Manneken Pis (a statue of a peeing boy that gets dressed up throughout the year).
We talked about our lives at home, and he told me all about living in Ukraine – he was from the Donetsk region, which was directly at the frontlines of the conflict with Russia. He mentioned that there were often more tanks on the roads than cars, and that explosions could either signal fireworks or artillery barrages. He had moved to the Odessa region to escape the violence, but I found it interesting when he said he didn’t harbor any ill-will to the Russians. He explained that, in Lviv (where I was in Ukraine), there was very much anti-Russian sentiment and there was a push for Ukrainization of the language and society, whereas on the eastern side it wasn’t so prevalent. We talked about Ukrainian politics and his work – he does computer programming & IT stuff, which I found really interesting. We talked for quite a while and he told me all about life in Ukraine and what he was doing in Belgium – he was there to visit his sister, who was studying out there.
After that, we headed back to the hostel and I headed to sleep.
On the second day in Brussels, I started off my morning by heading to get a Belgian waffle. I ended up getting a waffle filled with white chocolate (mmmm) and proceeded to wander around town, to different plazas. I ended up calling my brother and it was really nice to talk to him for a long time, since I hadn’t seen him since December.
Afterwards, I went up to the top of town, and went by an art gallery and sculpture museum, up to the palace at the top of the city.
As the day wore on, I went back into the main part of Brussels to check it out and get some Belgian chocolate. I ended up getting a really good truffle with white chocolate and filled with milk chocolate mousse, then went to get dinner and another waffle.
Not gonna lie, one of my favorite things about Brussels was the food and the drink. But my least favorite part was what happened AFTER the waffle.
Now, my hostel was a short 10 minute walk away from the place I ate. Not bad, I thought. Just cross a bridge, walk a couple hundred feet, and you’re there.
Normally, I keep my debit card (and even my phone) in my money pouch, which goes in my pants so no one grabs it, but I figured since I was so close it wouldn’t be an issue.
Right when I was close to my hostel, this guy came up and asked me for directions to the train station. I told him, and he asked where I was from, then told me he was from Algeria. He did this like dance-thing and bumped my leg, and I didn’t think much of it until I was walking away, and I reached for my wallet, complete with debit card, residence permit, room key, etc. etc. etc. Gone.
I asked a group of teens nearby if they saw where he went, and they hadn’t seen. I then went up to a pair of old men, who didn’t speak English. I asked in German, they didn’t speak in German. I said the one word I remembered in French “mon argent” (my money) and motioned it being taken out of my pocket, and they definitely understood what I meant, and they pointed down a side street. I ran down the street and couldn’t find the guy, so I kept running around this neighborhood for quite a while, with no luck. A Belgian girl, probably my age, saw me running and ran after me and asked what was wrong. I explained what had happened and she gave me a TON of advice – she had had everything, including her passport, stolen in Brazil. I was on the verge of a breakdown and her reassurance was SO comforting, and she told me where to go to the police station & what to do, then gave me a hug. It was such a meaningful gesture and I definitely won’t forget her, although I wish I could have thanked her again for that. So after that, I went back to my hostel, told a group of Belgian teens sitting outside what had happened, and they all went to look around the neighborhood for a dropped wallet of mine. Unfortunately they couldn’t find it, but one of them let me back into the hostel, and I got a new room key after explaining to the staff what had happened. Then I went to the police station, called my parents, and filled out a police report (something I’d never had to do prior to that!). The police explained that it was good that I didn’t find the guy – going back to the location of my hostel (which I brought up briefly earlier), this neighborhood, Molembeek Saint-Jean, is one of the worst in Europe. All of the recent terror attacks in Europe – Nice, Paris, Belgium, Berlin, etc. – stemmed from this neighborhood. One of my Belgian friends said that she and other Belgians generally try to avoid that neighborhood if possible. I was frustrated, because they said the likelihood of getting my stuff back was pretty small, the police said – they said that since I didn’t have cash and I’d frozen my card by that point, that the guy would have probably just thrown it into the river or the trash. (Still I secretly hope that someday someone will mail it to me, but I know it won’t happen). The police officers were incredibly kind and helpful, and they gave me the resources for the embassy, so I planned to go to the embassy the next day. I got back to the hostel and my Brazilian roommate – another really nice guy – comforted me and helped ease my nerves. Still, the most frustrating part of all of this was that it was at the very end of my trip, when I hadn’t booked hostels for the next few days and I would have to go back to the UK without a residence permit to prove I was living in Europe legally. I mean, I’d lost my debit card, gotten stranded in more than a few cities, had trains, buses, etc. break down (even planes have issues right before takeoff), and then the week before I leave, everything got stolen.
Another day went by, uneventfully – I was supposed to be going to Ghent or Brugges (well, both actually) but couldn’t get to either, so I spent the day wandering around Brussels.
The next morning, I went to nearby businesses (Cowboy namely) and asked if they had caught anything on CCTV footage. The other businesses didn’t have CCTV, except for Cowboy, but unfortunately they hadn’t installed the software because they had just gotten the cameras themselves installed. All of the businesses I talked to were incredibly kind and reassuring and I thanked them profusely for their encouragement.
I then headed to the US Embassy in Brussels – they didn’t help AT ALL. The State Department said that for citizens abroad in need of emergency financial assistance from home, wire transfers would be INSTANTANEOUS, as compared to Western Union’s 3-day transfer. So we sent money through the embassy, but when I went to the embassy, they said they didn’t have it – essentially, a bunch of bureaucratic stuff was blocking it, and there were cables that needed to be sent and received, paperwork that needed to be filled out, etc., and I couldn’t even get into the embassy in the first place. I was SO frustrated, and the lady on the phone only made it worse – when I called to make an appointment, I told her that I’d had all of my money stolen and we had sent money through the embassy, she (very rudely, I might add) said “Why are you calling and not doing a regular wire transfer?” I told her the State Department’s website said it was instant, and I even read off the section of the website that said it, and she essentially said no, that’s not how it works. Furthermore, my debit card wasn’t going to be shipped out because Wells Fargo wouldn’t allow it, leaving me with no cash and no debit card for the next 9 days.
THANKFULLY, due to my parents’ quick thinking and the help of Senator Shannon Grove, all worked out. With the embassy’s lack of help, I was incredibly frustrated – however, my mom found a same-day Western Union transfer place (the only one in the city), which was in the train station, so I ended up getting wired enough money to last me the rest of my trip. Meanwhile, Senator Grove heard about my story and called House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, and then the Vice President of Wells Fargo, who sent an expedited card to Amsterdam – I was able to get to Amsterdam with my Eurail Pass, and had already paid the deposit for my hostel, so I just had to pay with the cash that was wired to me when I got there.
Once the cash was wired to me in Brussels, though, the first thing I wanted to do was to eat, since I hadn’t eaten for the previous day or that entire day (and this was around 7 pm ish). So I went to get – what else – Belgian fries.
Now, I’m not one for sauce drenching my fries. But the sauce at the place I went (Fritland) was just SO GOOD. They offered a ton of variety, but I got the Brazilian sauce and the house sauce. It was kinda a sweet-spicy mix and it ended up being a lot of food – so much so that I couldn’t even finish, but the price for the amount of food was actually really good, especially in an expensive city like Brussels.
After eating, I went to go buy a thank you gift for Senator Grove – a little paperweight with the Grand Place in glass.
Then I headed back to the hostel to go to sleep, and the next day I was off to Amsterdam.
I arrived in Amsterdam in the afternoon – I headed to my hostel, which was around 20 minutes outside of town, but a direct train to town – and checked in. I stayed at the Via Amsterdam – for some reason, the reviews allude to some rude staff and aren’t the greatest, but the staff was INCREDIBLY helpful and friendly. I’m not sure if the reviews were old – it doesn’t rate reviews that were written under 6 months ago – but if that’s the case, the staff has definitely undergone a change, because the staff was super nice and the amenities were good. Honestly, despite the location out of town, it was one of my favorite hostels I stayed at! The hostel was also in a college-town area of the suburbs – it reminded me a lot of UC Davis/the Davis area
I ended up heading back into town and buying a 3 day transport pass. A little expensive, but definitely saved me money on how many times I took public transportation.
I didn’t end up taking a ton of photos in Amsterdam, but I took a few near the train station that evening.
I wandered to go get some food, from a cheap little fast food place called FEBO. FEBO is interesting because the food is all cooked in the back and placed in a little container, and there are tons of these containers built into the wall. They’re all organized by the food you want – so if you want a burger, there’s a line of hot burgers all down the wall, and you just put in your money and it opens up the container, and you take your food. It’s really fast (and really efficient), and I ended up getting a cheese soufflé – really tasty, hot, and CHEAP!
I wandered around the city a little bit more – I forgot how much I loved Amsterdam – and had a really nice, quiet night. The one thing I don’t like about the city is how BAD it smells in certain areas. But otherwise, it’s a gorgeous city!
In the morning, I woke up bright and early to HOPEFULLY get tickets to the Anne Frank House – I hadn’t been able to go when I was in Amsterdam the year prior, and I knew you had to buy the tickets around 6 months in advance, but they also sell a portion of the tickets the day of. I checked the clock, had my NEW(!) debit card ready, and literally the second it turned 8:00, I refreshed my page, and ended up getting one of the coveted tickets that are sold the day of! And I was glad – by the time it was 8:00:15, they were sold out.
I headed to the Anne Frank House, giddy that I was going to FINALLY be able to see it. I wandered around town, as my tour wasn’t until 1:00, and ended up hanging out in front of the Anne Frank House for awhile. I ended up hearing two girls that were on the same time as mine asking where the entrance was, so I told them where it was, and we ended up talking. Turns out, they’re from Clonakilty, Ireland, and their names are Niamh (pronounced Nee-evh) and Aideen. We ended up talking for quite awhile and when we went in for the tour, we ended up sticking together for the entirety of the tour.
But the Anne Frank House was absolutely incredible. It’s hard to think that an entire family lived in such a small, cramped space for YEARS without being able to exit, even to see sunlight (minus through the small window in the attic). It broke my heart to see some of the artifacts – the pictures on Anne’s bedroom wall, the items used to conceal everything, the overall cramped-ness of the living space which must have been suffocating to anyone. Now, I hadn’t read Anne Frank’s Diary – I had heard bits and pieces and had seen a play regarding it, but hadn’t read the full thing through – but it was interesting to be in the museum, because lots of the quotes in the diary itself (written in Dutch) were understandable with a fairly limited understanding of German. Being able to read the ACTUAL diary – well, bits of it, at least – was SO fascinating. The Anne Frank House definitely reminded me just how lucky we have it today, and of all of the things we take for granted on a daily basis. It was an incredible experience, and I would love to do it again – the only gripe I had with it was how many rude people were in the house, disrespecting it and the others around them (essentially, due to the high demand, the house is shoulder-to-shoulder in almost every spot). But there’s not much you can change about that, so it’s not a big deal.
After the Anne Frank House, the Irish girls invited me to grab some food with them, so we went out for ice cream and fries. We hung out for a long while and I got to learn a lot of really interesting things about their lives and life in Ireland, and it ended up being a totally fulfilling day – totally relieving me of the anger I’d felt from having my stuff stolen in Brussels.
Afterwards, we all went back to our individual hostels – they insisted I switch hostels and add another day in Amsterdam so we could hang out longer, but I ended up not doing that – and we got some rest. When I woke up, we arranged to meet up again, so I went and grabbed a quick bite to eat and met them at an Irish pub called Sláinte.
We ended up going to a variety of places, none of which really felt comfortable, until we settled on a little hole-in-the-wall bar and ended up meeting a bunch of more Irish people! They were flipping out because they said I looked exactly like one of their friends, so they showed me a picture of him, and I can’t say they were wrong – we looked pretty similar.
We ended up hanging out for HOURS – I didn’t get back to my hostel until early in the morning, only a few hours until I had to LEAVE.
Unfortunately I don’t remember the guy’s name – I wrote it down for the blog post, but it got deleted from my phone unfortunately. Anyways – excluding him, from left, it’s me, Niamh, and Aideen!
In the morning, I woke up pretty early to head to the train station to get my reservation for the train to Paris. Unfortunately, all of the trains for the day were booked, since students were out for summer and the Amsterdam to Paris line is PACKED, so I had to do some begging to get a reservation, which I ended up getting, just on a different route.
And with that, I was off to Paris!
Unfortunately, the next blog post won’t have too many photos, since WordPress keeps crashing on my laptop, so I can only include photos from my phone. Hopefully I can make Taiwan work since I can do that one on my desktop.
That’s all for now! Apologies for how late this blog post is!
Mat Léift vu Lëtzebuerg/Avec amour de Bruxelles/Met liefde uit Amsterdam,