Sunday, June 30, 2013

Brussels, Belgium → Milan, Italy

So, we wandered. We crossed the river and headed into town, with Delirium circled on a small map, and that's it. We passed a huge museum with banners for a Da Vinci exhibit (which was closed, which saddened both of us, as we were leaving very early the next day). We ended up on some cobblestone streets lined with shops and lots of people. And chocolate. Chocolate everywhere! We wandered into stores with giant displays of cookies and sweets, and more chocolate! We stopped in one place and I bought a couple marzipan chocolates, and a vegan chocolate bar, all of which were amazingly good.
Like John Malkovich in real life

And when we started walking again, we hit the end of the street which opened up into Le Grand Place. We hadn't been expecting this. We'd been walking through the narrow, crowded streets and it opened up into this square, and the buildings were gold, and the sun was casting golden light on everything, and we both jerked to a stop and gasped. It was so, so beautiful. And there is really no way to take a picture of it that can properly convey how awesome these buildings are, and how much space you suddenly have outside of the crooked alleyways, and how vast it looks, standing in the middle of it. It was really just lovely.

a small corner of the square

Apparently the square is relatively close to the peeing boy statue that everyone's obsessed with, but I had no idea it was anywhere near us until much, much later and miles and miles away from Belgium. So we took our awestruck selves out of the square and headed down some very small alleyways, all lined with tables, all full of people, creating narrow walkways where crowds of people were creeping through. The sun was setting, but the buildings being so close together, the lights were already on outside all the restaurants, and all the hosts stood outside proffering menus to passersby. It was fantastic. It was how I dreamed Europe. We turned a thin, sharp corner and almost walked right passed Delirium, until I looked up and saw their little elephant logo and proclaimed, "We're here!"
We walked into the ground floor and took a look at the menu, but nothing caught my eye. It also happened to be the floor with the American beers, so it didn't seem all that exciting. Until we went downstairs. Downstairs, the walls and ceiling were plastered in different beer trays, and there were display cases and posters everywhere. We headed over to look at the menu in this part of the bar and it was ridiculous. Passionfruit beer?! Chocolate beer?? They had Lambic (my favourite!) and a bunch of other fruity beers I wanted to try, but I had to get passionfruit. I have to get passionfruit anything.
It was freaking amaaaaazing.
Noah wanted to get something on tap and went with one of Delirium's beers, which was quite good, too. I was trying to decide on a second and realized I still had a chocolate bar in my bag. Naturally, having wanted to drink Belgian beer and eat Belgian chocolate, I realized I could do both AT THE SAME TIME. Obviously, chocolate beer should go good with chocolate chocolate, so I went with that. It was a good choice.

the 'yeah, it's chocolate beer, so what?' face

So, happily full of beer and chocolate, we headed back into the almost dark to finish up our wandering before going back to the hostel, and internet! I had figured I wouldn't have internet most of the trip, but wifi was dangerously easy to find in the UK. I stopped looking as hard once we left, but it was nice to know I could use it at the hostel. In the meantime, the sun was staying out until after ten, so we had plenty of time to wander. We ran into St. Catherine's church not too far away, which I fell in love with. It looked as if it had burned at some point. All the paint was peeling off the sides and plants were growing along the edges. I wanted to go inside so badly.

Langostas en todos lugares!

I also fell in love with these statues. There were four of them in different poses around the
 middle monument in the fountain. This guy was my favourite.

 It was getting dark, so we wandered around in search of food, which was an unsuccessful mission (why does everything close so early in Europe?!). In hopes of the 24 hour bar having something I could eat, we headed back to the hostel. It was pretty late at this point, but there were ridiculous amounts of people still up, wandering around the bar. I decided to be ambitious and put on some laundry because my one jacket that I had brought was starting to smell a little scary. It was really late, the washer took about 4 hours to go through a cycle, and we were leaving early in the morning, so obviously laundry was a good idea (sarcasm!).
In any case, we headed to the bar for wifi and drinks and food, but the wifi didn't work and the only thing I could eat was chips. Oh, well. At least they weren't salt and vinegar.
We got up super early and had their super classy breakfast - speculoos and toast!
Then it was time to head to the airport and Italy!!! I have wanted to got Italy for my entire life. I've been dreaming of it since I was a kid, so needless to say, I was pretty excited. It had been between Florence and Milan as a stopping point before the real destination, and Milan was cheaper, so it got chosen by default. Plus, there was only enough time to stay for a day or so, and when I go to Florence, I want to be able to spend a good chunk of time, to be able to see museums and explore a bit more. There was also the fact that when I was little and used to play Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? with my friend, we used to run into Milan and Singapore all the time, and wanted very badly to go to both.
The metro was supposed to go straight out toward the airport, so, backpacks in tow, that's where we headed. The metro stop had the most amazing art - flying people everywhere, headed toward a floating cloud. My mom came across similar art in London.

 The metro spit us out at a bus stop, and the little map we had in hand was completely useless. We had no idea what street we were on or what direction we needed to go, and all the signs nearby were horrendously uninformative. I did, however, know what number bus we needed to get us to the airport, and after much circle walking and frustrated mumbling, I braved up and walked up to one of the bus drivers, asked him in French where the 257 (or whatever) bus showed up. He looked at me like I was crazy, and I panicked. My French was terrible! I said it wrong! I insulted his mother! But he just waved a hand and said, 'Right here, at the blonde.' The blonde? Now I was confused. I repeated the number of the bus and he laughed at me and explained (and I actually understood) that all the bus areas were colour coded and we were actually in just the right spot, and that it should be coming soon. I was very relieved that the look was because he thought I was messing with him, and not because I was making no sense. So feeling rather pleased with myself, I walked off the bus just in time to find my bus arriving, and headed to the airport successfully!
The plane ride was relatively uneventful. Toward the end, a camera crew materialized and started filming a man across from me eating his airplane food. I watched them with detached interest as they zoomed in on him chewing over and over again for a half hour.
Holy shit, the Alps!

I found this to be much more interesting. I'm pretty sure I can't convey (and the pictures definitely can't) how awesome these mountains are. I had been my usual conked-out self the second I sat down on the plane, but halfway through the flight I opened my eyes and was digging around my bag trying to find something to eat, when I happened to notice a swath of white off in the distance. I squinted at it for a while, trying to figure out what it was without my glasses on, and finally realized - mountains. And not any mountains. The freaking Alps. They were beautiful, and dotted with lakes, little villages, and big, twisty rivers. I spent the rest of the flight pressed to the window just trying to take it all in. It wasn't too much longer until the plane touched down in Milan, and my brain turned into a broken record - "Oh my god, I'm in Italy. I'm in ITALY. I'M in Italy!!!!" It was kind of on repeat for about the first hour.
There was a convenient little shuttle bus that headed to the train station in the middle of town, and from there it was an quick subway ride to the hostel. I had really, very good hostel experiences this trip. They were all at least relatively clean, the people were usually  nice, they were generally in good areas. But Milan was the exception. This place was awful. It was far enough away from everything to be a pain to get to, the area was terrible, and the guys running the place were pretty shady. Walking in, they asked to see passports and I had the feeling I wasn't going to see it again if I handed it over.
They did give it back, though, and led us up to this room that was absolutely empty except for three very bare beds, and one nervous British guy in one corner. He sat up as we walked in, and the guys explained that this was our room, there were no lockers for our stuff (or any form of security for that matter), and we didn't get keys. If we all left the room, they'd lock the door, and if one of us came back (if?!), they'd let us in. There was one bathroom for the whole floor, and when they left, the Brit (who we soon learned was called Joe) informed us that there had only been two beds when he had arrived, and they'd asked him to move his bed so they could drag another one in from somewhere. Classy.
So we dumped our stuff and were getting to know our Milan roommate when the front desk guys returned and waved Joe over, out of the room. He had that schoolchild "oh no, I'm in trouble" look on his face as he walked out to see what the guy wanted. They stood just outside the door, speaking in hushed tones for a bit, and then Joe returned looking perplexed. He informed us that the guy had hurriedly, and in a whisper, explained that the bathroom was right here through this door, and that he could shower if he liked. Apparently we were not seen fit to have this information, since it was necessary to relay it to our roommate in a whisper. They must have believed we couldn't possibly be in cahoots yet, having just met. Unfortunately for them, we did figure out where the bathroom was, and that we could use it.
They did not, however, have towels, any  manner of soap, or a lock on the bathroom door. We hung out in the room for a good long while, discussing the various scenarios in which we were all murdered in our sleep and/or packed like sardines into the room as they just kept loading in more beds. It was also decided that at least an hour should be spent using the wifi (they did have wifi) to look up reviews of the hostel, which ranged so wildly from good to awful that the majority of them had to be fake. One said the guests were woken up repeatedly throughout the night and asked to move so that they could continue to bring more people in to sleep on the floor. Another said their "free" breakfast cost money and consisted of croissants with the consistency of burnt, microwaved plastic. All the bad reviews sounded frighteningly bad, and Joe was ridiculously hilarious in his descriptions of how our bad situation could actually be much worse (spiders!). He was traveling by train throughout Europe from England, and Milan was just a stop on his way to Germany. It also turned out that he was even more awful at figuring out where the hell he was going than I am, so his stories made me feel a little bit better about my inability to walk in the correct direction on the first try.
We finally decided we trusted him enough not to steal our shit and various electronics, and headed back to the metro to find the Duomo, which was the only thing (besides the Last Supper painting, which requires reservations made on the day of your birth) that I really had to see in Milan.
The metro was dingy and made me more nervous than any we'd yet been on, but very fast, which was a plus. And getting off at the Duomo stop, you literally walk up the stairs right into it, which was surprising, and convenient!
It was kind of breathtaking.

The amount of detail in these buildings is amazing.

The metro exit  let you out to one side of the Duomo, and the whole area opened up into a giant square, with a big arch framing a shopping area on one side and a giant statue in the middle, surrounded by lions. And everybody was (surprise!) climbing on the lions for photos, so naturally I had to, too. I'll take any chance to climb anything, though.
 I wanted to stay here all day. It was absolutely beautiful and I found myself just turning around and around to take everything in. Heading off to one side toward the row of gelato shops and souvenir stands, someone had dragged a piano out into the square, and a man was singing and playing while people danced around him in the sun.

Trying for some shade. That thing was not easy to climb up on!

lions and birds!
To be continued

1 comment:

  1. Just got caught up on your blogs - awesome!!! Looking forward to more xoxo