So after a brief travel hiatus to visit family and friends in the U.S., George and I decided to move to Prague. The reaction I've gotten from most has been, "Prague, eh? Cool. But... why?"
Yeah, a bit arbitrary, but there was some rhyme and reason to the decision: we wanted to go back to Europe, it's cheap, and there are jobs. I guess we're those make-impulsive-life-decisions-two-weeks-prior type of people, and it sounded good so we booked plane tickets and just rolled with it.
We just settled into an apartment in Žižkov after 3 weeks of being in transit. It started in Belgium:
Belgium was rad. George had been before, and he's somewhat of a Belgian beer connoisseur, so he got to flex his knowledge and teach me about beer and take me around to some pubs. We spent a night in Brussels, then took a train to Bruges for a night, then back to Brussels again before heading off to Prague.
Brussels: It's got a massive art scene and is the most ethnically diverse city I've ever seen, which makes it well suited as the capital of the European Union. It's part of both the French and Flemish communities, meaning there are two official languages -- Dutch and French -- and the city is the result of the combination of these two cultures. George and I spent our time meandering around, trying different foods (I listed my favs at the end) and checking out all the street art. We went and saw the infamous Manneken Pis (also known at the "peeing boy" fountain/sculpture), which was a bit underwhelming -- I was more stoked on the Invader (the French street artist) piece on the wall next to it.
Bruges (Brugge) is something out of a medieval romance movie: cobblestone roads, canals, market squares, massive towers... it's an absolute spectacle and would be my #1 recommendation when visiting Belgium. It's full of chocolatiers because it is, after all, Belgium and you can't pass through Belgium without indulging in some choco. Belgian chocolate does not disappoint, but you have to make sure that what you're buying is authentic -- there are only 8 shops in Bruges that actually hand-make their own chocolate; most of them are tourist traps with mass markups. I mean, all of it is good, but might as well get the real hand-crafted deal.
I took this ^ photo from the top of the Belfort tower, which I assume is the biggest tourist attraction (especially since it was featured in the Collin Farrell movie In Bruges); you have to climb 366 steps to the top, which it not as daunting as it sounds, and you're rewarded with a spectacular view of the city in all of its red-roofed splendor.
After our 1-nighter in Bruges, we headed back to Brussels for one last hoorah before shipping off to Prague. Our last day was a bit odd -- the city was suddenly flooded with police and military, which I guess happens from time to time due to terror threats; the district of Molenbeek has become sort-of a base for brainwashed jihadists (ISIS) and is home to the most homegrown terrorists in the E.U. I'm learning this is seemingly due to a dysfunctional government and a marginalized Muslim community poorly integrated into an already anomalous converging of cultures. I'd be curious to hear a Belgian perspective on the situation.
SO, city center full of military freaked us out a bit, so we were happy to head to the airport and get to our final destination. After a classically turbulent Ryanair flight, we landed in Prague and the 2-week hostel hop commenced...
To be continued.
Belgian food favs 😛🍴🇧🇪
Moules frites -- Mussels with fries: Belgium is famous for them. They're everywhere, reasonably priced, and delicious. They usually serve them steamed with garlic, shallots, and white wine.
Flemish stew (Carbonnade) -- My vegetarianism goes out the window when I travel to new places because I like to try the local cuisine. Flemish stew is the Belgian national dish, so I had to do it, and I had no regrets! Carbonnade is a hearty beef stew made with Belgian beer and caramelized onions. It's fantastic, and very filling.
Chicken fricassee vol-au-vent -- Dear GOD this is good (I'm a terrible vegetarian). You know chicken pot pie? This dish is the same idea, but a million times better: creamy chicken and mushroom bechamel sauce flowing out of a puff pastry. YASSSS!
Belgian fries -- Yes, they live up to the hype. The perfect fry: semi-thick, crispy on the outside, and served with mayonnaise. I hate mayo, but I would hardly call this stuff mayonnaise; it's in a different league. You can get these bad boys anywhere, and they're served as a side with most Belgian entrees.