Why Brussels Is Where I Fell In Love With Europe

I stopped in Belgium for a brief layover between Paris and Rome. It should have been a forgettable few hours where I could find enough time to grab a bite to eat and relax before the second leg of our flight. But Brussels had a different plan for me.

How I envisioned Europe looking.

When we arrived at the airport, we began our layover by getting on the wrong train (heading in the opposite direction towards Luxembourg.) The layover ended by finding out my luggage had been lost once we returned for the second flight to Rome. This should have been a bad experience, but it just wasn’t.

We realized, rather quickly, that our train was going in the wrong direction and made the switch at the next station to head back into the city center. Once at the Central Station, we headed down a hill towards a pedestrian-only walkway. We had no plans here. We didn’t look up “Top Things To Do In Brussels” or have any recommendations of where to go and what to see. That ended up being the best part.

We had mussels in Brussels.

The cobblestone alley we stumbled upon was what I had imagined Europe to look like. It was busy, intimidating, and foreign. You couldn’t tell where one restaurant or shop ended and the next one began. While one host is pointing you towards their menu exclaiming how its in English, you have a host across the alley beckoning for you to look at their high-quality dish pictures, all while avoiding the never-ending sea of tourists walking through you as if you didn’t exist. In other words, it was exactly what I wanted.

We found a tourist-facing restaurant to sit down for a meal, but they had €10 specials that included an entrée, frites, and a beer. It was a lot of food, too, so our bellies left happy. Our next stop were the Saint Hubert Galleries’ to window-shop some chocolates and Smurf memorabilia.

Smurfs and chocolate everywhere.

The trip was short, unplanned, and uneventful, but it left me craving more of the maze-like corridors and small, family owned shops that I romanticized about Europe having. I look forward to visiting again in the future for an extended stay, maybe with a trip out to Bruges or Ghent.

What Happens When You Lose Luggage?

Flying into Rome was great. I was on my first trip to Europe, having spent a few days in Paris and explored one of my favorite cities in the world, Brussels, just a few hours prior. We arrived at Leonardo Di Vinci airport (FCO) and approached the luggage turnstile. My sister’s bag came through then my mom’s. Then we waited. And waited. Mine did not. We went to the service desk to inquire and start a missing bag claim.

“What did it look like?” “How big was it?” “What color?”

Uhh… normal look, average size, grey. Pretty much zero distinguishing characteristics.

During this time, our shuttle car left and we had to figure out a new way to our hotel. Luckily, we figured out you can an express train from the airport to Roma Termini, the central train station in Rome, in about 30 minutes. We walked the rest of the way to the hotel and after our first slice of Italian pizza at a restaurant down the street, we went to grab some Zzz’s.

Now, the past couple days spent in Paris were very temperate summer days. Comfortable and normal. I had put on some jeans and a thick, long sleeve shirt for the flight over (I always get cold on airplanes.) Rome wanted to be different. We woke up and were met outside with 38°C (roughly 100°F) and being that I only had the same clothes from the flight, I had no choice but to venture out in jeans and a long sleeve shirt. If you know me, you know that I love the heat. I would much rather melt to the ground than shiver in the cold, but this was unbearable.

My sister and I apparently had matching sunglasses

Despite being incredibly hungry, I slipped into every shop I could, looking for a change of clothes to purchase. Nobody had shorts, but I was at least able to find boxers and socks and two soccer (sorry, football) jerseys – an AC Milan Stephan El Shaarawy shirt and a Juventus Andrea Pirlo shirt (this one would give me a funny story a few years later). Most of my outfit needs were taken care of now, but I would sweat it out in those same pair of jeans for the next few days. The only source of respite would be the innumerable water fountains that dot the city. They were lifesavers.

Two months later, I get a text from my mom while I’m at work. Somebody had dropped off my luggage at her house. It had been left at the Charles de Gaulle airport before our flight.

Now, I pretty much only travel out of a carry-on bag (I use a 46L bag). You can get around just about anywhere for three weeks or less in one. Plus, you don’t have to wait at the turnstile for your bags and you have the peace of mind that everything is with you. It’s been working so far.