BELGIUM – Day 1, Brussels

October 23rd, 2018 

I’ve been on about this trip for months in my videos (“I’m heading to Brussels in October”, “I got a new camera for my Brussels trip!”, “I’m back from Brussels, sorry there’s no video yet…”). It was great. Frantic and exhausting, but really great!

My main reason for going was a gig – yes, I booked myself a ticket for a concert in Brussels – Bon Iver to be precise. I’d originally booked it almost two full years ago after their UK dates sold out within minutes. “@!£%”, I said. “Now what?” So I started looking at their other dates around Europe, and having not too long ago been to Italy I was still suffering a little from the travel bug. My eyes did a double-take over Brussels. Honestly all I knew of the place back then was chocolate, beer and waffles… “@!£% it”, I said, and booked a ticket.

Long story short, the tour was cancelled. A year and a half later a new tour was announced with priority tickets for those who’d originally book. “Yeah, @!£% it”, I said. My heart was set – I was going to Brussels.

I’d lost all my original travel plans so had to start from scratch. Thing is though, it was only since the last tour was cancelled that I’d taken up my new favourite hobby (and now occupation) – photography. I’d actually used my ticket refund towards my first camera! Instead of the usual museums, bars and other tourist attractions, I was now looking up the architecture, back streets and sunrise/sunset locations in Brussels and other neighbouring cities… This was becoming a photography trip.

Travel in and around Brussels looking super cheap and easy. Being a European Capital it’s very well documented in all respects, and very well connected. I found that a single rail line linked Brussels-Ghent-Bruges, so I focussed on these three cities in my plans. I had two full days (three nights) to make the most of the area so I started jotting down a few ideas and following each city’s #hashtag on Instagram in search of inspiration.

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I’d booked a room via AirBnB in the Forest/Vorst area of Brussels, literally a 15 minute walk from the gig venue – the Forest National. Flights really weren’t looking so cheap/convenient, so I ended up booking the EuroStar straight into the centre of Brussels (actually cheaper than my Chester-London Euston train… thanks National Rail).

My travel was boring and my first train ran over half an hour late – I actually had to run to catch the EuroStar, something I avidly avoid doing. Last one through the gate, I took a seat and caught my breath. I hadn’t recorded any video at all so far, though catching my train was more important than the vlog! I was en route.

On arrival, Brussels was… pretty much what I’d imagined. It’s a capital city in Europe, in October – it was pretty cold, grey and breezy coming out of Midi station. But Midi isn’t really the “old” city centre, so not much of the classic European architecture here. My good friend Google accompanied me on the walk to Forest, where I checked in, settled in a bit and headed straight back out to explore the local area.

The Forest/Vorst area seemed pretty nice! Almost as “European” as you might imagine. Long streets following the city tramlines. Tall, old terraces with intricate brickwork for miles. Beautiful people riding rickety old bicycles. I loved it straight away, and grabbed a couple of shots.

In the bag, the now classic Euro-traveller street shot!

In the bag, the now classic Euro-traveller street shot!

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I stumbled across a public wooded park area – Parc Duden– which I wandered round for a little while. Hidden amongst the trees were a couple of interesting buildings, one in particular with a very gothic look to it, spires n’all. I noticed a young family pointing up into the trees – red squirrels! Day made. But I’d also been hearing some pretty strange bird calls since entering the park. On entering a clearing I could finally see where the squawks were coming from – wild parakeets! Hundreds of them. A quick search told me there were roughly 40 of the birds released in to city in 1974 by an amusement park, and had even surpassed the 10,000 mark in recent years! What you learn in foreign lands…

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The sun was going down and I was on a mission to find a cash machine and a supermarket. Luckily I exited the park just up the road from the Forest National – the gig venue – which as it happened had a cash machine and an adjoining supermarket. Perfect. However, walking towards it the sky had really started to come alive with colour, and I noticed a set of steps leading do to what I assume were university halls, with a pretty decent view over the city. I hadn’t expected to see much colour in the sky as it had been dull and overcast most of the day, but I thought I’d give it a go. I played around for maybe 15 minutes using different shutter speeds and filters to experiment with cloud movement before it got too dark to work with.

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Considering my low hopes for any photographic opportunity this first evening, especially in terms of a sunset, I was pretty chuffed at this point! With that glimmer of hope in my eye I grabbed some waffles from the supermarket and headed back to my room, picking up some pizza on the way. It was delicious, and lasted long enough to watch an episode of Daredevil and to make some travel plans for my first full day. Sunrise was around 8am, and Bruges was an hour away… No rest for an aspiring travel photographer!

Watch the video here :)