I could handle a couple hours of discomfort for an 85-euro flight across Europe, which was the basis of our decision as we boarded the old plane with bright orange advertisements across the side. We were packed into a Ryanair flight with a couple hundred other frugal travelers.
We landed at Charleroi Airport around 8pm and took a taxi to the Meininger Hostel, located right outside of the city center. We walked into the hostel and checked in. This hostel was painfully cool. There was a lounge area to the left of the check-in area. As Kati talked to the front desk receptionist, I peeked into the lounge and saw a group of backpackers playing pool, planning what they would do for the night.
After a while, we went to find our room. Kati and I both took a deep breath and tried to exhale the stress that comes with traveling. The elevator binged to tell us that we had arrived at our floor.
There’s always a twinge of anticipation when you’re opening your room door for the first time in a hostel. There’s the element of the unknown. You could open the door and meet a few of the coolest people that could possibly change your outlook on life and provide you with the most exciting travel stories for years to come. On the contrast, you could open the door, decide to use every single lock you have on your luggage, prepare for awkward conversation, and sleep with one eye open. Usually it’s always a great experience, though.
So there we were at room 412. We opened the door and peeked around. There were two guys who were passed out in their beds. We tiptoed around, trying to decide where we should sleep. There was luggage on all but one bed, yet one of the sleeping beauties had a king sized bed. I was really confused, mostly because they were both asleep at 8 p.m. “I’m not sleeping with him Kati! You can’t make me,” I whispered. Sleeping Beauty #1 rolled over in his slumber, and he smiled and said, “Good morning.”
“Hi, sorry if we woke you! We’re just trying to figure out the bedding situation. There’s only one open bed,” Kati explained.
“Oh, it’s fine,” he said. “I needed to wake up anyway. And don’t worry. One of you can sleep with me. The bed’s big enough for two of us,” he said.
I gave Kati a quick glare. Her awkward pause and “uhhmm..” gave Sleeping Beauty #1 a good laugh. “I’m kidding!” He pulled the comforter off and revealed that he pulled two twin beds together. Kati and I laughed nervously and breathed a sigh of relief. “That was a good one,” I admitted. “Thanks,” he said with a smirk. “I’m Charlie from the Bronx. Nice to meet ya.”
Charlie had unruly short brown hair with freckles speckled across his nose. Although he gave off the hardcore, tough guy from the Bronx façade, I felt like he had a softer, more thoughtful side.
We heard the rustling of Sleeping Beauty #2’s covers shortly after. He woke up, wiped the sleep off of his eyes, and smiled wryly. “Hey, I’m João,” he said. “I’m from Brazil, but I’m studying French in France for a year.” We introduced ourselves and asked what they were going to do for the night. They only knew that they wanted to go out and explore the nightlife of Brussels.
We were all in this together. I would’ve made a High School Musical reference to them, but I have a feeling it would’ve been received with blank stares.
We all got ready together as if we hadn’t just met five minutes ago, and in no time, we were off to explore this mysterious city that we knew so little about. Our first stop was the Grand Place, which is the most impressive plaza I have ever seen/will probably ever see in my life. If you didn’t already know this, I hate Disney. (This conversation is for another time and place but it’s relevant I swear). So naturally, lights and palaces and beautiful sparkling things don’t typically amaze me, but this place was insane. All of the buildings in the plaza were lit up, making the place a sparkling wonderland.
There were also hundreds of teenagers and tourists drinking and smoking and taking in the view. It was like the lawn of the Eiffel Tower only concrete only way more impressive. “I think I already love Brussels,” I said, halfway to myself and halfway to my people. “This is incredible,” Joāo said. “Where to next?!” We decided that we should walk around until we found a place we wanted to go.
We walked through the cobblestone streets with Belgian beer in our hands and a smile on our faces. We were living the life, I thought. Every group of people I passed was having conversations in a different language, mostly French, though. “I LOVE FRENCH,” I declared. The streets were crowded with people. I spotted a particularly crowded street, and we decided to go into “Café Delirium”, which is also doubled as a bar at nighttime.
The lights of the bar were dimly lit, setting the perfect ambiance for beer drinking and chatting with new friends. There were hundreds of plates on the ceiling and beer posters and signs covering the walls. We approached the bar, and I asked the bartender which beer he recommended. While simultaneously taking other peoples’ orders, he said, “Darling, zere are more than 2,000 beers to choose from. Izz impossible to choose for you.”
“Well…” I replied. “Just give me your favorite on draft, merci.” He nodded in my direction and poured me a beer called Barbar. The rest of them ordered random types of beer as we took a seat at the bar. I sat next to Joāo, and we had the most interesting conversation. He told me that he and his friend booked the hostel rooms at the same exact time, yet Joāo ended up in the room with us for some reason. He continued by saying how if he would’ve booked the room even ten minutes earlier or later, he might not have gotten the room with us, which means he wouldn’t have gotten the chance to be sitting at the bar with me or even know that I existed. I sat there, sipping my beer in deep thought about life and philosophy and how I was meant to be in Brussels, Belgium in that exact moment in time. It was quite an insightful conversation.
On the way home, Kati and I were confused and lost and had no idea which way was north or south. I imagine it was similar to the way a surfer feels when he or she crashes into the waves and can’t tell which direction to swim to go toward the surface. Complete and utter confusion. We were somehow okay with it and walked aimlessly through the streets.
A small shop on a random side street distracted me mid-sentence. The smell that came from its vicinity was intoxicating. Without saying a word, I pulled on Kati’s shirt and dragged her into the shop with me. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS?” I asked desperately. A lit-up neon sign that read “Pommes Frites” drew me in like the way a moth gravitates toward the light. Joāo told me that it meant “french fries”, and I was sold.
“Hey! Bonjour! J’mapelle Jamie!” I said as I walked in the door. Even I was surprised as the French words came out of my mouth. The workers were obviously amused and explained to me that Brussels has the best French fries in all of Europe, topped with mayonnaise. Yes, mayonnaise. I figured, YOBO-You Only Brussels Once. Before no time, I was roaming the streets of Brussels equipped with the best french fries in all of Europe. Eventually, and luckily, we found our way back to the hostel thanks to Charlie’s navigation skills. We quickly fell asleep because we had plenty of sightseeing, chocolate eating, and beer drinking to do the next day.