Our last morning off the continent we chased a bus through the streets of Dublin, struggled to check in at the airport, and boarded a snug Ryan Air flight.
We landed in Brussels and immediately noticed a difference: the buildings were pretty. We soon noticed another difference: only the advertising was in English. With landmarks and street names in French, Dutch, and German we promptly got lost, taking two hours to make the 18 minute walk from our bus stop to the Royal Museum of Fine Art. Our extensive detour meant we missed the museum, but got to see a lot of the city. We got hungry tramping up and down the streets of Brussels with all our possessions, and discovered a third difference between the isles and the continent: the food is amazing here. We devoured savory Belgian waffles, checked out more architecture (the Grote Markt), saw Mannekin Pis, and then headed to our hostel in Bruges ("Brugge" in the local Flemish).
While Brussels combined modern and 18th century architectural styles in a very charming way, Bruges is all old European magic. A small town northeast of Brussels, canals criss cross Bruges. We took many photos of the buildings. Magnificent churches and government buildings awed, but even ordinary city blocks and residential neighborhoods inspired us with their beauty. Bruges has been a tourist trap for over a century, and it shows: they are very good at trapping tourists. We saw the snares and eagerly tripped them for fries, fashion, art, and more waffles.
The lobby of our hostel moonlights as a bar. We sampled many delicious Trappist beers, the best beer in the world, and chatted with the other patrons late into the night. Maria was feeling lonely and insisted her new nickname be "Mono." Micah and Giana took a midnight stroll through Bruges to enjoy the town's night life (there isn't any).
The next day we rode a train to Antwerp. We saw one of the most beautiful train stations, a lot of sparkly things in the world's largest diamond market, and had some more Belgian fries.
We found the Belgian people very friendly and hospitable, their food addicting, and their towns charming.
Part of the ship, part of the crew