The week prior to Halloween, my partner and I discovered there is an amusement park outside of Brussels called Walibi. The park was having a Halloween celebration, complete with zombies and “haunted” houses. We are both roller coaster fanatics; he has an appreciation for zombies and all things Halloween, so we couldn’t resist. It was also another excuse to get out and see more of Belgium. As an added bonus, half of a couple we have befriended here used to live in Brussels. They agreed not only to accompany us and show us around the city, but to drive as well. This trip was fairly impromptu, and–as a result–our goal was to have more of a relaxed exploration of the city. And also to drink beer.
For a year now, we have been just a few short hours away from some stunning Belgian cities (and even more stunning Belgian beer). However, I am ashamed to say that–other than a short stopover on our way to London last Christmas season and a few trips to Arlon for their Ikea–we haven’t really explored Belgium. So this past month, we began to rectify that, starting with a leisurely train ride and a long weekend stay in Ghent. The stay was originally to have included Bruges as well, but we ended up liking Ghent so much that we spent our entire weekend there. Those considering less obvious European travel destinations may want to give it a try; it has the culture, the castles, and the cathedrals. It has a 12th Century abbey. And did I mention the beer?
As our original plans to visit relatives in the US before departing for Europe fell through, I thought it would be nice to have my parents here for the Christmas season. Originally, we had only planned to take them to Paris for a few days around Christmas, but then there was also a pressing matter with my residence approval.
The approval had not come through yet when I left San Francisco, meaning the date on my passport stamp upon entering Luxembourg came before the approval. When declaring my arrival for my residence card, the date of entry into Luxembourg had to come after the approval. I realize that is convoluted and confusing, so suffice it to say I had to leave and re-enter the Schengen Area after my approval came through. This meant we had the fortunate bonus of adding London to our trip, as the UK is not a part of the Schengen Area.
NOTE: This was my first time visiting these countries (as was also the case with my partner and parents), so much of the experience includes tour buses and obvious tourist destinations. Despite what the snobs may think, I found it an entirely acceptable way to experience a city for the first time.