Like many of you, oftentimes my memories come with a soundtrack. You know, when certain songs or artists bring you right back to a feeling, an experience, an era, a moment. Undoubtedly this happens on each of my trips; each one having burned its signature music in my mind. Sometimes the tune has some cultural implications. Sometimes it has nothing to do with where I am. In Poland, it was Phil Collins and Genesis; primarily because "Misunderstanding" played on a loop in my head as I tried helplessly to decode the Polish language. In New Zealand, it was Taylor Swift and Pink; their current songs flooded my radio as I extensively road tripped the country. Zero 7's "This World" puts me right back on a phinisi boat in the middle of the Bali Sea. Plus, I can’t hear Journey’s "Only the Young" and not think of sitting pensively on a train in Norway. And this trip? Paul McCartney & Wings by a hair. (Mid-80's R.E.M. was the strong runner-up. I have not been able to shake an association of "Begin the Begin" with a convent-like area I often cross through when I'm station-bound called the Beguinage. I know. It's a stretch but it has stuck.)
I can't tell you the last time I heard a Wings song but, lo and behold, I’ve heard "Jet" alone like ten times since I’ve been here. I’m not complaining. I love what Wings produced back in the 70’s. But then I started noticing some interesting coincidences that have become a welcomed theme. Like the flighty "Be Free" temporary tattoo I adhered to my arm the first morning here in Belgium. And the neighborhood cafe, Blackbird, with which I immediately fell in love. And the two swans that peculiarly started presenting themselves in the canal in front of my home (they're not usually seen there). Then, of course, the Wings music (let alone the song "Jet") and now I’m starting to feel like the universe is advising me to pay attention.
Thanks to my dear friend, Mona, for this gracious gift
One of my neighborhood cafés with which I bonded
The visiting swans
Birds. Flying. Taking flight. Freedom. Boundaryless. Exploration. All words that pop into mind as I ponder the theme above. (It's not lost on me either that my name is Robin.) They are good reminders to me. Not only to keep pursuing my passion for travel, newness, and independence, but of where I have been. When I first arrived in Bruges, I noticed a woman in a café, timidly eating alone in a corner. I recognized that scene. That was me about five years ago when I first started my solo journeying. From where I sat that night, alertly in the middle of all the restaurant's action, my comfort level couldn't have been higher. I was grateful for how my feelings, demeanor, and confidence had progressed.
And 'comfortable' is exactly how I would describe Belgium. Like being wrapped in a towel straight off the heating rack after a hot shower. I unquestionably felt embraced by the kindness and helpfulness of people I met along the way. This country has checked all the boxes I hoped it would. Charm. Ease. Warmth. Beauty. Security. Uniqueness. And amidst the damp weather and cozy glow of café fireplaces, I aimlessly wandered the alleys, squares, and canals for the final time today. My last impressions, thankfully, were just like my first. Delicious waffles and all.
I'm so happy the journey brought me here and hope you've enjoyed the Belgian learnings and fun as well. Cheers to future adventure! On a wing and a prayer.
Bruges's iconic scenery
The fanciest gelato and waffles truck
My go-to neighborhood restaurant, Jan Van Eyck, where Sam and Giovanni warmly welcomed me every time. I cried walking away from here on my last night.
Antwerp central station
A steaming pot of mussels; a common meal
Twice daily from my apartment. I would jump up like a kid on Christmas morning when I heard the clip-clopping.
My frequented café, Vero Caffè, owned by fave new friend, Chloe and her mom. Best local lattes and music ever!
The beautiful Antwerp zoo. Yes, zoo.
I can never get enough canal view
Chocolate! Such care was taken with presentation at every shop.
Sunday mornings at the main market square, Bruges
Coffee with a view
Belgium flag on the River Meuse, Dinant