One of the hardest things about traveling for me is when things don’t go as planned. In general, I am a planner. I have trouble “winging it” or making any kind of decisions without an incredible amount of energy and thought invested first. Planning a trip for me is a process. It always starts with picking a destination. This is obviously the biggest hurdle, figuring out which spot in the world that I would most like to see and is most likely to pull me away from the comfortability of home. Once I have decided, I relish comparing flight prices and hotels until I am sure that I found the best deal. I feel real excitement scrolling through the different AirBNB options, quietly picturing myself in each beautiful option, wandering the surrounding neighborhoods. I spend way too much time sifting through an incredible amount of websites searching for the best places to go and the most wonderful things to see. I like to feel prepared for my journey.
This doesn’t mean that I am rigid in exactly what happens each day. I would like to believe that the people I travel with would say that I am relatively flexible. While I may come with a list of suggestions and desires, I rarely have a set idea of the order things need to go down. Part of the beauty of exploring is letting yourself explore! If I constantly was trying to maintain a schedule, I would never come across hidden gems or really feel like I was getting to know the place I am visiting.
All of that being said, I usually have an idea of what I am getting myself into when I head out for a new destination. Not so with Brussels.
Let me preface this is the disclaimer that I was coming from Amsterdam and Amsterdam might well be the most beautiful place I have ever been to. It was comfortable and completely new at the same time. I felt like I had been there forever while also feeling like I was seeing something new along every street. In short, I fell in love with Amsterdam. I even started to relinquish some of my homesickness. Heading to a new destination was going to be a bit of a shock no matter what. I should have known that Brussels would be a bit of a let down when the salesperson in the cheese shop we visited in Amsterdam asked us where we were headed. When we replied with Brussels, their face dropped a bit and they simply said, “oh, that’s not going to be very nice after Amsterdam.”
It’s not that Brussels isn’t a beautiful city, in the short time I was there I saw gorgeous architecture and lovely old buildings. It’s just that, for me, hopping off the train at Brussels-Zuid seemed like coming back to the real world after existing in the fantasy of Amsterdam for 3 days. You could see the imperfections and signs of reality wearing all over the city. While there are fantastic palaces and houses with gold accents interspersed throughout the city, there’s also run down buildings and a feeling of needing to know where you are. While wandering down a random street in Amsterdam felt like finding new beauties and a happy accident, we very much felt the need to stick to our route in Brussels. When we tried to wander we often found our route blocked or people who called out to us down the way. This is not something that is unknown to me, I’m from California and have always lived near cities, but there’s something so nice about escaping from real life, even if only for a short while.
When we finally found our new apartment, we looked at each other and could see the disappointment all over each other’s faces. This wasn’t what we were expecting from the second stop on our trip. We wanted a little bit more fantasy and a little less reality. Having a realization like this is particularly hard for me when it throws off the carefully curated plan. We were supposed to stay in Brussels for 3 nights. We had an airbnb for 3 nights. We were not going to make it happily through those 3 nights, so something had to give.
We already had train tickets on Tuesday from Paris to London, so we knew that we needed to be in Paris on Tuesday but it was only Saturday. Despite my entire type-A being screaming against straying from “the plan”, we quickly checked out Paris on AirBNB and impulsively booked another room for the following two nights. Sometimes you just have to swallow the anxieties and see the bigger, better picture. Rather than spend two more days in Brussels bummed out and trying to figure out what to do, we had to jump and diverge from the path. In the end I think these small spontaneous are beneficial for the development of a better self, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me in the moment.
I felt an immediate sense of ease as we boarded our train to Paris, and felt even more joy rise as we pulled in Gare du Nord and I saw the familiar rooftops and windows of Paris greeting us. I knew we had made the right decision, no matter how far it made us stray.
Conclusion, sometimes you just need to go to Paris.