While preparing for my semester abroad, I spoke with many students who had gone before me about what to expect. And while each person had different advice, they all stressed one thing: to take advantage of how small Europe is (it takes less time to go from France to the Netherlands than Toronto to Montreal) and plan weekend vacations.
You Can’t Always Trust European Trains
We booked our tickets online a few days before we left – a return for only 23€ that would take just over an hour each way with a short transfer, so we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. At 7 a.m. the alarm goes off and we drag each other through the dark, rainy streets to the station. We’re all tired and cold, but once we get on the train it will be worth it. But wait, it’s nowhere in sight, it’s not even showing up on the schedule. Turns out our train is cancelled – no notice for passengers – just cancelled. Oh, and the one after that is cancelled too. But wait, now there’s actually construction on the route we were supposed to take so we have to find another way. After many trips to the information booth, we finally figured out another, much longer route to Bruges, with three transfers. Great start to the day.
Always Make Sure You Ask For “Tap Water”
Asking for water in Canada is always a safe, free bet. And being exchange students on a tight budget, we thought drinking water with lunch could save us some much needed cash money. “A round of waters!” we decreed confidently (or something like that). But when the waiter returned with open glass bottles of water for each of us, we started to get worried. But what could we do? We can’t return an opened drink. Sure enough, when the bill came, right at the top of the list was six waters – 30€. It was a third of the cost for our meal!
Waffles Are Actually Better in Belgium
You know when you go to a greasy breakfast place and they offer “Belgian Waffles” with whipped cream or something? They are nothing. In Bruges there are little waffle windows where you can order them to go. Watching the person make them is magical, especially because there is no toaster involved. The cheapest is always with a light dusting of sugar (which is still better than anything I’ve ever had), but you can get them with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and ice cream.
Like Museums? Go to Bruges
Every few blocks around the city centre you’ll find a tiny museum or gallery. In one day you can check out Michelangelo’s paintings, taste your way through the history of chocolate and stroll through an ancient Burgundian palace. After the 5€ water I didn’t exactly have money to get into any of these, but many have small free gardens and walkways at the entrance where cheapos like me can hang out. And if those are any indication of what’s inside, it will surely be amazing!
You Need to Try Fries in a Cone
Whoever thought of fries in a paper cone was a genius. Top them with your favourite sauce – most have more than a dozen to choose from – and it’s the perfect walking around snack!