Getting to Brussels was a bit of a feat. We left Wednesday around midnight from Hamburg on a train bound towards Amsterdam via Cologne (Koln) on the western border of Germany. Here we got off and transfered onto a ICE (high speed) train to Brussels via Aachen (but we had 15 solid minutes to go outside and take a picture of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral). Upon arriving in Aachen we had to wait on the train for a half hour (there was a train strike going on in Belgium right along the German border. After that half hr we went outside the train station and waited an hour in the rain for a bus to take us to Brussels. What would have been an hour long train ride would now be a 3 hour bus ride. Its all part of the experience though.
All in all, Brussels was great. The amount of carsthere relative to germany was rather shocking, and I can only imagine my reaction upon returning back to the states, and driving home from JFK on the Long Island Expressway.... Brussels is a very metropolitan kind of city, reminding me a lot of NY. French was the predominant language spoken, although you see a lot of signs in Flemish, and can hear a little German too. We saw the Atomium - a giant structure in the shape of an atom built for the worlds fair in 1958, watched the Manneken Pis (a little cherub statue) do exactly that over a group of people, and got a tip about some cool street art and added a little touch myself. The trains in Brussels are much older then in Germany, and generally the city is dirtier too than german cities (much like NY). But the positive was that Brussels is more of a walk and explore city then anything I've seen in Germany. Berlin I guess is kind of like that but its way more sprawling. We had dinner at a nice Turkish restaurant, but subsisted mainly on Belgium Waffels and designer chocolate (and of course some ridiculous beer - some percentages went up as high as 12%!). Also went to an interesting pizza restaurant where you get your pizza by weight rather then slice. You just say "yea that size looks good to me," they cut off a section of pizza, weigh it and you pay. For lunch another morning I had a Durum, a turkish equivalent of a gyro/wrap which I am used to getting in Germany, but this one had fries on it!!! Just like a pirmanti sandwhich (missing Pittsburgh a little), also the place I got it from was super clean, and was definitely not half as sketchy as the places I've gotten it in Germany. Some other things we die were to get a tour of closed Opera hall simply because one of the other interns just asked about it. They were cleaning the crystal chandelier which only comes down for a week every two years! Also we walked around the EU and talked to some Croats about all things Croatian. They were there with exhibits because croatia is about to Enter the European Union on Monday.
If Brussels was great, Amsterdam was fantastic. Simply a beautiful city. And the public transportation is phenomenal. On top of that we had great weather! Just an all around wow. The trains had cool decorated walls on the inside, really artsy, and I think each one was different. The populace of Amsterdam is pretty diverse too, almost as diverse as Hamburg which I found out has people of something like 215+ nationalities represented. There are lots of white Nordic looking people of course (noticeably more red hair here than in Germany), and quite a few asian people too! After leaving the Van Gogh museum I walked into this free-lunch "get rid of food waste" event that is only held once a year (right in front of the "I AMSTERDAM" statue). Probably about 100 volunteers out cooking, cutting, cleaning veggies, and filling up water bottles for people. Its to use vegetables that aren't "beautiful enough" to go to grocery stores for people to buy, but still are entirely edible. From my understanding most of this food goes to sources like pigs feed, but I guess using human quality food as animal fodder is still in a way a waste. Very cool festival-ish scene. At this open air flee market I ate a snack of raw herring with raw onions and a homemade pickle, apparently thats a "must do". It was pretty good, albiet a little slimy and fishy. The onions really made the difference I think, and the pickel helped to get rid of the fishy flavor. We went to the Anne Frank house which was a really incredible experience and I went to the Tulip museum too :)
Besides that we saw a bunch of monuments, and really just walked around and through neighborhood and along canals. The buildings are all labeled with the dates they were built and the upkeep is incredible. In Amsterdam it was only appropriate that I drink my first Heineken. We strolled through the Red Light district with the crowds one night, and had to take the obscenely priced Night Bus back to the area of my little painted cabin. Like a 35 minute trip and then a 7minute walk. The campsite was pretty nice. We squeezed 5 people in a 4 bedroom one the first night (probably 3*3*2.5m^3) volume. And then we had 6 people in an 8 Bedder the second night. There were 1-euro token showers, and clean bathrooms, but no toilette paper. A lot of people were pretty young internationals from the states, canada, France, Belgium, etc. and you could smell Pot smoke wafting through the air around 10am. Suprisingly though Amsterdam is not cast in a hazy green smog. You smell it here and there on a few people, or if you walk by a "coffeehouse" (codeword, for place to buy/smoke) you can smell/see it coming out the doors. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure you'll smell more Pott walking around LA or SF.
I've realized that I don't like seeing things in a big group. A group is slow to get going, slow to see a lot of things, and I'm not really into taking group pictures and buying beer and wine in the supermarket to drink to save money. If I'm going to have a beer its going to be in a good place, and a local beer, and surrounded by some native people. I did my own thing Sunday and had a blast, I think I'll keep doing that in the future and then meet up for meals or evenings.