My trip to Burkina Faso is ending the way it began: in Belgium. I returned yesterday quite late after my day layover in Istanbul. I was knackered, but i couldn't resist taking a stroll around the square and surrounding streets, which had been decorated for Christmas since i was here two weeks ago.
It goes without saying, but i'll say it anyway: Belgium is a world away from Ouagadougou. Sidewalks, trash bins, tap water, frigid and clean air, cafes that look like cafes, people that don't pay a bit of attention to me. I love the noise and excitement of Burkina Faso, but right now i am really appreciating the more familiar environment of western Europe, partly because i got to have a very long, very hot shower.
This morning i woke up very early and caught a train to Bruges. An hour and a half past quaint rural areas and small towns. From the station in Bruges it is a short walk to the Market Square. The square is beautiful, like so many European squares, ringed with narrow, pointy buildings in bright colours, housing inviting eateries and tea houses, imposing and intricate state buildings and throngs of picture snapping visitors.
But this was a but different because the square was filled with a Christmas market. An ice rink, decorations, and wooden booths hung with icicle lights selling food and knick knacks.
I wandered around the area, and over to the equally beautiful Berg square where i visited a beautiful and thankfully warm church.
I then followed the canals, stopping for breakfast at the most charming tiny cafe, all aglow in candles and Christmas.
I walked around aimlessly down the picturesque cobbled streets, stopping to take a million pictures. Locals walked dogs and rode bicycles. Tourists consulted maps and gazed upward.
I visited the estate housing the small but very pretty Jerusalem church, where the ticket seller thought i was under 26 and tried to sell me a discounted ticket. (I think it was the hat.)
In the church was a tiny little room with candles and relics where people had placed pictures of people for whom they prayed, i assume. I don't pray of course, but i happened to have a tiny picture of me in my wallet (i take one when i travel because sometimes you need them for getting visas at the border). I placed it there amongst the others, singeing the corners to make it look old and worn. So if you visit that church you might see my face looking pious and prayed for.
I stopped in at an inviting looking tavern for a bowl of turnip soup and discovered that it is apparently the oldest tavern in the world, being over 500 years old. It was charming and the soup exactly what i needed.
Back to the square and through the market to a cigar lounge for a Ramon Allones robusto. Then back to the train station to return to Brussels.
Brussels was and is crazy this evening. It is the start of the Christmas market and the crowds are thick and slow moving but good natured. The whole centre of the city is lit up and decorated. Miles of booths selling snacks, booze, hot drinks, and every gifty item imaginable. There are buskers and music played from speakers. The main square has music playing and a coordinated light show on the buildings.
Another square had more booths and decorations and the most amazing carousel i have ever seen - sort of a steam punk miracle of creatures/machine hybrids flying and crawling as it whirled. Unfairly, it was limited to kids 12 and under.
I walked and sipped hot chocolate until i could no longer tolerate the crowds.
I leave for Vancouver, via London, tomorrow afternoon; sad because i wish i could stay in Europe or take off somewhere exotic. Instead i will head home to email, work, and plans for the next trip.