This week, the holiday street lights came down in Haarlem. The nights seem darker and windier and lonelier without them. The days are getting longer, but not long enough yet; the February blues are here. But, our potted Christmas tree is still up and growing tender new shoots, and we are content to let its sparkling decorations be for the moment.
Our travels over the holiday season were full of light. Each city had unique decorations and holiday style. Brussels had a particularly whimsical style that I'm still thinking about months later.
We picked Brussels because it was on a list of Europe's best Christmas markets, but also because it was so close to The Netherlands. Brussels surprised and impressed us in more ways than one. Apparently it's possible to go travelling and feel farther from home than expected and closer to home than anticipated at the same time.
The first thing that surprised us is that Brussels is such a pedestrian city. It's so close to the Netherlands geographically, and yet so far when it comes to bicycles! But we planned on hoofing it where we needed to go, so it wasn't a problem for us.
The architecture of Brussels is also much fancier than in the Netherlands, probably due to a distinct French flair. And, expecting to be able to get by easily in this bilingual country with our beginners Dutch, we were surprised to find French is the dominant language. But for Canadians abroad, hearing French means something special: maple syrup. Turning off onto a sidestreet took us right into a Canadian market where we sampled maple syrup from Quebec. Oh Canada!
The festive details were impressive, and they were creative without being too Christmas-y. This was a well-rounded celebration. Laid out in sections around town centre, this Christmas Market, or "Winter Pret" had light shows, shopping, carnival rides, cultural experiences, skating and lights, lights, lights.
The Grote Markt square had a sound and light display playing on the hour throughout the evening. It was mesmerizing to watch the lights on the buildings change colours and dance all around us to an atmospheric soundtrack and the chimes of bells.
We ended the night on the last ferris wheel ride of the night and walked through the stalls as they were being battoned down for the night. There were many people peacefully wandering the streets, I imagine much like us, just wanting to stay under the twinkly lights for just a little bit longer. Until next year, Brussels.