What I remember most about Belgium is the heat.
I visited the country in June, as a raging heat wave slowly roasted everyone. Walking through the charming streets and strolling past the tolling church bells, beads of sweat rolled down my chest.
I'd accidentally booked a hostel without air conditioning, so at nights, I'd lay on the high bunk in shorts and a sports bra sweltering on top of the covers, while hot air sat stagnant in the room. Sleeping in the heat gives you weird dreams. You wake up unsettled, though you're not sure exactly why. Maybe the heat just sits on your chest while you sleep, making it difficult to breathe, like one of those night mares from old folklore.
One morning in Brussels, I went to a chocolate shop and bough a bag of chocolates with the intent of eating them over the next few days. By the time I took them out at lunchtime, the chocolates had already begun melting, leaving sad sticky trails down the side of the plastic bag I'd bought them in. So I sat in the little church courtyard where I'd just eaten lunch, letting the chocolate finish melting in my mouth and listening to the church bells chime tune after tune.
I licked chocolate off the plastic bag and looked around the square. It was the kind of place I expected to find a doorway to another world around the corner. Maybe on this next chime of a church bell. Or maybe after that one. Maybe then I'd spot the door that I'd open and would whisk me away. There'd be trolls on the other side of the door, obviously, and maybe a few elves and goblins. Or maybe it'd just be cooler and my chocolate wouldn't have melted so quickly.
After that, I ate all the chocolate I bought right away.
I didn't understand how the other tourists I saw were walking around with these huge boxes of truffles and toffees. Surely it would melt before they ever got back to their hotel rooms.
I understand. The heat makes people do strange things.
Perhaps the heat was partly to blame for the incident at the train station after I'd left it.
I didn't find out until after I'd already left Brussels and had arrived in Bruges that someone had tried to set off an explosion in the Brussels train station. It wasn't a big one and the only person who died was the person who had set off the explosive. I'd been in that train station just hours before. Maybe, if I'd taken a later train, if the explosive had actually worked, maybe things would have been different. It was unsettling, walking through the fairy tale architecture of Bruges, thinking about what could have been.
But when I think of Belgium, I really don't remember that attack, or how it made me feel. I remember how the heat melted my chocolate and how I ate the softened truffles under the singing church bells.