I decided to go to Brussels about a month ago to visit two friends from high school Anna Duquaine and Jacqueline Brown. They were recently in Madrid in the beginning of April so I was excited to see them again and where they study. I left on Thursday morning and arrived around 2:00pm where I took the train from Brussels International Airport to the Leuven train station, the city they are technically studying. Both of them had class so they gave me directions to their house which was very close to the train station. They live in this four story building with 26 other students that range from the age of 18-25 from all over the world (U.S., Spain, Belgium, Japan, Slovakia, ect..). To say the least, it is quite a diverse group and all of them seem to be very good friends. I did think it was interesting that although they all come from different backgrounds; they always spoke English around the house. When they arrived at the house after class, we went out to see the city of Leuven. Leuven has the population of approx. 60,000 people with 30,000 being students at their university. It’s a very young, safe, and fun city about 15 minutes outside Brussels. After walking around a little bit, we ate at this great restaurant called ‘De Werf’ where they are famous for their cheap food (HUGE portions) and their hot chocolate. They bring out warm milk with chocolate chunks in a separate bowl. You pour the chocolate chunks into your mug and stir until they melt. After dinner we returned to their house and watched the TV show ‘Friends’ because it’s the only thing that plays in English. Everyone was gathered around the couches in the basement watching. They speak three languages in Belgium but mostly everyone knows English. That evening they wanted to take me to Leuven’s “Fac Bars.” There are 11 Fac (short for Faculty) bars in Leuven that each represents a different school at their university. For instance, they have an Econ Fac bar for all the econ majors, Language Fac bar and so one. When I arrived one of the Fac bars we went to was packed. I was expecting drink prices to be quite high because it is in such a central location to many college students, but I couldn’t believe how cheap the beer was. You get a huge mug full of Deuvel or Estrella for 1-2 Euros. In Spain, they would easily be 4-5 Euros. After one of the Fac bars we headed to another bar outside this plaza. There were students everywhere in this plaza just sitting outside on the tables in this plaza. It was a great atmosphere and was a lot of fun. After sitting outside and talking with people from their house from Slovakia, Belgium, and Kentucky, we went to get some Belgium Fries. In America, our late night food would typically be Taco Bell, Jimmy Johns sandwiches, or pizza.. but in Belgium, its fries with mayonnaise and andaluce sauce. It was actually a lot better than I imagined.
The next day we hopped on a train to the city of Brussels. Another friend from high school, Courtney Barker, had a 9 hour layover in Brussels before she was leaving to Ireland to study for 2 ½ weeks. We went to the airport to pick her up and put all of her things in a locker at the station so we could explore the city. Anna and Jacqueline had been to Brussels a few times already so they were able to take us to all the major sites. Unfortunately May 1, was Labor Day for Europe and all the museums and many shops were closed. The buildings and architecture was what impressed me the most with the city. It’s very unique and not like anything else I’ve seen before throughout Spain and Italy. We stopped by Brussels’ most famous fountain “Manneken Pis” which stands for Little Pee Man. It is a small bronze fountain sculpture depicting a naked little boy urinating into the fountain’s basin. What I thought was cool about this was on occasion, the statue is hooked up to a keg of beer and cups will be filled up with the beer flowing from the statue and given out to people passing by. After taking pictures, we got some chocolate which is one of the three things Belgium is most known for (the others are Waffles and Beer). We next headed over to the Royal Palace to see where the king lives. After that we had to take Jacqueline and Courtney to the train stations so Courtney could catch her flight to Ireland and Jacqueline was going to see a play all in Dutch in another city. After they left, Anna and I went to the Delirium Bar where they serve over 2000 different types of beer. I got the stereotypical Delirium beer that was alright, but I don’t know if I would get it again. It was getting late so we wanted to head back to Leuven. Before I left I wanted an authentic Belgium waffle. We found a little place along a main strip where I got a Waffle with chocolate sauce and bananas. We ate it in their Grand Place plaza which you are surrounded but stunning buildings with polished gold as the trimmings. Eating the waffles outside Grand Place was by far one of the coolest things I’ve done in Europe so far. We headed back to Leuven and called it a night.
Originally we were going to Amsterdam on Saturday but instead we went to the city of Antwerp aka “The diamond capital of the world.” We walked up and down the streets and they had a huge district for shopping. It was very crowded throughout the main streets. We headed towards the river and walked along there for a little bit also. Although I was disappointed we didn’t go to Amsterdam, Antwerp did have its own “Red Light District.” That was quite the interesting experience and quite frankly one I don’t have to go through again. We didn’t do too much in Antwerp but it was still a cool little city with a lot of things going on. We hopped on the train and headed back to Leuven for the hour train ride. Unfortunately that evening we didn’t go out but I had an early flight the next morning anyway.
Visiting Brussels has reallysparked an interest in learning other languages than just Spanish. It’s so common for people there to know 2,3, or 4 languages in Europe. I swear some people here speak English better than I do, which is quite sad to see how much less we emphasize and value the importance of other cultures and languages in America. We sort of just expect everyone to know English and become offended when they don't and not bother learning to speak another one. After this trip I could have really seen myself studying somewhere in Belgium. Again, I have no regrets coming to Madrid, but it is interesting to see the differences between the two countries. I am so glad I was able to get this experience because it opened up my eyes even more to the other places, languages, customs, and people of Europe. Maybe teach in Spain for 9 months after graduation and start graduate school in Belgium September 2011? We’ll see.
Anna and I in the Delirium Bar
Grand Place plaza
Grand Place plaza at night