Monday, March 5, 2012

Field Trip: Brussels

Two weeks ago my classmates, professors, and I packed up and traveled through Brussels, Belgium, and Paris, France, for a rather magical five day field trip. We began in Brussels and spent the first afternoon walking around the city to orient ourselves. The tourist center of town seems to revolve around the Grand Place, a beautiful square surrounded by the town hall, city museum, beer museum, and shops.

After a dinner wherein most people got moules et frites but I stuck with what I know and got a croque madame (and a beer - gotta have the cultural experience), we made our way to the waffle shops. I’d been looking forward to these, and they did not disappoint: a warm li├Ęge waffle with Nutella, strawberries, and a mountain of whipped cream. I’m not posing for the photo below - it’s really how you had to eat it.

We spent the next morning at a briefing at the European Commission. It was really interesting, especially given the considerable background I have on the EU thanks to my economics class in London. I just had a problem with the mustachioed energy representative who refused to acknowledge the role of the environment in energy policy. News flash: they are inseparable issues and you should be able to speak to both of them regardless of your position as the energy and not environmental representative.

That afternoon we wandered some more and visited the Brussels Cathedral, formally known as the Ste Michael and Ste Gudula Cathedral (I've never heard of that saint either).

To be real, Belgian food is not that different from French or Swiss food, so we took advantage of the international flavour of the city (literally) and had Moroccan food for dinner. We followed that with raspberry beer, fruit beer being a Belgian speciality. It was basically juice aka my kind of beer.
On Tuesday we had a lecture on the history of Belgium and the language barrier that threatens to tear the country apart. Quick summary: Belgium has two language communities. Flanders is the largest and wealthiest in the North where Flemish, a cousin of Dutch, is spoken. Wallonia is in the South and is French speaking. Brussels is technically in Flanders and is officially bilingual but the vast majority of people speak French. Add in the six different governments that control the country and you can see how confusing the political, cultural, economic, and linguistic landscape is.
A few friends and I then visited the City Museum and the Chocolate Museum (sadly underwhelming) before meeting up with another group to explore the Royal Palace and the Maigrette surrealist museum.

Also, we had French fries for lunch. They were incredible.

The rest of our time in Brussels passed by in a blur of amazingly delicious Ethiopian food, another waffle, and the chance to see the Mannekin Pis (a tiny, peeing statue of a boy that is the symbol of Brussels) get dressed in an old timey lacrosse uniform. Then we hopped a train to Paris to continue our “studies” (read: continue to eat our way across Europe). x

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