Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What I'll Miss Most

Ok, I'm not much of a blogger but I'll give this a try.

I can't believe that my time in Brussels has dwindled down to 4 measly days. When I originally arrived, the 7 weeks ahead of me seemed daunting. I was sure that by the end of June I would be ready to go home, but it is exactly the opposite. If I could stay in Brussels, I would. Now the thought of heading back home, aside from the joy of seeing friends and family, seems awful. There are a myriad of things I am going to miss dearly. So far my list consists of:


There is nothing better than an authentic Belgian waffle fresh from the waffle iron. They have quickly become my favorite snack and their wide availability makes them a staple in my day. I will miss having the option to grab on on the way out of the metro after work, or walking downtown. Eggo just won't cut it anymore.


So I wasn't an immediate fan. Originally I tried the Speculoos cookies, which I think are pretty meh. I was informed that I should dip them in coffee, which I don't really like, so I decided to abandon the mission of liking Speculoos. I later found out that it also comes in a spread, and I have since developed a taste for Speculoos and Nutella sandwiches (thanks to Rob and Chris). I can't really describe Speculoos, it is just one of those things you have to experience for yourself. I think I may have to smuggle a jar home


You don't realize how nice it is to have the option to sit outside with friends, enjoying a drink and perhaps a meal, and leisurely people watching. Cafes are a European staple it seems, and the landscape in D.C. just won't look right without them. Cafes are a great place to pop in quickly, or spend an afternoon. You can meet with friends or enjoy a little personal time, either way the atmosphere and the experience are something I am really going to miss. Perhaps outdoor cafes will come to D.C.


While most people think "France" when they think of breads, I'm thinking "Belgium." Belgium has an amazing assortment of breads for any meal and any taste. There are bakeries throughout Brussels, all filled with delectable pastries and loaves of soft brown goodness. I don't believe that Adkins would go over very well in Belgium, and I think that's a good thing. I am a big fan of the selection at Kraainem Carrefour, which spans several aisles in the back of the store stocked with tons of options, as well as an automatic slicer, so you have have your bread freshly sliced once you have made you decision.

Chocolate Shops

I pass at least 3 (if not more) chocolate shops on my way to work every morning. There is one in the metro where I change trams, and one within a 5 minute walk from my office. They are beautifully done, with shelves of perfectly aligned confectionery treats, in all kinds of chocolate, with all kinds of fillings. I have discovered a love for dark chocolate and hazelnut, as well as a new found appreciation for marzipan. My host mother gave me a 250 gram box from Leonidas and it was the most amazing gift I have ever received. I will miss popping into one walking down the street for a quick bite, or just to admire the stock. They also make great gifts as they will willingly wrap the boxes in decorative wrapping and ribbons. While leaving Belgium may be better for my diet, I will surely miss the indulgence.


I have a new found love of trams, and I really think they should re institute tram travel in DC. They can access places not serviced by the metro and they give you a chance to see the sights above ground. There is a tram stop at the end of my block and I take at least 2 trams every morning to get to my internship. They are simple, convenient and I just think they're neat. They give you another option besides the bus and the metro and sometimes are a lot easier and quicker than them as well. I fully support bringing back the tram :)

Train travel

I would love it if the U.S. expanded its train capabilities. The idea of showing up at the station, buying a ticket and an hour or so later being in a completely different country is so much fun to me. So much less hassle than catching a plane, especially with security the way it is, and if you have a fear of flying it gives another option besides making a ridiculously long drive. I love the trains in Belgium, even when the seats are full and you have to sit on the floor between cars. I can leave in the morning, spend the day at the coast, and be back before bedtime for 10 euro. That's a tough deal to beat.

Knowing exactly how much something costs
So while the VAT can be kind of annoying, knowing how much something will cost is fantastic. There is no confusion when you get to the check out, no need to configure additional costs. Splitting a tab at dinner is easy, and there is no need to worry that what you have in your wallet won't cover the ultimate purchase price. With the total cost already presented to you, you know what you can afford upfront and you don't have to worry about anything else on top of that. I think it is sooo much easier, even if it makes things a bit more pricey.

The Grand Place

There is nothing better than meeting friends for en evening on the Grand Place. At night, the buildings are softly lit and there are throngs of people sitting on blankets enjoying the evening. There are shops open late, cafes, waffles and chocolate on every side street, and the thrill of being immersed in the culture of a foreign city. There's nothing quite like it back home, and I will really miss it.

The Stockel Metro Station

I have spent a lot of time at the Stockel/Stokkel metro station, waiting for metros, waiting for Jenny, shopping at the Match or grabbing a fabulous sandwich. The Stockel metro is particularly endearing due to it's Tintin motif, which I think makes it one of the friendliest, most colorful stations. The walls are covered with Tintin scenes, and every time I glance at the wall I see something I didn't see before. It always puts a smile on my face :)

The Music in the Metro

So the metro is continuously playing music, and in the last 7 weeks I have heard more Pink, Lily Allen, and Katy Perry than I have heard in my life. It's usually the same few songs over and over, except at night a few hours before metro closes when it switches to classical. Then you know it's late and it's time to head home.

My abonnement

So when we first spent 30 euro for our metro passes I was a little taken aback by the cost, but now with how much I use it, I find that is is a far superior deal to the D.C. Smartrip card. I can use trams, buses, the metro, anywhere, all day long and I'm covered. I take at least 4 separate means of transport just to a from my internship every day, and I go from one side of the city to another. That kind of travel would be so expensive on the D.C. metro, and that doesn't include personal travel for meeting friends or sightseeing. I like the value and the freedom the abonnemont brings and I hope maybe one day the concept will make it over the Atlantic.

My Internship
I absolutely adore my internship. I am working at CEJI, an organization which works for an inclusive Europe. I have been working on a project lobbying the European Parliament to sign on to the London Declaration Combating Antisemitism, which entails a lot of research and grassroots kinds of efforts. I have learned a lot about MEPs, the Parliament, Belgian politics, and I have even been so lucky as to attend meetings at the Parliament. The people I work with are incredibly kind and friendly and they have taught me a great deal and made me feel really at home in the office. They have really enriched my experience here and I will never forget them.

My wonderful host family
So my host family is anything but Belgian, which I was a little disappointed about in the beginning, but have quickly gotten over. My family is full on British and live in Belgium for work. I have found that learning British English is almost like learning a completely different language at times, and I find their accent infectious. They are very kind and generous, they have totally opened their home to me, and last weekend they took me with them on a trip to London. I feel really lucky to have had such a positive experience with them, and I will miss them when I leave.

The amazing group of people I have met

I have met the most amazing people here and I will miss them terribly when we leave. I've been fortunate enough to have these fantastic people living close by so that seeing them is a breeze and it will be so odd when they are not a part of my everyday life. I'll miss riding the tram with Rob and Chris, meeting up with Jenny, Erica and Rachel for dinner, and meeting Luke, Caroline, Nikki and Lexi downtown. There are no other people that I would rather spend an evening with, or a day riding a kinderkart with at the coast, or even traveling to Paris. My best memories are filled with these people, and these memories are so cherished because these people are a part of them. Of everything, they are the best part of this experience.

All in all, this has been one of the greatest experiences in my life. If I could ever find a job in Brussels I would move here without hesitation. I love this city and this country, I love the people I have met and the things I have been fortunate enough to experience. I hope this is a program AU will continue for a while, especially for the grad students, because it really is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

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