brussels

don’t forget to tell me what you think of this layout! But in the meantime, I’ll leave you with a long-overdue post about my recent trip to Brussels.

-Brussels is only a couple hours south of the Dutch border, but I really felt like I was already in France, not Belgium. Part of it was the language (Brussels is officially bilingual but a lot of transactions actually happen in French), part of it was the city planning and architecture that looked distinctly French, and part of it were the people, that very much did not look Dutch. It’s funny how a couple of hours in a train can take you to a very different part of Europe.

-I don’t speak French. Which was unfortunate, since 70% of Brussels does. Luckily my boyfriend speaks enough French to get by. This did mean that it was automatically my turn to speak up when we were somewhere that had Dutch on its signs as well as the customary French, like when we got coffee at EXKi, a pretty nice chain coffee/fresh food place. When I went in to order, the guy behind the register greeted me with “Bonjour!”, so I took a deep breath and ordered two cups of coffee in my best French (that amounts to me awkwardly saying, “Um, un lungo et un caffelatte”. I totally forgot the “s’il vous plait”; my high school French teacher would be so disappointed). The guy probably heard my distinctly Dutch accent and took pity on me, as he then switched to English..but we got the coffee, that’s what counts.

-Also, not only do I not speak French, when someone addresses me in a foreign language, I blurt out all and any foreign words I know. I found myself with the almost irresistible urge to reply “Danke schon!” to everyone. That was very helpful, as I’m sure you can imagine.

-We got in around seven on Friday night, so we decided to eat in with some stuff we got at a local supermarket. On Saturday night, we were planning to eat here, but it turned out to be closed still for summer holidays. Which we only found out after walking (uphill, I might add!) for quite a while. By that time we were so tired and hungry we joked about just going home and snacking on the chips and chocolate and granola and the lone zucchini that was left in the fridge. That idea began to sound more appetizing by the minute, and we finally just picked up some gnocchi and salad at the aforementioned EXKi and enjoyed it on the couch at home. I have to tell you, that was pure bliss after walking around all day.

-On Saturday, we walked around, just to gain a feel of the city.

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One of the stops we made was at Sterlings, a wonderful English-language bookstore. They had many of my favorites, and it took a lot of self-control to not buy anything. One of the things I liked was that they had a special classics section, with many of my favorites, and also many books I’ve yet to read.

-Sunday was our last day, and we started it bright and early at the market, held next to the Gare du Midi (the South Brussels train station). We just wanted to browse, see what kind of products the locals ate, and pick up some food for the train ride back. Well, we wound up buying avocados, corn on the cob, cheese, zucchini flowers, figs, and a whole lot of smoked garlic because we couldn’t resist the deals they offered and it all looked so good. Oh, and a baguette and a whole chicken to eat on the way home. (As an aside, the garlic spent a while on my coffee table, making my room smell all smokingly delicious.)

-We ate lunch on Sunday at Mer du Nord/Noordzee, a delightful corner fish shop kind of thing. It was set up with a long bar, and you ordered stuff off the menu, ate it standing at the bar, and paid afterwards. We had shrimp and escargots. Yes, I ate snails. (Well, I ate one snail, actually. That was quite thrilling enough.) It wasn’t at all squishy like I thought it would be, so that was good.

– I would really like to go back. It’s a very friendly city; it’s not very easy to define it, or to even characterize it. But I liked it – if only they’d stop speaking French.

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