For my final weekend abroad, I decided to travel beyond the UK borders to Brussels, Belgium. Prior to my visit, I knew nothing about Belgium at all which is what appealed to me so much. Among all the European countries, I feel like this one is less visited or talked about, and I really don’t know why! After visiting, I fell in love with the country and I am so glad I went, even though it was just for two days. While I was there, I took a 3-hour walking tour highlighting the key parts of the city, including Grand Place, the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, the Royal Galleries and more. I also got to try the best Belgian waffle(s) I have ever had, incredible “frites” and delicious Belgian chocolate. I learned that French fries actually originated in Belgium–not France!
Besides trying Belgium’s cuisine, I also was exposed to their very progressive and diverse culture. They have 3 official languages: Dutch, German and French–which did cause a bit of a language barrier despite the fact that English is widely spoken there, as well. Obviously, I do not struggle with communicating in the UK but this weekend I did. I went to a restaurant where the whole chalkboard menu was not in English–and I’m not even sure which language it was in! Fortunately, a waitress at the restaurant was able to help us out and translate parts of the menu. At another cafe, we were greeted by the hostess and asked what language we spoke. After informing her we spoke English, she pointed out the English part of the menu which boasted 4 different languages. This was a very interesting experience for me to see firsthand Belgium’s diversity. Since there is no one universal language, everything must be displayed in at least 3. Some other small intriguing things that I picked up on was that Heinz ketchup was EVERYWHERE which was funny because it originates right in Pittsburgh. My friend and I also walked by a storefront where the employee standing in the doorway pointed and shouted “Americans! I can tell!” We honestly have no idea what tipped him off! In terms of Belgium’s progressive culture, while in Grand Place, we saw a wedding conclude between two men and the entire courtyard cheered for them. Belgium is the second country in the world to legalize gay marriage and the LGBT community is widely accepted which is truly amazing and visible through the many rainbow flags and street art.
I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore Belgium, but I look forward to spending my last week abroad here in London. There are many things I will miss about it including the accessibility to the city. I absolutely love that I can walk 5 minutes to Earl’s Court tube station and go anywhere in the whole city I desire. If I want to go to Covent Garden and walk through the narrow beautiful brick streets, or to Camden Market to buy local novelties, or Piccadilly Circus to purchase theater tickets, I easily can. As I mentioned in my last blog post, each different pocket of London is different and has special, unique things about it. I will miss being able to go wherever I want, whenever I want. Another one of my favorite parts of London is Hyde Park because it is right in the middle of the city and beautiful. I love running or walking through the beautiful green park and seeing the big pond, dogs roaming free from their “leads,” or happy families enjoying nature and the nice weather. Hyde Park is a great break from the city–right in the middle of the city. Finally, I will miss the rich culture and history of London. I love how truly old it is and learning something new every day. Even when I am walking down the street, I often see a blue circle on a building naming a significant figure in history who lived there. I feel the urge to research this person and learn something I wouldn’t have. Living in London has truly shown me how much history it has and how relatively new America seems.
There are so many different aspects of living in London that I will miss so much. My experience here has been absolutely unforgettable and I am so grateful to have met such amazing friends along my journey as well. These 6 weeks will stick with me forever and London will always have a special place in my heart.