Sunday, November 18, 2012

Brussels, Belgium

Belgium is a small country split between Flemish speakers and French speakers. Bitter land disputes between the two language groups still exist today and there is a growing Flemish separatist movement. Multiple people told us not to worry about being caught in a civil war during our stay, which I wasn't worried about.. until they said something! 

Day One: Brussels

First stop: BelgianWaffles oh and Shia LaBeouf+Tom Hardy.. yeah my good friend and I definitely had a conversation with them. Long story..

Next up: A tour of Brussels! 
Not to be outdone by Paris, Brussels wanted to build a monument with not one but three arches to celebrate it's foundation. 
Brussels is quite famous for its fresh seafood dishes. 

Main Square in Brussels 

Day Two: Brugge+Ghent 

An open notice to my future husband: We will be going on our honeymoon here. That is all. 
Welcome to autumn in Brugge. 
Brugge is the dutch name for the city, the english name is Bruges. 

Notice the dog in the carriage, remind you of anyone? (hint: Wishbone) 


The streets of Brugge 

Where the nuns live. 

It is no wonder that the entire center of Brugge has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
For those of you reading this blog in Utah: There is a waffle place in Salt Lake City across the street from pioneer park named Brugge after this city. Try their waffles with speculoos and their frites, life changing. 

Ghent, Belgium

The Cathedral at Ghent. Home to the famous Ghent Altarpiece which we got to visit (no pictures allowed though) 

 Day Three: Brussels 
Morning: Visit to NATO Head Quarters. [again, not down for pictures, something about national security, whatever] Our bus was searched by dogs and we had to go through several layers of security just to get in to the "non-confidential" part of NATO. But after a week of meetings at international organizations I was already a pro at security checks. 

I loved NATO! Our first speaker was over media relations and is a representative for NATO when they must give press conferences and answer questions. This was very apparent when members of our group (myself included) asked him questions after his presentation. Every word he said in answering was weighted and calibrated to not take too official or strong a stance on everything. I didn't appreciate that so much but I could understand. Our second speaker on the other hand walks into the room 15min late apologizing for the delay but explaining that there is a ship off the coast of Africa displaying very suspicious behavior. Switching its plans from Cairo to Libya to Greece and back, the officer went on to say that he was on the phone with heads of states trying to come to an agreement to board the ship and search it. His presentation was incredible and he allowed much more time for questions. Members of our group asked some hard questions on topics from NATO's botched Kosovo operations to lack of action in Syria this year vs the drastic action in Libya last year. This speaker answered each question honestly and frankly stating that he thinks his generation could learn a lot from mine. 

The famous Manikin Pis aka the little peeing boy of Brussels. Two urban legends surround his existence (1) That during WWI a bomb fell in Brussels but didn't explode on impact. Everyone was too afraid to go touch it but a little boy waltzed over and peed on it. Saving the city. (2) The section of brussels where the statue is located was formerly the tanning (as in leather working) section of town. And if you know anything about leather working back in the early 20th century it required lots of urine. So the statue was to identify this part of town with leather making. I personally am still confused to why this statue is so famous and so replicated. 

 Fun Fact#1: Belgium proclaims itself to be the original inventor of chocolate.. for centuries Belgians have said that the art of chocolate making was stolen from them by none other than the Swiss.

the best meal you will ever have: waffle+nutella+speculoos. I discovered a deeply passionate love for speculoos while on this trip! 

A glimpse at the detailed architecture that dominated the main square 

Fun Fact #2: Prior to 1812 chocolate was only sold in chunks, bars, sheets etc. It was a Belgian chocolatier (Nehaus) who first created a truffle. Nehaus is now a chocolate shop (pictured above) and is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the truffle! 

Day Four: Brussels
Morning: Visited the United States Mission to the European Union where we got to here from a communications officer in charge of energy relations between the European Union and the United States. He was very optimistic about the growing popularity of wind power and the move towards Smart Grid Technology. I actually ended up writing my final 15 page research paper post-Academic Travel on the future for smart grid technology cooperation. I am super interested in the things he was speaking about but more than anything this meeting changed my future plans. I used to think that I wanted to work for the government, perhaps in  the State Department as these people were doing. But I hate how they are unable to express their own opinion and with each changing administration have to change their stance on an issue. I just dont think I could work towards something I don't believe in. Or more likely when it comes to US and the environment, I would hate to have to work against what I believe in most. Luckily for me I can have a voice in government without being a mouthpiece for government. There are no shortage of NGOs working to get their message heard and I would love nothing more than to join their good fight! 

Afternoon: The European Union's Parliment in Brussels. There are actually two meeting buildings for the EU Parliment. Currently the whole council rotates between Strasbourg and Brussels. Mainly in Strasbourg, just because both dont want to give up the esteem of hosting the council. So between these three giant buildings that mostly sit empty I don't wonder why the Euro is in such a crisis right now.. 

After presentations we opted to walk back to the hotel instead of riding the bus and I got to explore some of natures finest autumn colors! 'twas a beautiful day for exploring the hidden parks of Brussels! 

To the Point: If you are ever planning a trip to Belgium, a stop in Brussels is necessary but I would spend the majority of your time in one of the smaller cities like Brugge! The old town area of Brussels is beautiful but overall Brussels felt the most industrialized and dirty of all the cities we visited. Dont get caught up in its hustle and bustle, instead head to the flemish countryside! 

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