Well, before I cut to the chase and tell you all about my trip to Belgium, I feel that I should give you a brief update about life here at the John Felice Rome Center. My classes are going well, I’m learning to love Mensa meals (and savor every bite, since they’re already paid for), I sang at mass with the rest of the voice students last night (though I didn’t really care for the formality of the mass, as I have been raised as an Apostolic Lutheran) and I’ve been playing calcio (or soccer) every Wednesday night.
Let me give you a brief overview of calcio. There are about 12 teams of students with some faculty and staff members that play each other on small turf fields every Wednesday night. Three games are played at once on three fields that are fenced in and covered by nets. To give you some idea of what we play on, the fields are also used as tennis courts and are therefore not very padded. I’m on the orange team. We lost our first game and last week we tied with the pink team. It’s really fun, though some people take it a little bit too seriously. I almost didn’t sign up to play, but I’m really glad I did. I haven’t played soccer since seventh grade. It feels good to be back.
Now, on to Brussels. Ashley, Erica and I boarded the plane for our flight to Belgium at Ciampino Airport, just 30 minutes from the center of Rome. Everything went smoothly on the flight until I realized that half of my upper lip and gums were numb. I still don’t know why my mouth went numb, as I hadn’t eaten or done anything different that morning. I was chewing gum at the time, so I made sure to spit that out and eventually the numbness subsided. It was really strange. I didn’t have any other incidents the rest of the weekend, thankfully.
We landed outside of Brussels at Charleroi Airport. I was immediately aware of the French being spoken around me and automatically felt vulnerable, but not threatened. It was definitely an interesting experience being in a country that touts two native languages (French, as aforementioned, as well as Dutch). Luckily, most people spoke some English.
We checked into our hostel on Friday and decided to walk around and find somewhere to eat lunch. We picked a street that looked like it could be promising. We ended up walking for longer than we had planned, but we ended up in the center of Brussels in about 20 minute’s time. Instead of a sitdown restaurant, we opted for waffles. I mean, who wouldn’t want a Belgian waffle?
After enjoying our first waffle, we walked around for a while longer and went into a mall to get warm, as it was definitely colder in Brussels than in our beloved Rome.
Eventually, we got hungry again, so we decided to try another of Brussel’s delicacies: french fries.
We learned from a helpful map given to us by the hostel receptionist that Belgians don’t eat “tourist waffles.” They simply eat “street waffles,” which are generally cheaper, plain waffles. We decided to indulge ourselves anway:
The strawberries and bananas were perfect, the whipped cream was fresh and light and the waffle was the perfect balance between soft and crunchy. While the tourist waffle was absolutely delicious, none of us were capable of finishing it.
We returned to our hostel early that night, exhausted from traveling, walking and eating our weight in waffles.
We woke up the next morning and decided to explore the park that was right down the street from our hostel. It was called Elisabethpark. I thought that the fog was an added bonus in the photos I took.
We then took the Metro into town and decided to embark on one of the walking routes drawn for us in our maps. The European Walk was supposed to take 55 minutes, but it ended up taking us about three hours. It was a nice time, though.
The walk took us though parts of Brussels that we would otherwise not have visited. It took us through the Art Nouveau Area, which was really nice. There was a duck pond that was surrounded by beautiful homes.
The map then took us to one of my favorite spots in the whole city: Parc du Cinquantenaire.
We then went into the army museum that is located in the building attached to the arch. After we left, we stumbled upon a waffle cart. We decided to start our morning off with a street waffle, or plain waffle.
We then followed our map for a time and decided to get french fries again (if you couldn’t tell, we committed to eating only waffles and french fries. I eat healthily (usually) otherwise, so why not?. Our trusty map suggested Antoine’s, a fritkot not far from where we were. There was a long line, but we waited and were definitely satisfied.
The map then instructed us to go to a nearby park to eat our fries. It described Leopold Park as a former zoo that closed “because all the animals had died.” How’s that for a bit of history? The park was across from the European Parliament (Brussels is the capital of Belgium AND the European Union, which was kind of cool to learn about).
After finishing the first walk, we decided to do a second walk because we had time. This walk was less exciting. It brought us through “Little Africa” and to Stefania Square, the high-end shopping area in Brussels. It did guide us to this spot that overlooked the city, which was nice.
Conveniently, there was another waffle truck right by where this photo was taken. We opted for a waffle break.
We ended our walk and moseyed over to the main part of the city. We walked around some more and passed by the tourist shops again. Then, Ashley and I bought another waffle (I guarantee you there was a good two hours between this waffle and the previous waffle). It was alright.
We did some shopping and then ended our night with (you guessed it) another waffle before heading back to our hostel to catch some shuteye before our early flight back to Rome the next morning.
The next morning, we got up and were on our way to the airport by 4:00 AM. Nothing like an early flight to start the day. I was hungry at the airport, so I decided to peruse the vending machine for some sustenance. What I found was…
We arrived safely at Ciumpino (without any numbness of the mouth this time around) and it felt like we were at home. It’s funny how living somewhere for a month can start to feel like home, even when you are consciously aware that your home is thousands of miles away.
All in all, the weekend was relaxing and delicious. I don’t know if I will ever be able to eat waffles at home again.
That’s a lie. But those waffles were so good. I recommend that everyone stop in Brussels at some point in their lives and try one. They’re definitely worth it.
This weekend I’m taking a day trip to Pompeii on Friday and staying in Rome for the remainder. Next week is midterm week and then it’s spring break! Time sure flies when you’re having fun (and traveling throughout Europe)!