“The mind loves the unknown. It loves images whose meaning is unknown, since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown.” – Rene Magritte (Belgian artist, surrealist painter, 1898-1967)
I said in my last blog entry that it hadn’t really hit me that I was going be studying in a foreign country for the next five months. Well, it has definitely hit me now. I touched down at Brussels International Sunday morning at 7:10 am, (just past midnight for all of you on CST) and at this point, have barely been able to catch my breath. The first week has really flown by.
CIEE (the Council on International Education Exchange, UW’s partner for this study abroad program) has really done a nice job of keeping us busy and informed. On Sunday after everyone got into Brussels, we were stuck in quite a few meetings regarding the program, the city, safety, travel, and classes. While the meetings were not exactly entertaining, they did their job by keeping us awake throughout the day and helping us adjust to the time change. It was a really long day as I had been up since 8 am CST Saturday in Chicago, and went to bed at 11 pm local time on Sunday in Brussels.
Monday and Tuesday brought more meetings and many tours of Brussels’ beautiful city center, the Grand Place (which is unbelievable to see in person) and its other outer regions. On Monday night we were lucky enough to take a tour and tasting at one of Brussel’s oldest breweries, the Brasserie Cantillon. It was a really cool experience. On a family trip I had toured the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado so I thought I knew what to expect, but it was nothing like what I pictured. The brewery was located in a building that looked like a run-down warehouse on the outside, and to be honest the inside wasn’t exactly impressive either. Covered in spider webs and home to what the tour guide described as “duh brewery cat, necessary for duh killing of duh mice” the building had quite a bit of character. While the building wasn’t exactly a site to see, the beer tasted great, unlike anything you would ever taste in the US. Cantillon specializes in making the traditional Belgian beers lambic (a beer with absolutely zero carbonation which is aged 3 years in a maple barrel before being bottled), gueuze (a beer that has a taste strikingly similar to that of champagne) and kriek (a sour cherry flavored beer), and is one of the only surviving breweries in Belgium to brew their beer in the traditional way. My dad will probably laugh at this, but I realize why he has an appreciation for foreign alcohols and the processes that lead up to their creation. It really is kinda cool!
We also had our first official Belgian meal as a group on Tuesday night at La Mirabelle, a restaurant near our schools campus. The food was outstanding and I am really going to enjoy the variety that Belgian restaurants have to offer. One popular item around here is the Frite, which must be French for the “french fry.” However, dont call it a “French Fry” around a Belgian (one guy even joked and asked us about “freedom fries” which was pretty funny) , I am not sure of its true invention but they claim it as their own. There are Frite stands located everywhere on town, Madisonian’s might relate their popularity to that of Jin’s Chicken or my personal favorite, Big Red’s Steaks, they really have somewhat of a cult following. I will admit I am trying to avoid the frites in an attempt to return home wearing the same size of jeans.
The most exciting day thus far has been Thursday, the day we got to move our belongings out of a hostel and into our personal apartments. My apartment is awesome, located a block off of Avenue Louise, which is Brussels most famous street for shopping and includes Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Dolce and Gabana amongst its other tenants. Its quite an international house, as I have three Americans from my program in the house along with myself, and other students and young workers from Belgium, France, Finland, and Sweden who permanently live here. My housemates from the US seem to be a good group and I think it will be a lot of fun. I was really getting sick of staying in the hostel, and am looking forward to living in such a great location with easy access to public transportation and a short tram ride from campus.
While the week has really flown by I look forward to this weekend and having the chance to explore more of Brussels and getting to know some of my fellow classmates. I’ll be back next week with some more good stuff as school starts Monday and I know for a fact that it won’t be like class in Madison.