Brussels, Belgium: Death by Chocolate

Admin Note: Taylor is a junior COM student, seeking culture, adventure, and everything Irish during her four months abroad in Dublin. She’ll be blogging from Dublin, Ireland for the COMmunicator this semester.

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Europe creates an alternate universe where my classmates casually allude to weekend trips to exotic cities like Rome, Paris, and Madrid.  No big deal, right? I fully took advantage of this lifestyle (and cheapo student airlines) by nonchalantly sojourning to Brussels, Belgium over the weekend.  It feels unnatural to board a one-hour flight and land in a new country, complete with a drastically new culture and language, but it’s something I could sure get used to.

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Belgium is the land of bottomless chocolate, waffles, and medieval architecture, and Brussels is the epicenter that embodies it all.  The natives speak Dutch and/or French, with many also having at least a basic understanding of English. I was nervous about navigating a foreign train system and city grid, but Brussels was surprisingly easy even to a travel tadpole like me.  For anybody out there who is scared of delving into foreign cities, Brussels is the place to break the ice.

Brussels is so compact that I was able to walk the entire city in one day, and by my second day I rarely needed a map. No, I am not a human MapQuest, it’s just that easy.  Most streets lead to the center of the city, called Grand Place. Grand Place is the home of the City Hall, along with many other awe-inspiring buildings, highlighted with gold accents and liberally studded with a diversity of sculptures that transport you to an earlier time.

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I began the first day by walking along the streets of my hotel, which consisted of every kind of chocolate shop imaginable. I gaped at the beautiful chocolates, indulged in every free sample, and bought myself a new, luxurious treat every two or three stores.  This way, I could consistently test all sorts of chocolate for about 40 cents per piece. I felt like I was walking through Willy Wonka’s factory, and the bliss I felt made it feel even more like a fantasy world.

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As lost as I was in chocolate paradise, the sound of live opera singing and a quick gasp from my friends made me wake up from one dream and walk into another. We had suddenly and completely unexpectedly emerged in Grand Place from a small side street, where the sun shone so brightly that it reflected the gold from the buildings, blinding me in the most delightful way. In this moment I unconsciously threw my arms around my friend in a fit of pure and utter joy, and stepped into Grand Place.

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My every thought and action was encapsulated by the unreal surroundings, and my eyes couldn’t drink in the scene fast enough. I will never forget the moment I first saw Grand Place, for it very well may be the first time I ever fell undeniably in love with a location. Even after a half hour of staring, I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear and repeat “wow” every few seconds.

After catching my breath and taking close to 300 pictures, we wandered off on a quest for authentic Belgium waffles. The quest was easily conquered as there is a waffle stand on every block, and an intoxicating smell to prove it.  The mouthwatering moments that I had to wait as my chocolate sauce and ice cream waffle was being prepared felt like a century, but it was well worth the wait.  The first bite of my waffle might have been the second time I fell in love during that trip.

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Over the course of the next couple days, I walked around the city a few times over while continually admiring the collection of churches and cultural buildings.  Unbeknownst to me, Belgium is also known for its occupation in cartoon art.  The streets are randomly lined with painted murals depicting cartoon characters, especially the Belgium original, “Tin Tin.” The mix between the modern, graffiti-style art and the medieval architecture was surprising and refreshing, and it is so nice to see a country heavily devoted to the continuation of creative arts.  There was even a comic strip museum in the city, which I visited to learn more about Belgium’s history in the industry, and check out some original drawing from the artists.

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It’s exhausting to return to classes following such an exciting weekend, but the moments I experienced were those that I’ve been yearning for my whole life.  I feel like I have a new understanding of beauty, happiness, and life in general, and I can’t wait to see what other epiphanies I’ll stumble upon during this amazing journey.

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