Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lara and Kirsten Take Brussels

This weekend Lara and I went to Brussels, Belgium!  It was our first trip out of the country without an organized group and the first time I've travelled with just another person on a large trip.  We had an amazing time!!  We lucked out and found a deal on a hotel right in the center of the city so we were within walking distance to Grand Place and many other sites.  We left for our trip on Wednesday night and had an overnight layover in Barcelona (not enjoyable sleeping in the airport) ha but it was definitely an experience.  Thursday we were ready to see the city but our most favorite part of the trip was not really making a set itinerary or plans. 

We were able to wander into Grand Place and visit a variety of chocolate shops (including Godiva), antiques stores, try varieties of cheese and belgian beers, as well as bump into some of the most beautiful monuments and churches I've ever seen.  I truly fell in love with Brussels, possibly since it was more of a northern europe city, or maybe just because of the wonderful chocolate and waffles. 

Lara and I in Grand Place

So many chocolates... so little time

We also managed to see the oh-so-famous statue Mannekin Pis on our first day.  It's a statue of a little boy using the restroom... we still couldn't figure out why it was built but we did learn that the statue gets dressed up for various holidays and events.  Unfortunately when we saw it he was without clothing. 

Me with Mannekin Pis

On Friday we took the metro out to see the Atomium, one of the larger monuments in Brussels, built for its world fair. 

After Atomium we toured the business district where we were able to see the European Union commission buildings.  We walked around the rest of the day, touring through a History of War Museum and seeing the Basilica on the other side of town.  We ate mussels for dinner- another great tradition in Belgium!  On Saturday we headed out to the town of Waterloo, about a 30 minute train ride outside the city to visit the Battle of Waterloo site.  I loved this it was so neat seeing the preserved battlefield and we were able to watch a few videos on some additional history about the battle. 

Lion Mount- built after the battle to symbolize peace restored to Europe

We were able to climb the Lion Mount (quite a hike uphill) and even though our legs were burning after, we could see the entire area where the battle took place.  After our visit to Waterloo we visited the Royal Quarter where the former palace of brussels is located. 

Lara and I at the former palace of Brussels

For me the best part of the trip was not having a plan.  We were able to stroll the streets and bump into amazing monuments, great chocolate stores, and beautiful lace shops.  Brussels was a great city, and the people in it were one of the best parts.  We ran into people from every culture, from Morocco, to Italy, to France, even from a man from Alicante!  We had to translate one of our tours to this man from Alicante because the tour was not available in Spanish.  Everyone we met along the way was helpful and also insightful.  We picked up a few Italian phrases and French greetings, and head a handful of other languages as we walked the streets.  I learned that Europe's central city holds a true variety of culture and language.  I am now inspired to learn more languages, especially after meeting a man from Sweden who casually spoke 8 different languages!!  I want to try to learn more (if I can find room in my schedule!) and would definitely love to visit Brussels again.  Throughout our trip we used plane, train, navigated the metro, used the city bus, and walked. 

The weekend before CIEE as a group traveled to Granada and I loved visiting the Alhambra.  The trip was short but it made me excited to visit Granada again.  This weekend I had the time of my life in Brussels, but now I'm going to take it easy the next few weekends in preparation for Spring Break!!  Over Spring Break I will visit southern spain (Alicante, Granada, Sevilla, then up to Madrid) with Chuck and his dad, then one week in Paris and Rome with my mom, followed by a week with friends (visiting one of my best friends in Siena, Italy, then traveling through hopefully finishing in Vienna and Prague)!  I can't wait for Spring Break but the time here has been flying by.  On Friday of this week our CIEE group will go to Valencia just for the day for Las Fallas, a local festival.  Until then I will be trying to get ahead on lots of papers and projects and enjoying the Alicante sun at the beach.

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