I’ve lived in cities all my life (minus my time at Quinnipiac) however the layout of Brussels is completely different from anything that I’ve ever known. In order to understand how this strange city operates it is first necessary to know that Brussels is composed of 19 communes; these are like neighborhoods in the United States. For the most part, each commune is self-contained and autonomous. If I didn’t go to school in another commune there would be little reason for me to venture outside of mine. In this regard it’s a positive thing that I am located slightly outside of my university. Compared to some other students in my program I have covered considerably more of Brussels and know my way around pretty well. Technically, everything that I need is within a 15 walk of my house: there are banks, Laundromats, grocery stores, shopping, restaurants, and anything else you could possibly need. I have to force myself to go to a pharmacy, for example, that’s a little out of the way in order to explore other areas.
I try to walk everywhere once because after I’ve covered a route by foot I internalize it. I had explored the Watermael- Boitsfort commune, as well as the immediate vicinity of my university in Ixelles so the route I chose for this walk was the area immediately surrounding my internship in Ixelles. I turned on my music and headed North onto Boulevard de Waterloo from the circle at Place Louise. The first song that came on was 2 Chainz’s “I’m different,” but the more I looked around I realized that I wasn’t that different. European’s have this great aloofness to them when they are out in public. They pay you no mind and it’s not in a negative fashion, it’s refreshing really. As long as you aren’t bothering them, they won’t bother you.
I noticed that I dressed very similarly to the people I observed walking around me. I’m no stranger to Europe so maybe one could argue that I picked up this style a long time ago. But the more time I spend in Europe, the more I feel like this is the place where I really belong. Their lifestyle resonates with me; I’m ok with having just enough to get by and I’ve found this is a common value in both Belgium and Germany. Many Europeans believe American’s to be greedy and power hungry, obviously not all of us are like that but I think there is a point to be made that life in America is overtly complicated with material posessions. Somehow, someway the Europeans have figured out how to simplify their lifestyle and be content.
Taking this walk also helped me to realize all the different feels that Brussels has. Louise is nice and upscale, while my commune is residential and quiet, additionally the atmosphere around my university is slightly depressing. Pulling all of these moods together has helped me to fully appreciate the city I now call home.
Reading “Bottom’s Up in Belgium” by Alec Le Sueur prior to my journey was very helpful. Brussels is synonymous with the European Union and the travelogue does a great job describing how different groups in Belgium feel about its presence. The European Union is incredibly complicated and I was relieved to know that even Europeans struggle to fully understand it. This book also had sections on Mannekin- Pis, one of Brussels most famous landmarks and the Atomium, an enlarged model of a carbon crystal. I’ve already visited these landmarks multiple times and surprised my program director with weird random facts.
Le Seuer himself is not originally Belgian and went through the same liminal phase that I am as a study abroad student. In the introduction he mentions how challenging it is to be surrounded by people who don’t speak his first language and the sometimes-unsavory reputation that Belgium has within Europe. This book was a very easy read but it packed in a great deal about the culture and history of Belgium. I would highly recommend reading this book if ever you find yourself about to move to Belgium!