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Published: November 8th 2011
This weekend I visited my foreign exchange sister from high school, Charlotte. Charlotte lived with my family and me for my senior year of high school in Massachusetts. She is from the French-speaking area of Belgium, Wallonia. It had been over two years since I had seen her and I was excited to meet her in Belgium. I had been looking forward to seeing her because I wanted to catch up on "the good old days" and meet her family.
I met up with Charlotte at the Brussels airport on Friday morning. After reconnecting, we met her 15-year-old brother, Antoine in the main train station in Brussels. Antoine spoke French and was in his second year of English in high school. We were able to talk about basic things in English, such as our hobbies and where we live. Afterwards, we all went to Charlotte's dorm room at her university so that I could put my backpack down before we went sightseeing. I was glad to see Charlotte's dorm room at her college, Catholic University of Louvain, because it was the first European university I had visited.
First, we went to Antoine's favorite monument in Brussels, Atomium. Atomium is
a massive atom structure built for the 1958 Exposition in Brussels. The inside of the atom was kind of funky because we took elevators and stairs that led to different parts of the structure. We were able to see the different areas of Brussels from the top, including the EU buildings, mini Europe, and the Brussels soccer stadium.
From there, we proceeded to go to downtown Brussels for lunch. Antoine and I ate Belgian Fries, not to be confused with French Fries. When the lady at the restaurant asked me if I would like mayonnaise with my fries I thought she was joking. Apparently, Belgians enjoy their fries with mayonnaise. I'm not a strong supporter of mayonnaise so I stuck with my traditional ketchup on that one.
Afterwards, we walked a few streets over to the Grand Place, the main square in Brussels where its town hall is located. Charlotte told me that during the summer there are concerts in the Grand Place and a flower carpet that stretches across the entire plaza. We kept on walking down another street to the Mannekin Pis statue. Mannekin Pis is Dutch for "Little Boy Peeing." The statue pees water and
sometimes beer on special occasions. I thought it was funny that this statue was a popular tourist destination in Brussels, but the people there seemed to like it.
We walked back to the Grand Place and bought some Belgian chocolate on the way. Charlotte and Antoine picked out the chocolate for me and it was delicious. Charlotte swears that Belgian chocolate is better than Swiss chocolate. I've never tasted Swiss chocolate but I'll take her word on it.
Then, we went to the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Gudule. I somehow end up finding statues of St. Michael in the churches I visit in Europe. Of course, this cathedral had an impressive statue of St. Michael fighting a demon. We continued on our way to the Royal Palace of Belgium. This was the equivalent of the White House in the United States. Charlotte told me that the King Albert II does not in fact live at the Royal Palace, he only works there. Afterwards, we walked through the Kings Garden to the Belgian Congress. Currently, Belgium does not have an official government. Charlotte told me not to worry though because King Albert II is hard at work trying
to establish a new government with Congress.
Later on, we took the subway to the European Union Quarter of Brussels. The European Commission and Council of the European Union buildings were pretty impressive. We didn't have the opportunity to venture inside of the buildings but we did go in one of the buildings and I received a ton of literature about the Union and a cartoon map of the EU. Hopefully I'll find some time to read up on the EU. Charlotte and I joked that in the future the countries of the EU will unite into one country and be called the United States of Europe.
We went back to the main part of town again for some Belgian waffles. Antoine introduced me to Liege Waffles, his favorite kind of Belgian Waffles. These waffles are from the town Liege, a French-speaking city in Wallonia. Afterwards, we went to one of Charlotte's favorite bars, Delirium, in Brussels. I tasted my first Belgian Beer there, Duvel. It was much stronger than the beer I am accustomed to drinking but still a good beer. Charlotte ordered a fruity beer that was also pretty good. It was the first time I
tasted a beer with a fruity flavor but it actually tasted pretty good.
Antoine went back to their house after we finished our drinks at the bar. Charlotte and I went back to her university so that we could go to the pre-party for her ball. I met some of her university friends there at the pre-party. I was immensely impressed with her friends' English. We talked about Belgium, America, and culture that night. They told me that they listen to some American music and watch some American movies, which helps them improve their English. After talking to her friends, I told myself that I would begin to listen to more Spanish music to help improve my Spanish.
After the pre-party Charlotte's mom drove me to their home and Charlotte went to the ball. Her mom was very nice and hospitable. The language barrier prevented us from having in-depth conversations but we were still able to communicate some basic sentences to each other on the ride to Charleroi, the city next to Charlotte's house. When I arrived at her house I met her dad for the first time. He was glad to see me and was a nice
The next morning, Antoine and I ate breakfast at their house. We ate bread with speculoos spread. Speculoos spread tastes like gingerbread but in a sauce form. After breakfast we took the train to Brussels and met Charlotte. On the train ride to Brussels I taught Antoine some English and drew a map of California for him. I explained to him where I go to college and other cool places in California: where my relatives live, where Hollywood is, etc.
From Brussels we took another train to Bruges, a tourist city know for its canals. Bruges is compared to Venice because both cities have an intricate system of canals. Charlotte's mom referred to Bruges as "la petite d'venice" or "Little Venice."
We walked around the city of Bruges that morning, through the historic center and across the canals. It was a beautiful city full of history and culture. In the afternoon we went to the De Halve Maan Brewery. The tour guide was hilarious; my favorite story of hers explained the cleaning of the brewery tanks in the olden days. Teenage boys were hired to clean the "almost" empty beer tanks. In her words, they would
leave "hoppy" after a hard days work.
After we toured the brewery, we went to the Church of Our Lady to see the Madonna and Child statue by Michelangelo. The cool thing about this statue is that it was the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy when he was alive. Later on, we went to the Béguignage, a place that is currently a Benedictine Nun monastery. The Béguignage was once a place where women would live and practice devout religious lives, without ever taking vows. We ended the day in the beautiful Minnewater Park before returning to Charleroi.
That night I met Charlotte's older sister, Elodie. Elodie is a year older than Charlotte and studying at the same university as Charlotte to be a dentist. She was surprised to hear that I go to the dentist twice per year in the United States because her family only goes once per year in Belgium. Anyways, we ate tomatoes with shrimp, mussels, and, of course, Belgian Fries, for dinner. This was their traditional Belgian dinner. It reminded me of the traditional New England dinner that we cooked for Charlotte when she lived with us, Lobster. The dinner was delicious
and I enjoyed talking with her family about Belgium, America, and culture in the two countries.
The next morning we ate crepes for breakfast. I was looking forward to eating crepes the entire weekend because I remember that I really enjoyed the crepes Charlotte made for us when she lived with my family and me in Massachusetts. Her family loaded me up with Belgian chocolates and sweets to take back with me to Barcelona that morning. Luckily, I didn't have to declare any goods when I went to the airport that afternoon.
I'm glad I had the opportunity to see Charlotte and meet her family. They were very nice and extremely hospitable to me that weekend. I'm also grateful for the Belgian culture that I experienced that weekend, thanks to Charlotte and her family. My friends in Barcelona also thank her family for the chocolates I brought to Barcelona.
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