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General Impression of Brussels


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After Paris and Luxembourg, I felt completely lost in Brussels. Not lost as in “Where am I? How do I get home?” Lost as in “Where am I? What do I do?”

It's the same sort of feeling I had in Geneva. I know there are things to do. There are certainly entire guidebooks dedicated to Brussels. You can't find entire guidebooks dedicated to Carry le Rouet. So I know there are plenty of things to do. I just couldn't find them.

I kept walking like I was going to turn a corner and find everything that I was looking for. I have no idea what I was even looking for. I passed plenty of shops, including enough shoe stores to almost make me wish I hadn't bought a pair in Paris just so I would have something else to do right now. Lots of restaurants. Lots of places selling waffles, or chocolate, or beer, or fountains. Good Belgian stores.

I did find one elephant. It was decorated to look like chocolate. It was also a gigantic advertisement for a store, and not part of a campaign to save Asian elephants. I think it might have even been a different species of elephant.

But no matter how often I set out and looped around and circled back and found places I'd been and found the hotel and found places I hadn't yet explored, I still couldn't find any of places I'd been already.

I was close. This is the sixth French-speaking town I've been in this trip (seven with Avignon) and I'm pretty sure I've already seen the names of the streets and plazas. I keep passing chain stores, some European, some that exist in America, that I've seen in other cities. It feels like Brussels is so close to being some place I've already visited.

But that's not really what I want. As much as I liked spending a week in Paris, I like the pressure that one or two days gives me to find out as much about a city as I can in a short period of time. So that's what I was really wandering around trying to find. Brussels. And I don't think I found it. I just found another European city.

I found people who responded in English when I tried to speak to them in French. I found several very pleasant, open plazas. At 5:58 I found a post office that closed at 6:00. I found restaurants and bars and cafes. And it still didn't feel like Brussels.

It's very nice. I have to admire a city that has that many chocolate stores (even if I have not yet found a yarn store.) And there was an outside market-y thing, and people playing music at street corners, and the temperature was pleasant.

I heard tremendous amounts of English, which was disappointing. But that's compensated for by signs, which are usually only in two languages.

Every time I see the elegant phrase in French followed by a single, long German word, I remember the spiel my history teacher used to give about German vs. French. “Say anything in French, and it sounds wonderful. What's French for 'I love you?'”
Someone in the class: “Je t'aime.”
Teacher: “Exactly! Someone says that to you at the prom, you go 'Oh! Me too!' What's German for 'I love you?'”
Someone else in the class: “Ich libe Dich.”
Teacher: “Someone says that to you at prom, you're like 'Ew, get away from me.'”
So at every single sign I thought of how prettier a language French was. The fact that I understood the signs in French better than the ones in German might have helped with that.

By following the signs, I could technically find the heart of the city. It didn't feel like I had, though.

Posted by Soseki 07:11 Archived in Belgium

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