Ah, the land of beer, frites, and chocolate. What’s not to love?
We arrived in Brussels last week via the Eurostar after our 3-month tour of the UK. We loved our time there, but we are happy to be back on unsteady feet again, grappling with the language and customs of a new country.
It’s funny that the moment we stepped off the ship in England after journeying from South America, I was overwhelmed to be surrounded by English and to understand every conversation, sign, and most of the customs. It was a heady experience after six months of only Spanish, and we quickly made friends in our travels. What we didn’t count on, though, was the rebound from all that English after several weeks.
It just wasn’t as challenging.
Don’t get me wrong; we loved our time in the UK, especially Scotland. We made great friends and had deeper conversations than we’ve been able to have up on the trip so far. But it is nice to feel that slightly off-kilter feeling again, hyper-aware of our lack of knowledge about an area and people and determined to rectify that despite the language barrier. It is an on-your-toes kind of sensation that heightens the experience in a way that automatically understanding everything does not.
A funny side note to all of this is our brains’ automatic reaction to being surrounded by non-English speakers: we resort to Spanish. We are “hola-ing” to the “bonjours” and “gracias-ing” when we should be “merci-ing.” It is a confusing time to be in our brains right now, and you know we sorta like that kind of thing. I’m just fascinated with the way our minds work and wonder how learning Thai is going to change things.
So here we are in a gorgeous, sun-filled flat pet-sitting 2 cats for a lovely Canadian couple who have lived here for 6 years. They also run the popular Cheeseweb site for English-speaking expats in Belgium. Who better to pet-sit for than a couple who can tell you what to do and where to go to get the best experience?
We started with a decadent French meal our first night after arriving on the Eurostar. A little hole-in-the-wall type of place that a tourist would never find that served food fit for a queen and excellent French wine to wash it all down. Then we moved on to a tasty Lebanese lunch the next day, followed by our host Alison cooking the most decadent, heart attack inducing meal of Flemish Stew over the famous frites from the Antoine’s. Washed down with 9% Belgian beer, of course.
After Alison and Andrew left, we tried the Moroccan restaurant, the Lebanese bakery and the Turkish takeaway. We bought our meat from a halal butcher and our veggies from the international market near the train station on Sunday.
Warren has been cooking with fresh ingredients from the local market, pouring over Alison’s cookbooks and making my life as near to nirvana as it has ever been. We’re walking all over, exploring the wide boulevards, architecture, and foods of Brussels and getting to know our way around.
We have several day trips planned during our time here (Belgium is relatively small and easy to tour from a home base in Brussels), and we’ll be fueling up in between with the world-famous chocolate, frites and beer.
Stay tuned for what I know will be a fantastic month in this beautiful place.
Do you like the challenge of being in an unfamiliar place with a different language, or do you prefer the deeper understanding you get from speaking the language?