Another Week in Brussels

With a week full of midterms nearing, my social life has taken a serious hit this week.

That doesn’t mean I’ve had much time to study though. Tuesday and Thursday mornings were both spent at the Schaerbeek commune, where I’ve wrestled with Belgian bureaucracy.

Or more like, my ISA resident director Sabine has been wrestling, and I’ve been cheering.

The goal is to legalize my stay in Brussels, and ultimately, to extend my visa until May to schengen and non-schengen areas alike. As of now, I am technically not a resident of Brussels, and once my visa expires, I can’t go to non-schengen countries like the England, Ireland or Romania.

Each commune, or neighborhood, has its own rules and required documents. And they’re probably all annoying.

The very first time Sabine and I trekked out there, it was just after the 8 a.m. opening, the last week of August. We were told that the rules had changed. I was given an appointment — which means nothing — for October 20, but we were also advised to try at the end of September.

Due to business and busyness, we didn’t return until this Tuesday. I arrived 10 minutes before the commune’s opening to hoards of people crowded around the door. Yikes. Three hours later, our ticket number was finally called, and we were told we not only needed the previously specified documents, but photocopies of said documents. And no, they did not have time to photocopy things themselves.

So we grudgingly returned on Thursday at 8 a.m., the train station-esque waiting hall becoming very familiar territory. Two hours of waiting later, we lucked out. Step number one to my resident permit has been completed. Now I wait three weeks, get something in the mail and — whee! — I get to go back.

The week had some more pleasant times, too, though.

On the first Wednesday of every met, a bunch of museums in Brussels are free after 1 p.m. I headed to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, specifically, the Museum of Ancient Art and the tiny “Museum of Modern Art,” which was basically a small exhibit due to some remodeling.

The Museum of Ancient art was quite beautiful though, and it held impressive collections of Pieter Brueghel and Peter Paul Rubens — two painters I’ve been studying in my Art History class. I convinced myself that my museum trip was as helpful to my studies as, say, studying.

Later that night, Sabine hosted a movie night at the ISA office, where we had a fabulous Belgian dinner and watched “In Bruges.” Sabine dished out carbonnade à la flamande, a traditional beef stew made with (of course) beer. On the side was seemingly bottomless frites (of course).

I saw “In Bruges” years ago in the states, but I enjoyed the film far more after visiting Bruges. And jokes about Belgium being a bullshit country are a lot funnier after you here them in person, in Belgium.

On Thursday I showed a 23-year-old couchsurfer from Poland around downtown Brussels during my three-hour break between classes. Brussels was her last stop on a one-month sojourn through Europe, where she almost exclusively couchsurfed and hitchhiked solo. We talked about Belgium, Poland and her travels. She said there was only one instance all month where she felt uneasy about one of her hosts, but otherwise, she met the most wonderful and memorable people. Her only real regret was not bringing her laptop around, as the lack of internet made couch-searching and such more difficult than she had anticipated. She also recommended pepper spray, just in case. Tips noted!

And, finally, last night I finally checked out L’Archiduc, a 1930s jazz bar in downtown Brussels. The swanky decor and swanky clientele, joyously grooving to an eclectic jazz DJ, was a beautiful escape from the standard Belgian pub scene. In other words, I am definitely taking my dad there.

Janelle Bitker
Brussels, Belgium
Academic Year 2011-2012 

Follow her other adventures this year at

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