Back in Belgium

I’m back.

Back to the ISA Student Blog and back to Brussels, Belgium, my home since late August.

Brussels is an amazing city, with way too much to discover in just a few months. I’m looking forward to delving into the smaller neighborhoods for long, long walks and seeing what I can find. Based on my incessant research through various books, articles and blogs, I’m quite sure there’s a lot.

In fact, there are even tons of normal, not-hidden things in Brussels that I’ve been meaning to do ever since I’ve arrived. I always knew I’d have spring semester, but I still can’t help feeling pathetic for still having never been to Cinematek, the super cool film museum that screens global classics, or Chez Leon, a touristy spot but nonetheless a restaurant world renowned for its mussels.

It’s amazing that in a brand new city — a city you pass through for two nights — you can manage to hit all the desired museums and the cool clubs you’ve been reading about. Easy. But in your own city, things somehow take more effort.

Maybe I’m thinking this way because I’m tired. I’ve been in Brussels for nearly one week, but prior, I was on the road for more than five. It was my winter vacation and, gosh darn, I was going to use it.

A view of Salzburg
A view of Salzburg

I flew into Austria, and backpacked through Vienna, Salzburg, Munich, Prague and Bratislava. I couchsurfed the whole way, met some fantastic people, got crash-courses in all the local cultures, and ate a ton. Wiener Schnitzel, Sachertorte, Leberkäse, Weißwurst, Bryndzové Halušky… Oh my!

Potato Dumplings with Sheeps Milk
Bryndzové Halušky, potato dumplings with sheep's milk cheese and bacon, Bratislava's national dish
The Christmas Market in Vienna
The Christmas Market in Vienna

After that, I ventured to a small farm in France and completed a two-week work exchange — I put in 6 hours of work a day, and in turn, I was fed and housed. It was certainly an experience. I have never been so utterly bad at anything in my entire life — chasing loose bunnies, feeding goats hay, opening absurdly heavy doors — but by the end, I learned loads about thriftiness and self-reliance.

Chickens on the farm in France
Chickens on the farm in France

After that, I had a week in the Bordeaux region of France to eat some more and decompress.

All in all, it was a fantastic break that I’ll never forget. Now that I’ve settled into Brussels a bit, I’m already itching to get up and leave again. Ah, the travel bug! It exists! I thought I’d be purely exhausted but the desire is ever present!

Luckily for me, Belgium is excellently located for quick and inexpensive trips into Holland, Germany and France. Perhaps I’ll utilize the next couple weekends to get this bug out of my system, before schoolwork piles up. Or, more likely, I’m now one of these “traveler” types, who can’t get enough of new encounters and new transient relationships. Perhaps this bug will never leave.

Janelle Bitker
Brussels, Belgium
Academic Year 2011-2012

You can follow Janelle’s other travels on her personal blog www.janellebitker.com.

Author: Janelle Bitker

Janelle Bitker is a journalist based in Oakland, California.

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