Trip Start May 05, 2008
Trip End May 09, 2009

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Flag of Belgium  ,
Monday, May 12, 2008

After the hustle-and-bustle of London, Brussels feels rather anti-climactic. It is much smaller, more quiet, and does not feel as prosperous as London (at least in the centre) did. Overall, Brussels feels patchy. A few blocks away from beautiful postcard-type medieval and 17th century buildings, one can find derelict buildings, shops that look like they've been closed for years and streets that look like a bomb exploded right in the middle. The visitor can pass from a state of charm to one of uneasiness in a matter of moments. Once here, one can understand why it was chosen as the capital of the European Union: it is not a city in one of the big four EU countries (Germany, UK, France and Italy), it is close to everything, but it is not particularly rich, which would allow for relatively cheap property prices and the opportunity for development. Apparently since the EU moved in, the situation improved considerably, so one only wonders what it was like before. Nowadays, the city feels dominated by the giant EU bureaucratic buildings. Fortunately for the visitor, all this is more than compensated by those excellent Belgian products which make this country worth visiting: yummy Belgian fries, good waffles, very good beer and even better chocolate!

Another surprising aspect of Brussels is the diversity of its inhabitants. Walking its streets, one can hear almost every European language, which are spoken by the tens of thousands of bureaucrats coming to work here from the other 26 EU countries. In addition, the city's prominent Congolese, Turkish and Moroccan communities give the city some flair, which is most visible in the choice of restaurants, and the music blaring out of the cars which roam its streets.

We had the luck of having not one but two friendly faces here which could give us an insight into this city and some direction as to what's worth doing and what's not. They would be Tavi's cousin Raluca who has proven to be an excellent host, and Tavi's friend from Ottawa, Rita, who has given us a tour of the city. We thank them both, if they ever happen to stumble upon this blog.

Since we were a bit tired of Brussels, we did a day tour in Brugge, which is the quintessential picture-perfect European medieval city. And pictures, we took a lot, from its gigantic cathedral and town hall towers, to its canals which make it a Venice of the North, to old men in clogs... While obviously touristy and a little tacky, we recommend anyone who wants to spend a day with a big smile on their faces to visit this delightful little town.

Tomorrow, we are off to Groningen, in the northern part of the Netherlands, where we will be staying with some of Virginia's relatives.

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