This past week was spring break for my study abroad program, so my friend Bridget and I flew to Brussels, Belgium, to stay with some of my aunts, uncles and cousins. Living in a two-story flat that faces the beautiful 15th century cathedral walls of Église Notre-Dame du Sablon, resides my mom’s older brother, Kevin Conru.
Professional bassist and art dealer, my uncle and the cathedral are situated in a historic neighborhood in the upper town of Brussels called the Sablon. Bridget and I arrived Easter Sunday and were able to catch the noon service that filled the church with sunlit stained glass, a beautiful French-singing choir and massive amounts of people.
When I asked Bridget what three words she would use to describe our week in Brussels, she replied with the following: wandering, soleil and artistic. I’ll try and explain those terms from my point of view to fit this column and hopefully give a stellar overview of our week.
To begin, I’ll start with the first term, "wandering."
Bridget and I walked around in the sand of a North Sea beach in Oostende, Belgium, where we were able to enjoy the simplicity of the day with 2 euro focaccia and a bottle of wine. Then, on several uncle-sponsored tours, we discovered cities like Ghent and Dinant, Belgium, where we went wherever the flow — and my uncle — took us.
In Ghent, we got the opportunity to taste classic Belgian jelly candies called cuberdon, or Ghent noses, which must be tried once, but maybe not twice. The jelly tasted like raspberry soap, and it was a struggle to finish even one.
In Dinant, we explored the top of the famous Citadel of Dinant where a massive WWI battle, the Battle of Dinant, took place. According to the exhibit inside the old fortress, 674 Belgian civilians died when the Germans invaded their city. Traveling by train back to Brussels, it was hard to imagine the violence that took place within those peaceful looking green hills.
Returning to the Sablon, my uncle took us out to Au Vieux St. Martin, his favorite restaurant in the neighborhood, which exclusively serves Belgian cuisine. The best dish I had there was “boudins noir et blanc,” or black and white pudding sausages. These were served with mashed potatoes and apple puree, as well as my all-time favorite comfort food, fries with a healthy side of mayonnaise. I do wonder how anyone stays fit in this town.
Next, “soleil,” the French word for sun, which became the most understated word of the year. After grey clouds started to become the norm for me over the last two months, I was smacked face-first with summery sunshine and blue skies that rang in the weekend. Life bloomed everywhere on Saturday afternoon, while we wandered the downtown streets and shops. We were searching record stores for an elusive Beirut album that I wanted to give my uncle as a gift.
Eventually, we found the album as well as a church square serving wine and seafood. Tons of people were standing, sitting, and holding pow-wows on the stones, while we were surrounded in a relaxed yet exciting atmosphere, it feel like the whole world had finally woken up. My easy going, un-rushed awareness of the present was something I greatly appreciated, because I had nowhere else I needed to be.
As the evening wore on, a red truck serving mojitos set up shop, and we enjoyed the beats of some dance-worthy Latin music as well as the company of a few Dutch travellers.
The last word Bridget used was “artistic,” and I believe that the best part of Brussels is it’s diverse artistic culture, available wherever you step. Bridget and I had the opportunity to visit the Magritte Museum, which is a three story collection of works done by the famous Belgian surrealist painter, René Magritte.
Later, we visited a gallery of Japanese artist Daisuke Ichiba, whose drawings I enjoy for their black and white, gruesomely beautiful depictions of daily life. Influenced by cathedrals, Asian and African art in my uncle’s home, museums and by the family and friends I have here in Brussels, I think this trip has left both Bridget and I in a better creative state.
Brussels is a city for people to come and be inspired, and for me, it sparked a flame of renewed imagination which I plan on taking back as I return to Budapest.
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