1 July 2018

Belgium Diaries: Bruxelles, Multilingualism & the European Quarter

Last week, I had the chance to travel to Belgium through my course and took the opportunity to do some travelling as well. My coursemates and I were based in Brussels and we travelled to Bruges and Ghent before heading to the EU Institutions to listen to the interpreters and do some dummy booth (which means interpreting with your microphone off).

The first thing I noticed in Brussels was the amount of languages that were being spoken. Even though I am used to hearing lots of languages being spoken in Florence (you could even say that applies to most cities these days), I love discovering bilingual contexts as the Catalan - Castilian one in Catalonia for instance. In Belgium, both French and Flemish (a language similar to Dutch with a different accent) and even German to a small extent are spoken. In Brussels, I noticed that a lot of people spoke Flemish in the streets, but that if you went inside restaurants, shops, etc. people used French. It was the opposite in Ghent and Bruges where people replied in English when you used French (I still tried even though I was advised to avoid it…). I also had the chance to go to a French language exchange where I met lots of Flemish people who were there solely to practice their French, which I was surprised to learn isn't too well taught in schools (apparently this is true both ways). Personally, I hadn't spoken French since my last year of secondary school (apart from a few language exchanges here and there), so I couldn't wait to practice it again. I did practice a little bit during the week, but it was on the final day that I could really get into a conversation which was really satisfactory. That was when I stayed at my Belgian friend's house for a day, which was super fun as we could catch up (we promised we would visit each other at the end of our study experience in Salamanca), and it was also a great chance to speak French again. But I'll share more about what we were up to in the post on Meise!

The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert - I loved walking through these every day as you could see lots of independent chocolate shops and cafes 

Cafe culture is very popular in Brussels and you can sit outside in most cafes.

I found Brussels to be a very quirky town, and for the first few days I couldn't really identify it in that I could not associate it to other places I knew (am I the only one doing this?). After a while I could tell that it offered a mixture of Dutch and French architecture and culture, but that the people living there were not comparable to any other place I had visited. While in London there is an international population from all over the place, in Belgium there are as many European people as you can imagine and a substantial Muslim minority (as well as others I am perhaps not aware of). As regards restaurants, bars and cafes there is so much variety and a lot of independent places. I especially liked some of the streets around the Grand Place (the main square), though you need to beware of touristy attractions and make sure you look out for secret corners.
Part of the Grand Place though this doesn't make it justice!
Lots of people stopped by this statue and touched its arm - can anyone tell me why?! I could not find out lol

Details of the Église Saint-Joseph

I couldn't stop taking pictures of these typical houses :)

Some typical streets of Brussels 

 I loved these little balconies! These looked so Parisian

 The Palais Royal - I would have loved to visit inside but apparently it's only open a few days per year!
Of course, a big part of our trip was spent in the European quarter at the EU institutions but I won't be sharing many pictures for data protection policies. What I loved about this area is the amount of brilliant people moving around, meeting some interpreters and heads of booths, and the fact that everyone seems to be calm and composed, with no extreme rushing around as you would see in The City of London for example.
The Albert Borschette Congress Centre

It was great getting to visit Brussels and I know there is still so much to see, so I hope to be able to come back one day and visit museums and more attractions. 

Where to stay / transport
- I stayed at Adagio Aparthotel as this was granted by the EU Institutions, though prices were fairly similar to Airbnb, if not lower, and I loved how handy the location (it was next to various underground lines) and the rooms were (a little kitchen with a hob and the other basics is provided).

- From my hotel, I could easily walk to most places in less than 20 minutes. There are buses, a tramway and an underground so it's very easy to move around anyway. I got to the Institutions by underground and found it easy to use. A one way ticket is 2.10

Have you been to Brussels? What were your impressions? 


  1. Nice pics. Last time I hitchhiked through Brussels, I got picked up by a tour bus full of West Africans with an Italian driver :) I may have to email you about Salamanca. I will be hitchhiking Spain in Sept/Oct looking for jobs and Salamanca (Univ, language schools, etc.) is on the list.

    1. That sounds so fun! (both the trip and going to Spain). I would love to go back!