as much as I love Brussels sprouts, I don’t think vegetables go so well with chocolate ;)
After a weekend in Budapest, I spent four days at my school in PTK before hopping back on a plane to Europe, this time to Belgium. My friend is studying abroad there for the fall semester, so she had room for me in her apartment and this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up! Who knows if I’d ever make it to Belgium otherwise…
In fact, I almost didn’t end up going to Brussels. If you’ve been following the news, you should know that some of the suspects from November’s Paris attacks came from Brussels. The entire city was on lockdown in response to threats of terror attacks and museums, cafes, and stores were closed throughout Brussels. While some will argue I’m not that much safer in Israel with the unfortunately frequent stabbing attacks, Brussels lifted lockdown about a week before I was scheduled to arrive. I couldn’t let the slim potential of a threat stop me from going, even though I thought long and hard about my decision- did my research, spoke to my friend living in Brussels, and ultimately decided to go. And boy am I happy that I did. My first celebratory purchase? A cup of hot chocolate from Pierre Marcolini—aka a cup of liquid chocolate :D
The city is filled with history and beautiful architecture, a vibrant culture and a classy vibe. With chocolate boutiques adorning almost every street and cobblestone roads, a highly functioning metro system and cute tram that runs throughout, Brussels epitomizes the quaint European city. My first day I went to a chocolate making class, perused the Stephanie and Louise shopping neighborhoods (without breaking my wallet) and met up in St. Catherine’s Square with some friends to wander around the Christmas markets. Compared to the markets in Brussels, I was surprised by the diversity of the stands- every wooden hut had a different type of worldly cuisine (with some Belgian specialties, of course) and/or cute chachkies at reasonable prices. There was a giant Ferris Wheel that lit up the sky at night, and a bunch of hot ciders and wine stands. A twist on typical fondue, I couldn’t resist getting a baguette filled with fondue cheese and sampling some of the liquors of course!
On Sunday, my friend Sam and I ventured out to a Moroccan market by the city’s bus station where there were rows and rows of clothing, food, and cosmetic stands. The closest thing I’ve ever found to a shuk outside of Israel!! I found Essie Nailpolish for a mere 3 Euro and even mangoes were just 1 Euro! After lounging at a café for a little, we excursioned to the Royal Palace, Chocolate Square (where I obviously had to sample chocolates from every store we passed), the most underwhelming landmark in all of Europe- the peeing boy- who was eerily dressed in a Santa/Pope outfit, and finished off at the European Union Parliamentarian where we took a tour. After going to Szimpla in Budapest, the second most famous bar in Europe, I had to hit up Delirium, which is supposedly the most famous bar in all of Europe with over 3,000 different kinds of beer!! I didn’t know, but Stella Artois is a Belgian beer so of course it is a staple in the city of Brussels.
My third day in Belgium, Sam and I decided to pay a visit to the city of Antwerp in the northern, Flemish-speaking area of the country also known as Flanders. The city is known for its high-end shopping, beautiful water front, and of course, the diamond district. Only a 40 minute train ride outside of Brussels, Antwerp was a day in paradise. Like Brussels, the buildings were all beautiful, especially the city’s train station. Definitely a beautiful sight! The Church of Our Lady towers over the whole city and served as our navigation point for the day. With an ice-skating rink in the town square, Christmas markets playing Take Me To Church on the stereo-system, and a handful of frites (French fry) stands, I was a happy camper :)
There is also a beautiful bridge along the riverside with an amazing view of the water on a clear blue day. We finished our tour of the city by meandering through the diamond district, which was populated by orthodox Jews. Felt like I never left Israel… with kosher restaurants in the downtown “Wall Street” looking area of town, and Chassidic men with black hats and briefcases running around the streets, and diamond jewelers with mezuzahs on their doors, I felt right at home. We even passed the Chabad House in Antwerp, with a giant Menorah for Chanukah placed outside the entrance, and snuck in for a peak of the synagogue from the women’s section upstairs. It’s a strange feeling to know there are so few Jews in the world, and to end up seeing Jewish communities everywhere I go! And if that wasn’t enough for my Jewish-fill for the day, back in Brussels later that night, Sam and I went to a menorah candle lighting by the EU and Chabad. With an European Union menorah and the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium as an honored guest speaker, over a hundred Jews from Brussels gathered together to watch the menorah lighting, to eat some sufganyot and latkes, and dance the hora.
Finishing off my year in Brussels, I can now say that I’ve been to 12 countries and more than 25 European cities this year—Nicaragua, Iceland, France, Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Canada, Hungary, Belgium, and last but not least, Israel!! Words cannot express how grateful I am for the opportunities I’ve had this year to see the world and push myself out of my comfort zone, experiencing fear and excitement beyond my wildest dreams! Now that I am back in Israel for the remainder of the year, here’s to hoping that 2016 is filled with just as much in store :D