Hello, hello! We touched down in Belgium yesterday morning after a lovely flight where we all managed to act like mature adults (except for Professor Banerjee, who tried to start a pillow flight on the plane). Upon arrival in Brussels, we were greeted with the typical Belgian weather… rain. Nevertheless, we spent our day touring Brussels and immersing ourselves in Belgian culture. Photos coming soon!
On Saturday, our first stop was the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. Built in the 11th century, it is one of the oldest cathedrals in Belgium. After the cathedral we found a little restaurant and got to eat our first Belgian waffle with nutella! It was by far the best waffle I have ever had. After the waffles, we went to the Gran Plaz de Bruxelles, one of the largest open courtyards in Europe. The architecture was beautiful and it seemed as if we had strayed into 15th century Europe. Professor Bannerjee met us there and then took us to my favorite site of the day; the Manneken Pis: basically a little peeing child. This historic sculpture has special meaning for me. My parents have a figure of the Manneken Pis that could be attached to a faucet and one of my earliest childhood memories is asking my parents where it was from. After visiting Manneken Pis, we went out to lunch and got to see economics in action. There were two Greek restaurants adjacent to one another, competing for our money. Of course, Professor Banerjee managed to get one of the restaurants to offer us a 10% discount on lunch. We wandered around Brussels a little more after lunch. I stopped in at least 5 or 6 different chocolate stores to try out the free samples. I think it is fair to say Belgian chocolate is far superior to anything I have had from the U.S. It is richer and has a smoother texture.
Later in the afternoon, we went back to our hostel and spent an hour and a half discussing the history of the current Global Financial Crisis. One of the important points that Professor Banerjee made is that this crisis is global. Unlike previous crises such as the Mexican Financial Crises of 1982 and 1994, the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990’s and the Dot Com Bubble in 2000, this originated in the United States housing market but because of the interconnectedness of the today’s world, it immediately spread to the global economy. Of course, Europe was severely impacted by this crisis. Tomorrow we are going to learn a lot more about what has happened to European financial stability.
In the evening we decided to explore Belgian nightlife. I had a delicious dinner of shrimp cocktails, and steak and pomme frites at a restaurant near the Gran Plaz, followed by a lot of wandering around and more free chocolate samples. The Gran Plaz is beautiful at night. All of its buildings are lit up and there are many people with many different backgrounds in such a concentrated area. It reminds me of a medieval, more sophisticated, less flashy version of Times Square.
Today was not for sleeping. We had a tasty breakfast of bread and cheese around 8:30 am and then hopped on the train to BRUGES! Before I tell you about Bruges, we should reflect on the superiority of European trains to the United States. When I take a train from Haverford to Philadelphia, the constant rumble of the train on the tracks drowns out any conversation I am having. In Europe, the train ride is smoother than Belgian Chocolate and the seats are far more comfortable.
Bruges was unbelievable. The majority of its medieval architecture is well preserved. It has approximately 30 churches for a population of around 20,000 people. There are streets, but the city is criss-crossed by canals. When we arrived in Bruges, Professor Gerstein gave us a brief history lesson about the city. Bruges is located on the North Sea, and used to be a powerful port city along with the city of Ghent. However the two cities began to lose power to the Dutch when the entrance to their ports started silting in the 16th century. My favorite part of Bruges was just walking through the inner city, because the aroma of freshly cooked Belgian waffles and chocolate is ubiquitous, spilling out of stores and filling the streets.
Our only structured activity of the day was a canal boat tour of Bruges. There are doors that exit onto the canal (I’ve never been to Venice, Italy, but I assume that it is similar). We got to see the smallest window in all of Europe and lots of beautiful medieval designs. After the tour I accomplished one of my major trip goals. Yes mom, I had mussels with pomme frites and mayonnaise. The mussels were juicy and flavorful, and mayonnaise actually went well with the fries, though I will always prefer ketchup. We explored the ancient city a little more after lunch and visited the main Cathedral. Around 6pm we took a train back to Brussels and headed back to the hostel.
It’s around 11pm now and I’m headed to bed. Tomorrow is a big day for us at the European Commission. We are going to have around seven hours of lectures on European Stability and Post-Communist Transitional Economics. I’m unbelievably excited. There is so much to absorb and understand, and we are going to be learning from the people who are in charge of bringing Europe out of this crisis. I’m going to do my best to summarize the lectures for you guys, and I also promise a ton of pictures! Anyways, good night, sweet dreams and bonne nuit!