This entry contains no pictures.
After that bit about travel fatigue, I immediately heeded some friends’ advice (not before re-visiting France, though) to kind of “take it easy” just for a day. Hence, on Sunday, I stopped by Liège to visit some friends and vowed to make it as relaxing a trip as possible. Unlike other trips, this one was purely intended to be a chance for me to say hi and reconnect with the buddies I met in Portugal. I like networking with my “classmates”, if I may call it that, especially over a couple of beers.
Yup, beer was one of the reasons I chose to go to Liège in the first place. It wasn’t that Liège was particularly known for beer, but one of the friends there seemed to be quite a beer fanatic, so I was sure that he’d know of some great Belgian beers. People who know me will probably be surprised that I was the one who proposed having a drink, since I almost never initiate any type of drinking activity, but I figured, we’re in Belgium, why the heck not? Then again, I can’t tell a good beer from a bad one, so even if my friend told me that the worst beer in the world is amazing, I’d probably have believed him.
Do I even like beer? I can honest say that at the moment I still prefer beer over red wine. I guess that’s one aspect where Belgium wins over France.
Liège itself was a simple, leisurely city to have an afternoon stroll. As I have mentioned before, bodies of water somehow always add a touch of beauty to a city. For Liège, the body of water traversing it would be the Meuse River. The day of the visit, I ditched my camera (or rather, left it in my backpack untouched during the entire stay) and captured images of the city only with my two eyes and my memory. It felt as if it would be disrespectful to my friends if all I did was take pictures when I only had half a day to spend with them, this being my first visit. It was also refreshing to discover and enjoy a city through means other than photography – chatting with friends and updating each other about our lives, hearing stories about their adventures in Liège, sitting on the grass by the river, embraced by the sunshine and wind we were blessed to have that day, and of course, toasting to a glass of beer.
In the midst of a charming afternoon of chatter, I was reminded that I had been in Belgium for two months. It’s also been a whole 7 months and 11 days since I stepped foot onto European soil, and I felt compelled to take a step back and evaluate my experiences here or even go beyond that and look at the big picture.
It is amusing to note that the size of Canada is approximately 18 times that of metropolitan France (the part in mainland Europe, excluding all of the overseas territories and departments – I will just refer to it as France from here on), and at the same time, the size of France is 18 times that of Belgium. When I relocated to France, my conception of size underwent a sudden, drastic change – all the French cities were so compact, so close together! France at that time seemed so small, so imagine, then, when I came to Belgium, how my surroundings instantly shrunk again, another 18 times!
Then again, no matter how big or small a country is, you can only be in one city at a time, so my perspective of distance only began to shape after travelling. And size, too. You can say Belgium is small, but not compared to Luxembourg! Going even further, Luxembourg is a giant compared with Andorra and Monaco, and finally, in terms of independent states, it seems like Vatican City wins as our smallest country. Relativity has never been so clear before. Canada really IS big.
One more thing I wanted to share about the overall European experience to date is language. I was fortunate enough that my collaborating universities are in France and Belgium, so I only have to deal with English and French (thank goodness for bilingualism in Canada). If I chose a PhD project in say, Germany and Portugal, then I’d just be screwing myself over. They say that English is the common language anywhere, and really, as long as you know English, you’ll be fine in a scientific environment. It is true, but the reality is, the official language of the region is often preferred.
There’s a big difference in this aspect between the labs in Bordeaux and Louvain-la-Neuve. In France, spoken English is rare in the lab, giving me plenty of opportunities to practise my spoken French. If people know you speak French, they won’t bother with English at all. Here in LLN, however, the lab is much more international, and English is often heard as a result. Even so, the default language is still French for most people (I imagine it would be Flemish in the Flemish regions of Belgium). What surprised me, though, is that when they know that you speak perfect English, even if they usually speak French, some still choose to communicate with you in English. One colleague said, “I know she speaks French; I just want to practise my English.” I even TRIED to carry on the conversation in French but switched back to English eventually because the colleague insisted that we stick to English. Hence, I end up speaking English and French here with an approximate 1 to 1 frequency ratio. There goes MY French practice in Belgium.
A note about the whole French-Flemish thing in Belgium – I have heard that the two regions are very well distinguished from each other, and it is true. It is evident from frequent train rides in Belgium. When I passed by Leuven, a city in the Flemish region, all the announcements and displays showing the next stop were Flemish. As soon as we stepped into Liège, which is in the French region, everything instantly reverted into French. No warning, no explanation – it’s just the way it is. It is as if the train has transitioned from one dimension to another, passing an invisible barrier that separates the country in two. The fact that the two languages aren’t exactly too similar to each other adds to the fun. I mean, Liège = Luik in Flemish…what?! Common sense doesn’t always work, in this case.
So here you have it, a little summary of anything that came to mind at the moment. Today I managed to get myself a loaded week up ahead with what feels like 329402 more tasks piled up on my to-do list. Still, that doesn’t dim my enthusiasm for Berlin this weekend, as I get to visit a friend whom I haven’t seen in 3 years! Also, Germany, new country…I like the sound of that! I realize I am getting more and more physically tired, but I really enjoy my research work, and on top of that, I really enjoy the weekend travels (no kidding)! As a whole, let’s just say I really enjoy life right now, and even if I do end up tired, it is a satisfying fatigue. For me, it is worthy as the happiness of a fulfilling life far outweighs any fatigue that comes with it.